Visiting my favorite computer support website, I didn’t expect to find information about a common household product like Bounce brand dryer sheets. However, as with many successful internet communities, the function sometimes exceeds its original ambitions. There was a post from September 12th that caught my eye, “Bounce this around” filed in “The Doctor’s Lounge,” (usually reserved for birthday announcements or other off-topic remarks). I was surprised to find the post was written like ad copy for Bounce brand dryer sheets:
The US Postal service sent out a message to all letter carriers to put a sheet of Bounce in their uniform pockets to keep yellow jackets [sic] away.
Use them all the time when playing baseball and soccer. It really works. The yellow jackets just veer around you.
1. All this time you’ve just been putting Bounce in the dryer! It will chase ants away when you lay a sheet near them. It also repels mice.
2. Spread sheets around foundation areas, or in trailers, or cars that are sitting and it keeps mice from entering your vehicle.
3. It takes the odor out of books and photo albums that don’t get opened too often.
4. It repels mosquitoes. Tie a sheet of Bounce through a belt loop when outdoors during mosquito season.
The post went on to claim a total of 21 ‘alternative’ uses for the product. I was astounded. Money couldn’t buy advertising like this! My first thought was “What’s in these dryer sheets anyway?” Surely if they repelled insects they must be toxic. So I turned to the chief resource abut the dangers of any household consumable, the Material Safety Data Sheet. Hoping to find something carcinogenic (or at least environmentally unfriendly); I was disappointed when the most serious health warning read: “ingestion of used or unused sheet by a young child or household pet may lead to impaction of the gastrointestinal tract. A physician or veterinarian should be contacted.” So they could potentially cause constipation but obviously the manufacturers weren’t worried about what might happen if you actually digested it.
“Biodegradable fabric softening agents”, whatever those are, are the active chemicals on the sheets. According to the MSDS sheet, if you feed enough of it to rats (more than 1% of their body weight) it will kill them. That sounded like damning evidence to me, until I realized that if I ate 1% of my body weight of just about anything I’d probably be pretty sick myself.
By now I was thinking the 21 claims were a bit more dubious. Surely there must be official claims at BounceEverywhere.com, the website for this product. While Procter and Gamble, the owner of the Bounce brand, makes no claim of extraordinary insect fighting ability, some of the posters on the Bounce message boards have. “When in an outdoor area where wasps are a problem, just rub a fresh bounce sheet on your hair, clothing and exposed skin. It seems to repel[sic] the pests and keeps you smelling fresh to boot,” claims Margie M. from Salyersville, KY. Well it’s obvious that Bounce is not trying to deny that it may repel insects, even if they are not directly promoting it for that cause. As I dug further into the posts I found a trend. They allegedly repel mosquitoes, wasps, yellowjackets, moths, ticks, chiggers, ants, rats, mice, chipmunks, and even birds! Dissolve a sheet in water and use it to remove tough burned-on grease in pans, or even wallpaper from the walls! Yes, that’s right, someone posting on BounceEverywhere.com claims to have used bounce to remove wallpaper. Bounce’s official stance on the postings is “We do not edit your comments and therefore are not responsible for the content, or its accuracy.” Having read enough of these outlandish claims, my research took a cynical turn. Surely there must be an unbiased resource for analyzing these claims. So I checked my favorite authority for confirming and debunking modern myths, snopes.com.
Snopes’ article, titled “Bounce Back“, addressed sixteen claims made about Bounce in a highly circulated email first documented in 2003. The article gave two of the sixteen claims a clear win for Bounce (both relating to its odor-fighting properties) and four claims a definitely not, while the balance fell into a category where it was not particularly effective, ineffective, or measurable.
At this point I was lost. How could I possibly refute every claim I’d found so far? I turned my research back to the original post that started my dilemma. I saw my comments had prompted a few more responses. “It’s also an elephant repellant. See any elephants?” posted SpywareDr. My research had only managed to ask more questions than it answered, when another poster claimed:
*Cram one down the filler neck in your car’s fuel tank and increase gas mileage by 430%.
*Tape ten sheets across both of your car’s bumpers to prevent accidents–it repels other vehicles.
*Put a sheet in your dishwasher and your plates will be wrinkle-free.
*A sheet or two in the bottom of your computer case will prevent BSODs [windows errors] and corrupted files.
I haven’t seen a difference in gas mileage yet, but I haven’t had an accident since 1985, none of my dishes have wrinkles and my computer works perfectly.
The internet is the most ubiquitous tool of the information age, yet it seems to flourish on misinformation and disinformation. Realizing that after all this internet research I had yet to hold one of these mystical sheets in my hand, I went to the grocery store to purchase a box for my own experiments. Staring down the aisles I worked my way to the place on the shelf where the original scent Bounce dryer sheets should have been. “Outdoor Fresh Scent,” “Fresh Linen,” and “Spring Awakening,” the boxes proclaimed. I resigned myself to smelling like a “Summer Orchard” and put one inside my jacket pocket. Two days later, I visited a friend with a small pet lovebird. As the bird hopped across the couch and into my lap I remembered the dryer sheet was still in my jacket, mere inches away from this adorable bird.
While my research revealed that Bounce may not be bird-repellent, I haven’t seen any mosquitoes, wasps, yellow jackets, moths, ticks, chiggers, ants, rats, mice, or chipmunks. Or elephants, for that matter. But the box containing the rest of my Bounce dryer sheets will be staying right where it belongs: in my laundry room, on the shelf above my dryer.