Where does dryer lint come from?

This is a rather weird question, but as I have been washing and drying little hand towels from my son’s first grade classroom I can’t help but wonder where does dryer lint come from?
That is, if you look at how much lint is collected after a single run of the dryer with socks, towels, etc., it can be rather impressive. Run those clothes through the dryer a couple of dozen times and it seems to me that the sum weight and bulk of the dryer lint should be the equal to – or greater than – the bulk of the items themselves.

But that doesn’t make sense, does it? So where the heck does this lint come from?
I mean, my first thought was “ah, it must just be accumulated environmental dust and pollens, all bound together by the slightest of stray fibers from the clothing itself.” That doesn’t work either though because then dryer lint would be more uniform than it is and whether you’re drying purple socks or a green towel, your lint should be more or less identical. And it’s not.
Then maybe it’s because as the dryer tumbles the clothes it actually breaks down the fibers and as they break down they shed tiny microfibers, which collect together and become dryer lint? Maybe, but what kind of fabric wouldn’t be able to handle being tumbled for twenty minutes without damage?
The only logical conclusion is that a clothes dryer is a hyperspace vortex connecting our homes to an alien world where they have thick floating clouds of fabric dust that are somehow sucked into our own dimension each time you run a dryer for more than five minutes. Maybe that’s where all the mis-matched socks end up too?
Seriously, though, what the $#@$#$ is dryer lint? 🙂

12 comments on “Where does dryer lint come from?

  1. Dave,
    The fuzz is from the fibers breaking down. Cotton is strongest, for instance, when wet and most brittle when dry. Then you tumble the poor things while they’re really dry, break up the fibers and catch them in the lint trap.
    FYI, to increase the life of your towels and sheets, take them out before they are dead dry and decomposing. For the sheets, that also means letting them cool completely before stretching their fibers (in fitted sheets) across your mattresses. Same goes for that mountain of cotton socks your kiddos go through every week.
    Other fibers have the same trouble. Best to treat them all carefully, avoiding blasting hot air and prolonged drying.
    The other factor that makes them break down is your detergent. Caustics in them cause the deterioration in your fabrics. I switched to MelaPower by Melaleuca for two reasons: 1. I liked keeping those T-shirts and jeans in good condition longer and 2. The formulation doesn’t make me sneeze. It’s worth the online order for it and comes out no more expensive than going to the grocery store. (Well, less, if you count the increased longevity of your clothes.)
    Ya should’ve taken a homemaking class back in high school. Actually, I have to credit an Organic Chemistry course for homemaking teachers (which I am not) back in 1974 at Sam Houston State University.
    As a Girl Scout leader, I used to collect the lint for the girls to pour parafin over in cardboard egg cartons. Then, we’d cut them apart and use them for fire-starters when we went camping.
    Now, a favored place to find those missing socks, besides under the beds or behind the washer or dryer, is between the drum and the outer case. If you overfill the washer, sometimes they wash out and over, I’ve heard–but not experienced.
    This kind of trivia is you can easily answer after 37 years of homemaking and motherhood in addition to working.

  2. I think dryer lint is a non-native, invasive species.. thus.. we hang our clothes… I know a lot of you will say, “yeah.. but I can’t do that in the winter! I live in Colorado!!”
    Well.. Colorado is perfect for year-round hanging of clothes.. it is soooo dry in Colorado.. if you don’t wanna go out and brave the blizzard (though the clothes will dry once you dump the snow off of them).. hang them in the house.. you’ll save on electricity/gas.. and you’ll save on lip balm and your throat will thank you.. don’t want things hanging all over?? well.. they make compact, collapsible, hanging racks that do well.. and are cheap.. and.. well.. make sure what you wash really needs to be washed.

  3. A better question would be: what can we do with this unlimited resource?
    Clearly dryer lint is the answer to our energy problems in the future, as we can get more material out that what we put in. All we each need do is continually feed our dryer lint into the dryer, generating huge sums of material from our initial lint investment.
    Then, it’s just a matter of developing steam engined automobiles and training our children to feed lint into the burner. With those two things in place, we can kiss foreign oil dependence good-bye!

  4. I’m fascinated by the ephemeral, flotsam-jetsamy quality of dryer lint. Caught in the dryer basket of our dirty externals, it is a floaty industrial byproduct.
    I think I’ll make art.

  5. Maybe it’s related to the mysterious way socks manage to disappear in the dryer. In that case I agree that a “hyperspace vortex” may actually be involved…. 😉

  6. I’m with you on the Hyperspace-vortex. I just finished drying some towels and ended up with a half a cup of lint, it was an attention grabber which ignited the thought and lead me to your site. For me the hyperspace-vortex answer is just as good as any.

  7. it might have something to do with the air coming into the dryer. that air has a lot of dirt/dust floating around in it, which probably gets trapped in the lint screen with the lint from your clothes.

  8. I always thought it was from all the air particles that settle in our fabricks thru out the day, but then again I haven’t hacked up any lint balls lately, I do think there is a space warp infact I’m dead sure, I had a cat once that took a nap in the dryer at the end of the cycle those tricky a$$ space warp creeps switched out my cat for a stuffed cat which oddly looked exactly like my original cat, except they kind of suck at making stuffed animals in space it started really stink in a few days, any way the bigger question is if you gather enough lint to knit a sweater and then wash said sweater does the reverse happen and you get some fancy thread??

  9. When in college, washing my clothes, that I purchased at goodwill, at my local washiteria I crossed paths with the owner. He was cleaning out the lint traps on those large industrial machines. So I asked, dude, where does all that lint come from? He told me that in the process of making powdered laundry detergent the manufacturer would spray pulverized Boron (a mineral when crushed would retain sharp edges regardless of size, much like flint used in the making of sand paper)with soap. The crushed Boron ( ever see the box of Borox in the detergent aisle) would cut minuscule pieces off your clothes thus the reason for lint. The cheaper detergent would contain more Boron. They did away with powered detergent some time back because they were so destructive. The chemistry of the liquid detergent is probably about the same using very destructive chemicals. I’ve not done it but try washing and drying a small load or two without detergent and then you will know if it’s the detergent, the dryer, or the goblins who steal your socks.

  10. So the washing machines are NOT RINSING clothes enough. hmm I stopped using conditioner/softener in the machine years ago as i believed that was the cause of buildup in washing machine. But dont know how to get a load of washing clean without some sort of soap/liquid/powder..

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