Usually, when we head to our mailbox, we expect to find a varied collection of items. There are the dreaded bills that need to be paid. Or maybe you’re eagerly awaiting your next package delivery from Amazon. But with the warmer weather here, some people are reaching into their mailboxes to find something less expected: a dryer sheet.
Reports of random dryer sheets in mailboxes have popped up around the internet. In a recent post on Reddit, a letter carrier explained the fragrant phenomenon to curious customers. Obviously, the dryer sheets are not tucked in there to make the mail static-free, but the fresh scent is a factor.
Apparently, the Reddit mail carrier said postal workers will sneak a sheet in there to keep stinging insects out of potential nesting areas. Pests such as yellow jackets and wasps are among the insects that love to build nests inside convenient shelters such as mailboxes.
“I can’t tell you how many times, especially during this part of the year, where I’ve opened up a box to see a little nest with 3-5 Yellow jackets just chillin’,” according to the Reddit post author, Chris Strickley. “If I’m really unlucky, they will have made their nest at the very back of the box so I wind up sticking my hand in not knowing they are there.”
This unlucky mail carrier said he’s been stung on 10 separate occasions. Ouch!
After his initial post went viral on Reddit, Strickley talked to NBC’s “Today” about how he discovered this insect repellent hack.
“I began to see dryer sheets in people’s mailboxes at the start of spring. At first, I was confused but just left them in there. Later on, I noticed my supervisor had a box of them on their desk and would see other carriers taking handfuls out,” he said on “Today.” “That’s when I finally asked why they were supplying them to us and found out they are a good deterrent for wasps and yellow jackets. Ever since then, they’re a normal part of my spring and summer.”
Supposedly, the scent of the dryer sheet is repulsive to the insects, so placing a sheet inside the mailbox will force them to find another, more palatable place for them to build their nests.
Placing a dryer sheet inside a mailbox to help keep away stinging insects is only meant as a preventative measure, though. If you already have those unwelcome visitors, then you’re going to need to find a way to remove the insects from your mailbox.
However, entomologists told WUSA 9 News that using a dryer sheet as wasp and yellow jacket repellent has not been scientifically proven yet.
“A spokesperson for the Entomological Society of America told us they could not tell us whether this was true because they are unaware of it having ever been studied,” wrote Mia Salenetri for WUSA 9 News.
David Mizejewski, a naturalist with the National Wildlife Federation, pointed out to WUSA 9 that if the dryer sheet trick did work, it would raise questions about why and how, along with how much of a range the repellant properties might have, and why pest control companies haven’t started using it yet.
Fact-checking website Snopes dug into the research and found a 2010 Kansas State University study that showed Bounce dryer sheets did repel gnats, but wasps and yellow jackets specifically were not included in the investigation.
There’s also a 2013 study from the journal Pest Management Science that shows that 17 essential oils — including clove, lemongrass, spearmint, sage, lavender and citronella — can repel yellow jackets and paper wasps, with two mixtures totally blocking the attraction of worker wasps in experiments.
It appears that scientific evidence on dryer sheets is lacking. While there might be some anecdotal evidence out there, researchers don’t understand what the mechanism for dryer sheets deterring insects might be since a mild scent wouldn’t be enough.
But even if there’s no scientific proof it works just yet, there’s no harm in putting a fresh-smelling dryer sheet in your mailbox to help your friendly neighborhood postal worker potentially avoid a nasty sting.