It's a modern old-wives tale: put a Bounce dryer sheet in your pocket while gardening and it'll keep away the mosquitoes or gnats. This may seem a bit far-fetched to those of us who have never tried it, but researchers have now found that there could be some truth in it, when it comes to gnats, anyway.
The scientists, who published their findings this month in the journal HortScience, set up a simple experiment consisting of a large plastic container connected to two smaller plastic containers, one of which had a piece of a dryer sheet. Fungus gnats were placed in the center container and then the scientists checked where they were two days later. Each time they repeated the experiment, they found that the gnats tended to hang out in the two dryer-sheet-free containers.
In the second part of their experiment, they analyzed the chemical content of the dryer sheets with gas chromatography and found two substances that might be keeping away the gnats. The first was linalool, which is naturally found in lavender and basil and which cosmetic and perfume companies use in their products for its flower-like odor. Linalool is toxic to some types of insects, though it isn't known to have any repellent qualities. The second compound was beta-citronellol, which is found in citronella and repels mosquitoes.
The researchers haven't yet tested the distance over which the dryer sheets repel the gnats or whether they also repel mosquitoes, but it is interesting to see that the myth may be true. And perhaps I'll try tucking a dryer sheet in my back pocket next year during mosquito season—it's certainly easier than applying bug spray.