Are They a Smart Choice for you?
Chances are you’ve at least heard about wool dryer balls by now, but you might have wondered what’s all the fuss and more importantly, do they even work?
Well, I happily made the switch from scented dryer sheets to wool dryer balls about three years ago and my aim today is to help you decide if this simple switch makes sense for you, too.
A quick Google search will tell you that wool dryer balls can save you money, are safer for your family and better for the environment. We’ll walk through each of those claims in a minute, but first..
What are Wool Dryer Balls?
In case you’re not familiar, they’re balls of wool used in the dryer to help your laundry dry faster, feel softer and reduce static cling. The idea is to replace dryer sheets or liquid fabric softener with something that is more natural and just as effective.
The balls are a little bigger than a tennis ball and typically you need between 3 to 6 balls at a time, depending on the size of your load. Dryer balls are available in materials other than wool — including plastic or rubber. But if you’re aiming to live green, natural wool balls make the most sense and those are the only type I’m writing about here.
Why Should You Ditch Scented Dryer Sheets?
Maybe you’ve been using chemical fabric softeners for years and you’re happy with the results. So why should you even bother making the switch to dryer balls?
Dryer Sheets use a chemical coating to do their job
Depending on the brand, dryer sheets contain a number of different ingredients, with these being most common:
- Dipalmethyl hydroxyethylammoinum methosulfate, a chemical softening and anti-static agent
- A polyester cloth, which is the carrier sheet
- Clay, which helps control the viscosity of the coating as it begins to melt in the dryer
Based on the above list alone, some health bloggers jump to the conclusion that scented dryer sheets are toxic or even carcinogenic. I’m not a chemist or a doctor and I haven’t seen any definitive studies on this — so I won’t venture that far. But I will say dryer sheets or liquid fabric softeners are designed to add a chemical coating to our clothes — so it makes sense our skin will come into contact with these chemicals over time.
Aside from that, there are two more facts that convinced me to stop using scented dryer sheets: one is “fragrance” and the other is VOC’s or volatile organic compounds. I’ll explain briefly.
There are Unknown Chemicals in the Fragrance
In the U.S., the term “fragrance” on an ingredient panel generally indicates a chemical cocktail. As many as 50 different chemicals can be used to create synthetic scents like “fresh linen” or “tropical rain.” While the Consumer Product Safety Commission regulates scented laundry items, they don’t require manufacturers to disclose all their ingredients.
Dryer Sheets May Produce Volatile Organic Compounds
There’s also the question of VOCs (volatile organic compounds). In simple terms, your dryer sheets release chemicals through your dryer vent to the outside, where they can combine with other gasses in the air to produce harmful substances. This 2016 study took a look at one potentially harmful component released from dryer vents. There are many more. [ https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11869-018-0643-8]
In light of all this, my philosophy is why risk being exposed to potentially harmful substances or polluting the air when there’s a good alternative? In this instance, wool dryer balls offer a simple, natural and chemical-free solution.
And Now the Benefits of Wool Dryer Balls
They Save You Money
Dryer balls can help your clothes dry faster because they create better air flow between items in your dryer. I’ve run my own non-scientific tests on this and found that using dryer balls decreases my drying time between 15 to 20 percent. So a large load of laundry takes about 45 minutes vs. 60 minutes to dry. The result is you save on gas or electricity each time you run your dryer.
Secondly, wool dryer balls last for hundreds and hundreds of loads — I’m still on my first set of balls after three years of use. To be honest, we don’t do a ton of laundry because there’s only two of us — but some manufacturers claim that they’re good for up to 1,000 loads!
While a set of dryer balls costs more than a box of dryer sheets to start with, there’s no question you make that money back by saving on energy and disposable products.
They are Better for the Environment
As single-use products, dryer sheets produce needless amounts of waste (the sheets and the packaging) and as mentioned, they create potentially harmful chemicals (VOCs) once they are vented outside. Likewise with liquid fabric softener, which is discharged into your water supply. Wool dryer balls are a simple earth-friendly product that doesn’t discharge anything into the air or water.
Do Wool Dryer Balls Actually Work?
It’s an emphatic “yes” from me. I’ve found that our clothes come out softer and with fewer wrinkles than when I was using dryer sheets. Static cling is no longer a problem for us, though it was never a big issue. [A main cause of static cling is over-drying, so try decreasing the time if this is a problem for you.]
Troubleshooting Tips When Using Wool Dryer Balls
As with any new product, you might find a bit of a learning curve when first using the balls, so here are a few helpful tips:
- Static Cling Persists: If you still have static cling when using dryer balls, try putting them between layers of laundry — instead of tossing them all in at once. This means put some laundry in, add a ball; put more laundry in, add another ball, etc.
- Balls are Noisy in the Dryer: You can use the last tip (to layer the balls and laundry) to help decrease the extra noise you’ll get from the balls tumbling around.
- New Wool Balls Leave Lint on Your Clothes: I never had this problem (maybe because of the brand I chose), but apparently it’s an issue for some people when they first use the dryer balls. You can try running the balls through the dryer with a damp towel and if this doesn’t work, then run them through your washer and dryer for a full cycle. But your best bet, in my view, is to buy a brand that claims to be lint-free.
- You Miss Fresh-Scented Laundry: I’m not gonna lie…we missed the fresh scent when we gave up dryer sheets, so I experimented with adding essential oils to our wool balls. I’ve used lavender or lemon essential oils, just adding 4 to 6 drops to a couple of the balls for each load.
After experimenting with this for a while, I no longer use essential oils on our dryer balls because I found that the scent didn’t come through enough to make it worthwhile; plus essential oils are expensive and I prefer to use them in other ways.
If you’re intent on adding essential oils, you can try applying the oils to the balls several hours in advance. Then add the scented balls at the very end of the drying cycle, spinning your load without heat for a few minutes. [I’ve never tried this tip, so can’t say if it works.]
There’s a caveat on this, too: essential oils are flammable which means you need to be careful not to add too much so as not to cause a dryer fire. A quick internet search had plenty of warnings about this, but no actual fire reports — so who knows for sure? My simple advice is don’t go overboard with the oils, if you decide to give this a try.
In any case, there’s an easier alternative to giving your laundry a nice fresh smell: just add naturally-scented sachets to your clothes drawers and linen closets. The scent will last longer and you won’t have to worry about dryer fires or wasting pricey oils.
Which Wool Dryer Balls are Recommended?
A quick search on Amazon shows more than 470 options for wool dryer balls — whew! After a little research, I chose Friendsheep hand-felted balls because they ticked a lot of boxes for me: they are needle-felted by hand by underprivileged women in Nepal, under ethical working conditions. They are organic (no fillers), hypoallergenic, lint-free and good for up to 1,000 loads. That, and I love the adorable sheep faces on them!
After three years of using them, I can honestly say Friendsheep balls have lived up to the hype. They’re a little pricier than other options (currently about $28 for 6) — but considering all the health and environmental benefits, they’re worth it to me. I can’t recommend other brands because I’ve only tried Friendsheep, but if you look for something organic, lint-free and hypo-allergenic, you may find another brand that works just as well.
Now it’s your turn! Let me know in comments if you’ve used wool dryer balls and if you give them a thumbs up or thumbs down. And if you haven’t used them yet, are you planning to give them a try?