Dryer Balls: The Natural, Nontoxic, and Affordable Alternative to Fabric Softener
Yes, dryer balls. And they aren't as weird or dirty as they sound (although I snickered like a 12 year old writing this entire article). They are simply balls made of various material that are quickly becoming a popular commodity in eco-friendly homes.
The benefits are many:
- Non-toxic and hypoallergenic
- Very affordable, even DIY
- And most of them are sustainably made
Actually, let's start with that first one.
The Dangers of Fabric Softeners
The "cuddly scent" promoted all over TV and advertisements? You know, the one with a sweet little bear and a young child, snuggling up to their freshly washed blankie and feel all warm and fuzzy inside? It makes my skin crawl. It's practically sick and twisted to think of a young, developing child purposefully inhaling those toxic fumes.
Yes, that "fresh from the dryer" scent is highly toxic to your and your family's bodies. Lemme show you by pointing out some of the most common ingredients in conventional fabric softeners:
- Quats: Can cause asthma, create antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and are very toxic to aquatic life.
- Methylisothiazolinone: (Say that 5x fast.) Aquatic toxicity, skin irritation, and skin sensitizer.
- Cetrimonium Chloride: Can cause asthma, and has high chronic toxicity to aquatic life.
- Alcohol ethoxylates: Aquatic toxicity, endocrine disruptor, cancer-causing, reproductive toxicity, may cause genetic defects, central nervous system impairment, asthma-producing, linked to leukemia, liver damage, skin corrosive, and on and on.
- Fragrance: Neurotoxicity, dermatitis, respiratory concerns, high acute toxicity to aquatic life, and not biodegradable.
This isn't anywhere near a comprehensive list. The Environmental Working Group also allows you to search your own brand of fabric softener to see how it measures up. I highly recommend you do.
The Energy-Saving Effects of Dryer Balls
This was actually a new discovery for me. Mick, from Feeling Fluffy, asked if I would review his dryer balls (oh my god, I'm dying - professionalism is so not in my business model, but I'm trying) and I was excited to give them a go.
Feeling Fluffy offers handmade, wool dryer balls that come 6 to a pack. For starters, having 6 in a pack is VERY helpful! Many packs I've seen have 2-3 balls, and this just isn't enough.
Dryer balls work by keeping clothes separated and circulating, allowing the hot air from the dryer to better dry your clothes. Unfortunately with only 2-3 balls you'll find it less effective, as you always end up with a stray getting stuck in a pant leg or someone's pocket. Having 6 in a pack kept the clothes moving much more efficiently.
And because they are made of wool, this helps ot wick away moisture faster than plastic or rubber dryer balls you most commonly find in the grocery store or drugstore.
This equated to cutting the dryer time of my various loads of laundry anywhere from 25-45%. Less time in the dryer means less energy, a smaller power bill, and chores that go by faster. Bonus.
The FAQs of Using Dryer Balls
Can they be used on any type of fabric?
I did, and I didn't see an issue, except with some thin polyester blankets we picked up in Mexico years ago - those were more static-y after rolling around with wool balls for a few minutes, but I haven't figured out if I'm over-drying them yet.
Does this work better than using white vinegar?
I personally think so, in part because you need to add white vinegar to the rinse cycle and I always forgot, and in part because it's a one-time purchase of a sustainable material that will last you years to come.
My clothes come out full of static. What am I doing wrong?
I learned this from Feeling Fluffy! If your clothes are coming out with static, you are over-drying. Because they cut down on dryer time, it's easy to over-dry as you find your new setting.
Are there any issues with pet hair? Is that a concern?
Shouldn't be. They will actually help pull pet hair off of clothes!
Are they loud as they toss around the dryer?
Plastic or rubber ones are definitely louder, but I barely notice the wool balls, especially with full loads.
Are they 100% chemical-free?
The wool balls may or may not be organic; that's up to which ones you choose. But they should contain no other harmful chemicals. It's the material itself doing the work.
Does the wool shed onto clothing?
Nope, not at all.
How do the clothes smell when they come out?
Can I add essential oils to wool dryer balls?
You certainly can, and that can help to neutralize odors naturally, but you are unlikely to smell the oils after your clothes are dry. (The heat will cause the oil molecules to evaporate.)
How long with wool dryer balls last?
At least 1,000 loads. It has occurred that, as time goes on, some pilling forms on the balls. This is completely fine and normal. As a matter of fact, since they increase their surface area with the pilling, they are slightly more effective. It is time to change when you notice a significant decrease in the size of the ball.
How are they made? Is it sustainable?
It will obviously depend on the brand you go with. Look for wool that is sustainable, or even organic. (The Feeling Fluffy balls source their wool from New Zealand, but the balls themselves are handmade in Nepal in impoverished communities, giving them an income source.)
Can I make my own?
You certainly can, and it's not too challenging if you're somewhat dexterous or crafty. This picture tutorial from healthylivinghowto.com can give you the gist of it:
What if I don't want to make them? Can I buy them instead?
Of course. You can research brands on your own, or if you wanna take my word for it, I'm digging the Feeling Fluffy balls they sent me to try out. They offer a 100% Money-Back Guarantee, and they were even sweet enough to offer SBS readers a wee little discount to boot!