wool dryer balls in a basket

How to Use Wool Dryer Balls and Why You Should

A previous post, on why laundry softening products are a real problem continues to strike a chord with thousands of readers. I know because you send me messages and letters, which I love—even ones from some who are not 100% satisfied making the switch from problematic laundry softeners to wool dryer balls. But first, let’s review the problem:

wool dryer balls in a basket

The trouble with fabric softeners

The medical website, WebMD.com, reports that the perfumes and additives in laundry products may cause skin problems. Fabric softeners are very allergenic and can cause eczema, which appears as dry, itchy skin.

Dryer sheets contain fragrance and volatile organic compounds like acetaldehyde and butane, which can cause respiratory irritation. Fabric softener chemicals known as quaternary ammonium compounds have been linked to asthma. Acetone, also used in dryer sheets, can cause nervous system effects like headaches or dizziness.

Fabric softeners are also known to reduce and finally eliminate the effectiveness of water-resistant materials and reduce the absorbency of terry cloth and microfiber towels.

If you find your towels aren’t drying as well after a few cycles with fabric softener—liquid softener in the washer and or dryer sheets in the dryer—it’s time to find a better alternative that will give great results without doing harm.

Why wool dryer balls?

These things look like overgrown tennis balls, made of 100% wool yarn, that over time becomes “felted,” making them especially durable and not at all prone to unraveling. One set of quality wool dryer balls will last what seems like forever, softening thousands of loads of laundry—no batteries, refills, repairs, or reconditioning required. It’s one (purchase) and done!

How do wool dryer balls work?

Imagine now a big load of wet bath towels going into the dryer. You hit “start” and that massive wad of wet fabric will flop around and stick together for quite a while until the layers become dry enough to separate and allow warm air to circulate. That slows the drying time, wasting time and energy.

Now imagine six wool dryer balls bouncing around (I use my entire set of six in every load), working their way between the layers of fabric, separating them so the warm air can circulate efficiently from the very start of the cycle.

I’ve tested drying times with and without wool dryer balls, and the results are quite amazing. Wool dryer balls cut at least 25% off the time to dry a load of laundry, saving time and energy. I have also found these balls stuck tightly in the long sleeve of a tee-shirt and the pocket of a pair of jeans. They work their way into tight spaces and that’s what makes them so awesome.

Because dryer balls also agitate against the fibers in clothes and linens, everything feels softer coming out of the dryer. And used properly (coming up), they also take care of static cling.


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How to use wool dryer balls?

Because they need room to bounce and play with wet clothes and linens, dryer balls do their best and fastest work when the dryer is not crammed full. You’ll find that two medium-size loads will dry faster and more efficiently than one gigantic load. Dryer balls need room to work.

Adding fragrance to dryer load

Some of you have written saying you really miss the lovely fragrance you had when using dryer sheets. If this is important to you, here’s a much healthier and better alternative

Solutions

Downy Unstopables. Maybe you’ve seen Downy Unstopables (teeny tiny little scent beads) in the laundry aisle. The label directs to add something like 1/4 cup (!!) to the washer along with your detergent. Uh, no! That’s way overkill if you are at all sensitive to fragrance. However, I’ve experimented with just five (5) of those tiny litle things in the wash load (not the dryer). That load comes out of the dryer with just the slightest, lightest fresh scent.

Essential oil. Add a few drops of essential oil to each of the dryer balls. Give them time to absorb the oil deep into the fibers—a few hours is advisable. The more the oils are absorbed into the dryer balls before using the more slowly the fragrance will be dispersed in the dryer. You’ll begin to notice a subtle, non-toxic fragrance in your clean, soft laundry.

Static cling

The biggest complaint I have received from readers is that while dryer sheets would eliminate static cling, the wool dryer balls do not. In fact, reported several (thousand) people, static cling makes these folks want to throw the balls out and go back to the old dry sheets. Don’t do that! Really … there is an explanation and a simple solution.

Much of the reason static occurs is due to over-drying clothes. You are definitely going to notice static if the dryer is allowed to run too long, with or without wool dryer balls.

Over-drying wastes gas or electricity and wears out your clothes prematurely as evidenced by all that lint, and as you are learning causes static cling—especially on low-humidity, dry winter days.

Another cause of static is synthetic materials like polyester, nylon, rayon, and acrylic. Try to separate synthetics to keep the rest of your laundry static-free. Then either dry the synthetics by hanging them on a line or in the dryer, making sure you end the drying cycle before they are totally dry.

Solution

Here’s what I do because I do not have the time to stand in the laundry room watching and waiting for things to not become over-dried: I spray my wool dryer balls with water (dunking them in a container of water works as well), getting them quite wet. Now the laundry dries faster than the wool dryer balls because they are so dense, elevating the humidity level in the dryer. Works like a charm and does not harm the dryer balls in any way—and does not increase the drying time.

White lint transfer

One thing I noticed early on in my transition from dryer sheets to wool dryer balls was lint. Small bits of white lint showed up on dark-colored clothes even though there were no white items in with that dryer load. It didn’t take long to realize that the dryer balls were harboring those bits and transferring them to the dark load.

Solution

I have two sets of dryer balls—one set white, the other dark. It’s easy to see which ones I need to throw into the dryer. Now any white lint stays with the white dryer balls, dark link with the dark set. Problem solved.

As I update this post, my white set of dryer balls is going six years old. I haven’t counted how many loads of laundry they have fluffed and softened, but it’s many. The manufacturer says one set is good for at least 1,000 drying loads, which means they’ve got plenty of life left in ’em. Just might be the best $17 I’ve ever spent.

Updated: 4-21-21

Most recent update 4-21-21


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  1. Maryalice Rael says:

    I purchased white dryer balls a few years back when I first read your article. I am still using my 1st set. I need to purchase the dark dryer ball set next. I do have static cling, but after reading the “how to” to eliminate static cling I will put the info into use! Thank you Mary!

    Reply
  2. Lars says:

    Rayon is not synthetic – it is a man-made fiber that is cellulosic, like cotton and linen. Therefore it will not cause static cling the way true synthetics will, such as polyester, nylon, acetate, acrylic, etc. Like other cellulosic fibers, rayon is hydrophilic and therefore absorbs water the way cotton and linen do, whereas synthetic fibers are hydrophobic and tend to repel water.

    Reply
  3. Michelle says:

    Handy article! Though, essential oils aren’t supposed to be used in the dryer as they’re an oil and thus a fire risk.
    It takes a while, but you just get used to your clothes not smelling like anything, and honestly, it’s way better after your nose adjusts!

    Reply
  4. Annet Enn says:

    I’ve been using dryer balls for 2 years and I’m glad of them. I have used dryer balls from all popular brands, such as Smart Sheep, Woolzie and Twenty Stars. All of them are very useful and I will never use dryer sheets anymore. Nice rating of newest brands for 2019 and 2020: https://goodscomparing.com/wool-dryer-balls – maybe it will be helpful for someone.

    By the way, using 8-10 balls is more efficient than only 4-6…

    Reply
    • Mary Hunt says:

      Hi Brenda—Are they dirty or covered with lint? I’m not sure why you need to clean them! If they’re simply covered with lint, rub them with a pumice stone. Or a lint-remover roller. If they’re dirty like they fell in the mud or ? (not sure how dryer balls could get dirty), go ahead wash them in the washing machine with laundry. They’re already felted which means the wool yarn used to make them went through aggressive agitation in hot water for a long cycle, so you don’t have to worry about the shrinking. The only possible downside I see is that they might just give up and fall apart—which is going to happen eventually anyway because after a 1000 dryer loads or so that’s what dryer balls do! Good luck and let us know how this works out! xo m

      Reply
  5. Wooly says:

    I’ve been using wool dryer balls for a few years now, and they have recently become quite fuzzy and have started leaving fibers on everything. Anybody else experience this and do you have recommendations? Would shaving them with an electric trimmer help? I find the thought of shearing them like sheep amusing, but I’m willing to try!

    Reply
    • Mary Hunt says:

      Wondering which dryer balls you purchased. You may have some inferior yarn or perhaps even a blend that is not 100% wool. I wouldn’t hesitate to trim them, however. Good luck and let us know!

      Reply
    • Glasshouses says:

      I’ve read that wrapping the dryer balls in nylons (cut the feet off, wrap around ball, tie end closed) works well for that.

      Reply
  6. Nicole Taft says:

    Thanks for the tips – both from Mary and the comments! I was wondering if maybe the static-diffusing capability of my wool balls was failing, but I think over-drying is far more likely (I know they haven’t been through a thousand loads yet!). I’ll definitely try the aluminum ball. Likewise, I hadn’t realized I should let the essential oil soak into the wool ball for a while before tossing them in! No one ever explained that bit to me, so I’d been putting the oil on and then almost immediately putting the balls into the dryer. I’ll let them soak for a bit first from now on.

    Reply
    • Mary Hunt says:

      Hi Nicole! The best way to reduce static is to not over dry the load. In fact, slightly underdry will reduce wrinkle and static too!

      Reply
    • Jennifer says:

      Same here – I have been putting drops of lavender essential oil on the wool balls right before I put them in the dryer but haven’t noticed any scent. Now I know to let it soak in! Also – apparently I have a setting on my dryer to “reduce static” which I didn’t know about. I have a little place to fill with water, and I guess it spritzes it in occasionally. Hopefully that will assist with the static issue.

      Reply
  7. Patricia Freeze says:

    If wool dryer balls work for you, knock yourself out. But ALUMINUM FOIL BALLS are cheaper and do the same thing. Use a sheet of foil about 12 – 18 inches long and wad it up into a ball. I use 3 or 4 per load. Will last for months, won’t hurt clothes, and stops static cling. When they wear out, i just throw them out and make a new set.

    Reply
    • Lily says:

      Trader Joe’s sells dryer balls, 4 dryer balls for around $5. They last for years. I can’t see how using tin foil would be cheaper, if you have to replace it every few weeks. Plus, you are throwing out alot of tinfoil and also the packaging it comes in. Using tinfoil alone as much as you say seems more wasteful.

      Reply
  8. Susan Odom says:

    I have been using wlol dryer balls for several years, and I love them! I keep them in the dryer all the time. With wool dryer balls plus Mary’s homemade laundry detergent, plus about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of vinegar in the rinse dispenser depending on the load size, I get wonderfully clean and clean-smelling laundry every time. And it saves me a whole lot of money over time.

    Reply
  9. Douglas Anne says:

    Wool dryer balls did nothing for my laundry. I don’t use scented products, most of my items are natural fibers, and I don’t overload the washer or dryer. Drying time was not reduced, clothes were not softer, and the only difference I noticed was the NOISE the balls made as they bounced around the dryer. Not for me.

    Reply
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