Felted Wool Dryer Balls

Rumble and tumble your laundry with natural upcycled wool.

Photo by Getty Images/Nataly-Nete

If you love the extra-soft and fluffy feel of freshly tumbled laundry, but you’re hesitant to use chemical-laden dryer sheets, wrinkle sprays, or liquid fabric softeners, felted wool dryer balls are the eco-friendly alternative you need. They’re gentler on clothes (and you) than harsh chemicals are, and perform better too. Natural wool dryer balls act like a dryer sheet and help reduce static, wrinkles, and lint by keeping the air in your dryer humid for longer. They do this by soaking up some of the moisture in the laundry, and then evenly distributing it back into the air. Counterintuitively, this prolonged exposure to moisture in the dryer exponentially reduces static cling, which makes your clothes dry faster with fewer wrinkles. What’s not to love? And if you make the felted balls nice and tight, they can last up to five years.

Wool dryer balls will work in any laundry-drying appliance, and they’ll last just as long as PVC plastic dryer balls or tennis balls, without releasing any harmful plastic or rubber chemicals when heated. Unlike commercial fabric softeners, wool dryer balls won’t affect the absorbency of your towels or cloth diapers. Tossing in 4 to 6 of these dense wool balls will help keep your clothes separate while tumbling to allow hot air to circulate more efficiently, reducing drying time, which in turn helps reduce wear and tear on your clothes. You’ll save money and help the environment!

Natural dryer balls should be made from 100 percent wool to function optimally. But the wool doesn’t have to be designer — you can use pretty wool roving (processed but unspun) or functional wool batting; recycle spinning and weaving leftovers; upcycle old wool sweaters; and even use up little balls of leftover wool from knitting projects you just can’t throw out. As long as it’s wool, anything goes. A renewable resource, wool doesn’t contain synthetic chemicals, is unlikely to cause allergic reactions, and is a perfect natural alternative to commercial fabric softeners and dryer sheets. Wool dryer balls are particularly helpful for people with sensitive skin or allergies, as well as for keeping cloth diapers soft and free of chemicals.

These dryer balls are made by wet felting balls of fiber. “Wet felting” is the process of matting fibers together using heat, moisture, and agitation. Only certain types of fibers can be wet felted: most types of fleece (including sheep, alpaca, and camel), mohair (from goats), and angora (from rabbits). These fibers can be wet felted because they’re covered in tiny scales. Moisture and heat cause the scales on the fibers to open, and agitation causes them to latch on to each other, creating felt. There’s one caveat to this: “Superwash,” or machine-washable wools, have been specially treated so as not to felt. Plant fibers and synthetic fibers lack these scales, and thus won’t wet felt. The modern technique of needle felting uses needles with tiny teeth along the shafts to interlock the fibers without using water. You can use a felting needle to add funky decorations to your wool dryer ball, but needle felting won’t be necessary for general construction.

I’ll walk you through three different methods of dryer ball construction, and you can choose whichever fits your materials best. The easiest to make are Yarn Dryer Balls (below). Tightly spun yarn and yarn with many plies, such as worsted wool and fishermen’s wool, will work, but won’t felt as readily as lightly spun single-ply yarn. Or, you can be really thrifty and unravel a 100 percent wool sweater from your local thrift store. Again, avoid anything with even the slightest hint of acrylic or other non-feltable fiber for the dryer balls, as it won’t felt correctly, if at all. I use old nylon stockings to contain the dryer balls when I put them through the wash to felt, because the stockings themselves won’t felt, and they separate the balls and help them keep their shape.

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