A recent column, "Fabric Softener Products Are the Problem, Not the Solution," struck a chord with thousands of readers. I know because you sent me messages and letters, which I love — even those of you who are not 100 percent satisfied making the switch from problematic laundry softeners to what I find are amazing wool dryer balls. But first, let's review the problem.
THE TROUBLE WITH FABRIC SOFTENERS. The medical website WebMD 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 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.
WHY WOOL DRYER BALLS. These things look like overgrown tennis balls and are made of 100 percent wool yarn that over time becomes felted, making them especially durable and not at all prone to unraveling. One set of wool dryer balls will last for what seems like forever, softening thousands of loads of laundry — no batteries, refills, repairs or reconditioning required. It's one purchase and done!
HOW WOOL DRYER BALLS WORK. Imagine a big load of wet bath towels going into the dryer. You hit Start, and that massive wad of wet fabric flops around, the pieces sticking together for quite awhile before 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 an 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 percent of the drying time. I have also found these balls stuck tightly in the sleeve of a long-sleeve T-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 when used properly, they also take care of static cling.
HOW TO USE WOOL DRYER BALLS. Because they have room to bounce around 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 A DRYER LOAD. Some of you wrote 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: Squeeze a few drops of essential oil on 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 use, the more slowly the fragrance will be dispersed in the dryer. You'll begin to notice a subtle nontoxic fragrance in your clean, soft laundry.
STATIC ELECTRICITY. The biggest complaint I have received from readers is that while dryer sheets eliminate static cling, wool dryer balls do not. In fact, several readers wrote to tell me that static cling makes them want to throw the balls out and go back to their old dryer sheets. Don't do that! Really ... there is an explanation and a simple solution.
Much of the reason static occurs is due to overdrying clothes. You are definitely going to notice static if the dryer is allowed to run too long, with or without wool dryer balls. Overdrying wastes gas and electricity, wears out your clothes prematurely (as evidenced by all that lint) and, as you are learning, causes static cling, especially on a day with low humidity.
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 putting them in the dryer, making sure you end the drying cycle before they are totally dry.
Here's what I do, since I do not have the time to stand in the laundry room watching and waiting for things to dry the perfect amount of time: I spray my wool dryer balls with water, getting them quite wet. The laundry dries faster than the wool dryer balls because they are so dense and thus elevate the humidity level in the dryer. It works like a charm and does not harm the dryer balls in any way or increase the drying time.
Mary invites questions, comments and tips at [email protected], or c/o Everyday Cheapskate, 12340 Seal Beach Blvd., Suite B-416, Seal Beach, CA 90740. This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of www.DebtProofLiving.com, a personal finance member website and the author of "Debt-Proof Living," released in 2014. To find out more about Mary and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.