What Are Dryer Balls and How Do They Compare To Dryer Sheets?

These all-natural, hypoallergenic laundry helpers may be the products you never knew you needed in your life—until now.

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If it feels like you’re always doing laundry, that’s because you are. The average family does around 300 loads of laundry per year, which equals a lot of washing, drying, and time and money spent to facilitate all of it. But what if there was a way to make doing your laundry faster and easier, as well as more economical, better for the environment, and even safer for you? That’s what dryer balls claim to do. These little chemical-free balls that serve as an alternative to dryer sheets are getting a lot of buzz, but do they live up to the hype? We got the lowdown on them so that you can decide if they’re right for you.

So, What are Dryer Balls?

“Dryer balls are objects intended for use in drying machines, [and they] claim to provide softness, static reduction, and/or faster drying-time benefits,” says Mary Begovic Johnson, Tide & Downy Principal Scientist at P&G. They’re not new to the market, though there’s been a recent influx of new brands and design options. A quick search on Amazon brings up hundreds of products. The more traditional wool ones—which people love because they’re biodegradable—are at the top. And unlike with dryer sheets, which are pretty basic from a design standpoint, you can choose whimsical options. For example, you can get dryer balls with the face of a sheep, panda, or penguin (just to name a few). Get to know other uses for dryer sheets at home.

And wool dryer balls aren’t your only option. Others are made from materials like plastic and can be spiky in shape. Offered in a variety of colors and sizes—you can buy a two-pack of hedgehogs or a mini cactus set by Kikkerland on Amazon for less than $10—they also have hundreds of positive reviews.

What Advantages do Dryer Balls Offer over Dryer Sheets?

These toss-ins are supposed to help prevent laundry from clumping together in the dryer. In theory, that allows warm air to circulate more efficiently—so your clothes dry faster, which saves you money. While a 2009 test done by Popular Mechanics didn’t show any evidence that dryer balls increased air circulation, others have a different assessment of their potential. “Wool or rubber dryer balls will help separate your clothes and get more air to them, cutting drying time,” according to Energy Saver, the U.S. Department of Energy’s consumer resource on saving energy at home. Here’s how much energy each appliance in your home uses.

The agitation of the dryer balls against fabrics also acts as a softener and can reduce static cling, producing an effect similar to a dryer sheet. According to EcoWatch, they work by absorbing moisture from clothing in the dryer and maintain “a more humid environment,” which cuts down on static, reduces drying time, and fluffs clothes. While Johnson and her group agree that wool dryer balls can provide some reduction in static electricity, they say that it’s significantly less than their Bounce WrinkleGuard dryer sheets. Believe it or not, this easy ice cube hack will remove all the wrinkles from your clothes.

Are dryer balls safer for your skin than dryer sheets?

While more and more people are turning to natural products due to health concerns, it’s important to remember that natural does not necessarily mean safe or problem-free. “When it comes to skin safety, people should be aware of all the ingredients in any type of product they are using—regardless of any ‘natural’ claims made—as everyone’s skin reacts differently,” says Johnson, noting that P&G’s products are tested for those with skin sensitivities in mind. Since dryer balls are chemical-free, however, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) endorses them as safe for babies and those with sensitive skin. If you want to try dryer balls but are worried about skin reactions, stick with the 100 percent wool options since they are all-natural and hypoallergenic.

Eco friendly laundry supplies. Copy space.Michelle Patrick/Shutterstock

Are dryer balls better for the environment?

According to the EWG, some dryer sheets contain chemicals that can damage the environment and pollute the air, both inside and outside your home. Aside from damaging the environment, air pollution can potentially trigger breathing issues including asthma, as well as cause reproductive problems. The EWG recommends dryer balls as an eco-friendly alternative to dryer sheets since they are chemical-free and reusable; plus, the wool ones are biodegradable and compostable. But Johnson stresses that even though P&G’s dryer sheets are made from a combination of natural and man-made ingredients, the company “[takes] safety very seriously. All of P&G’s dryer sheets adhere to the stringent VOC laws set by California.” Dryer lint is one of the 20 hidden fire hazards in your home.

How many dryer balls should you use, and how long do they last?

Smart Sheep (which has just under 18,000 glowing reviews on Amazon) suggests using three of their wool dryer balls for small and medium loads, and five to six dryer balls for large loads. They claim their dryer balls last for at least 1,000 loads, which translates to three years or more, depending on the size of your family. That said, you should replace wool dryer balls when they start to unravel. For plastic varieties, check for cracks or loose spikes. And while you’re at it, make sure to keep these 14 things out of your dryer.

Are dryer balls hassle-free?

For anyone new to using dryer balls, there’s a bit of maintenance to be aware of. “Some wool dryer balls require you to ‘recharge them’ by (1) placing them in a sock or garment, (2) throwing them in the wash, (3) pulling them out of the sock or garment, and then (4) reusing them for the next dryer load presumably for them to work,” says Johnson. Plus, you need to keep track of them. She adds, “People who use dryer balls tell us that they usually leave them in the dryer between loads. However, they can get caught in clothes and get lost in between loads.”

To get a fresh scent, some people add a few drops of their favorite essential oil to their dryer balls. If you do this, use a no-heat tumble-dry setting to prevent the oil from dissipating too quickly.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published on Reader's Digest

Dianne Bright
Dianne Bright is a southern California-based writer specializing in parenting, marriage, and family. Bright also enjoys writing on nutrition and health, books, culture, lifestyle, faith, and science. Her work has appeared in Scholastic's Parent & Child magazine and blog, the Press Enterprise, Thriving Family, I Love Cats (NY), Christianity Today, and other publications. Her M.A. is in Spanish American Literature with additional emphasis in Linguistics and Brazilian Literature. Bright has authored two indie titles, and her young adult fantasy duology is on query with publishers.