Dryer balls are an alternative method to keep clothes soft and static-free instead of using fabric softener or dryer sheets. You can find a variety of dryer balls on the market. There are balls made from PVC that look like little hedgehogs as well as felted wool balls. Some people swear by adding tennis balls to each dryer load to speed drying and reduce wrinkling.
If you choose a 100 percent natural wool ball to soften clothes, you can avoid introducing chemical residue and fragrances to fabrics that can be harmful to sensitive skin. Wool dryer balls help keep clothes separated in the dryer, allowing the heated air to circulate better and dry items quicker. The wool balls also capture static and prevent static cling. After a few uses, you'll see pilling on the surface of the balls. This isn't attractive but won't reduce their efficacy.
Making your own felted wool dryer balls is simple and a great way to use up leftover 100 percent wool yarn. You can even recycle wool sweaters that are no longer wearable. Dryer balls are also much less expensive to make than to purchase.
Equipment / Tools
- Large needle or crochet hook
- Clothes dryer
- 100% wool yarn or 100% wool fabric strips
- Small amount of cotton string
- Old sock or pantyhose
- Hot water
- Cooking pot
The fabric or yarn to make dryer balls must be 100 percent wool or another animal hair (like alpaca, but not cashmere) that will shrink, or felt, when exposed to hot water. The natural hair has barbs that latch onto one another to create a more solid finish. This will provide the density you need for the ball to hold its shape. The natural fibers also help control static much better than synthetic fibers.
If you're going to use old woven or knit wool fabrics, like old coats and sweaters, cut the garment into thin strips or ribbons.
Wind Up a Ball
Wind the wool yarn or fabric strips into a ball. Start by wrapping them around your fingers, and be sure to switch directions often to get a ball that's equally round—the same way you'd wind a ball of yarn. Wrap tightly and in an orderly fashion until you have a ball about the size of a tennis ball, around two-and-a-half inches in diameter. Secure the end of your yarn by running it under several strands of yarn. This can be done with a large needle or a crochet hook. It's best to make several balls before proceeding to the next step.
Some suggest using a tennis ball as the core and adding wool yarn or fabric around it as a quick way to make a ball. But these balls won't last as long as a solid wool ball, and you still have the problem of chemical exposure.
Create a Sack of Balls
When the balls are the correct size, put them into an old sock or the leg of a pair of pantyhose, using cotton string to tie off between each one.
Soak and Felt in Hot Water
Add the filled sock or pantyhose to a pot of hot water, and bring it to a boil. Once boiling, remove the pot from the heat source, but allow the balls to soak until the water is cool. The hot water will cause the wool to shrink and felt. If you're using anything other than white or natural-colored wool, you may see some dye transfer. Some dyed wool yarn or fabric is not colorfast. This won't be a problem when the balls are finished and used in the dryer.
Dry the Core
Next, squeeze any excess water from the balls, and put the sock of balls in the dryer to dry on high heat. When dry, cut the strings between the balls, and remove them from the sock or pantyhose. The balls will be smaller (due to felting) and should look fuzzy. You shouldn't be able to unwind them. These balls become the core of your final dryer balls.
Finish the Ball
Using the ball cores, begin the wrapping process again with the wool yarn or fabric strips. Keep wrapping until the ball is around three-and-a-half inches in diameter. This is slightly bigger than the final product. Repeat the soaking and drying process.