What are Dryer Balls? And How Do they Work?


If you’re reading this, you probably already know that you can dry your cloth diapers in the dryer, and fabric softeners, especially dryer sheets, are not recommended for cloth diapers. Fabric softeners work by coating fabrics with a film that makes things soft and static-free and builds up eventually making the fabric water-resistant and a magnet for bacteria.

But, what about static cling? What about fluffiness?

One product that promises to solve those problems without the buildup is the dryer ball.

What are Dryer Balls?

So, what the heck is a dryer ball anyway? Dryer balls are just that, small balls about the size of a fist that you add to your wet laundry as you place it in the dryer. Dryer balls are used to reduce the amount of static in your clothes, decrease drying time, and make clothes fluffy. Most dryer balls are made from wool or synthetic materials.

Do Dryer Balls Work?

Maybe you’re like me and had a grandmother who threw tennis balls in the dryer at one time but it’s just a distant memory, or maybe you’ve never heard of anything of the sort. Either way, you’re probably wondering if they’re just a gimmick, or does using dryer balls actually work? The answer is yes! Dryer balls are great for reducing static in your clothes. Depending on the make and model of your dryer, they also reduce drying time by up to 30 to 50 percent which saves you money on utilities (source).

While I’ve never really noticed them speed up my drying time (I don’t often hang out by the dryer and check it, I just set it and forget it), they do reduce static dramatically, and they do leave my laundry and diapers softer and fluffier.

But not all dryer balls are made equal, and some of them definitely do those things better than others. I’ve personally gathered and tested some of the best and worst dryer balls out there so that I can help you can find one that works well with your lifestyle, but first you do need to know a bit about how to use a dryer ball because it’s not a fool-proof solution for static.

How do Dryer Balls Work?

Dryer balls work through the motion caused by their bouncing around. This keeps things moving inside the dryer, separating things and allowing air to flow onto more surface area.

In the case of wool dryer balls, there’s also a component of absorption. Wool dryer balls are able to absorb some of the moisture from the clothes, which naturally reduces drying time.

Dryer balls can also decrease static cling in fabrics and help with wrinkles by distributing heat more evenly over your load of laundry. This is because they create a tumbling motion inside the dryer that helps distribute steam from the hot air through all parts of your clothing or fabric sheets.

The Static Solution – Dryer Balls or Not

The truth about static is that you can get it with or without dryer balls when clothing (or diapers of course) are dried to the point they are bone-dry.

With dryer balls, because they are distributing the steam throughout the laundry as it drys, you can push that to the limit. If you use dryer balls you can remove clothing from the dryer right up to that point before it’s Sahara Desert-dry, to where it will let off that last bit of humidity during folding, and you’ll have hit that sweet spot of cling-free and completely dry.

Basically, they increase your window of cling-free time.

What Types of Dryer Balls are Available?

Wool

Plastic

Silicone or Thermoplastic Rubber

Rubber Dryer Balls

There are several types of dryer balls. Here are the three main types you’ll find widely available:

  • Wool dryer balls: The best of these are 100% wool but you can find them in a mix of wool and other materials such as acrylics. They work well in high-heat environments and can add to the speed of drying by absorbing some of the moisture as they go (those parents who know about wool diaper covers will know all about the amazing absorption properties of wool).
  • Plastic dryer balls: These are the kind you’ll most often find at the dollar store and online direct-from-China retailers, though you can sometimes see them with higher pricetags elsewhere. Often they are blue with spikes. These aren’t so great for high-heat drying because of the nature of plastic.
  • Silicone or thermoplastic rubber dryer balls: These dryer balls are of course made from silicone or a heat-resistant rubber and they work well in all types of dryers. They’re good for people who don’t want to handle wool or those with wool sensitivities, and they can be used in any type of dryer (high heat included).

What are the Best Dryer Balls (for Cloth Diapers)?

So, if you’re considering trying dryer balls out with your cloth diapers, what are the best ones to try? Without a doubt, I recommend going with wool dryer balls for cloth diapers, if you can.

Wool dryer balls not only are the only natural choice, meaning the only ones not made from plastics that risk leeching trace petrochemicals onto your clothing and diapers, but as I’ve mentioned earlier they also absorb some of the wetness during drying. This absorption speeds up the drying time, and keeps the humidity circulating better, which as we’ve discuss helps with static.

But to be honest, the real reason I would use wool dryer balls over silicone or plastic is the sound. Wool dryer balls only make a slight noise in the average dryer. Silicones make a racket, and plastic dryer balls sound like mini-bombs exploding non-stop. No one trying to get a little one to sleep needs their dryer making a ton of noise.

I personally like nice big balls *giggle* that are 100% wool, like the Smart Sheep ones on Amazon, but there are lots of choices on Amazon, here’s a few good ones:

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What if is Wool is Not an Option for You?

If you can’t do wool due to an allergy or other reasons, I would recommend silicone dryer balls over plastic any day.

Not only are silicone dryer balls *slightly* less annoying in the dryer, but they are also more heat resistant, and therefore less likely to melt or leech chemicals onto your fabrics.

Silicone dryer balls are also softer, so the spikes on them will not damage your clothes or cause them to pill prematurely, which harder plastic dryer balls regularly do.

Finally, silicone and heat-resistant rubber are far more durable than plastic, especially after repeated heating. A silicone dryer ball will likely last you years, whereas a plastic one will likely become brittle and break or melt over time, a short time if used at a higher heat.

If you can’t tell yet, plastic dryer balls are the worst, don’t bother with them!

Though I haven’t tried as many silicone dryer balls as I have wool, of the ones that I did, I found Nellie’s Blue Dryerballs to be my favorite. I prefer them to other silicone balls I have for many reasons, but mostly just the quality feel they have to them that makes me more confident in them. There’s also the fact that they are made by a recognizable brand, Nellie’s, available at several big stores including Walmart (though I’ve only found them in-store) and Amazon, and are guaranteed to last up to 2 years.

Other silicone dryer balls I have found are basically direct-from China and you never know if when they arrive they are going to be silicone, rubber or plastic (I’ve ordered several thinking they were silicone and gotten plastic). The downside to these ones is that they only come in packages of two, and I find that’s too few to get good use out of your dryer balls.

How Many Dryer Balls Do you Need?

In order to get good movement in your dryer, especially when drying a large load of all-in-ones, fitteds, or other long-to-dry diapers, you want to use at least four dryer balls.

To get better coverage, you can even try using six or even eight for larger loads!

The more dryer balls you use, the better movement and distribution of heat will be in your dryer so make sure to have plenty on hand when it comes time to do a big load.

What about Tennis Balls, and Other Homemade Solutions?

Listen, my grandmother was one of the most wonderful women I’ve ever known and I admire everything about her; which is why I also gave tennis balls a shot. Bad idea.

I don’t know if they are making tennis balls differently, or if dryers are just hotter but of the ones I tried, the tennis balls began showing signs of melting even at the low heat setting needed for cloth diapers.

For this reason, I really do not recommend using tennis balls or other types of balls you think might be good as dryer balls. You don’t want chemicals melting off them and onto the fabric, which you’re putting next to your baby’s most sensitive areas.

The exception of course is if you’re going to make some homemade dryerballs from wool, which is a great idea and they work fantastically well!

Conclusion

To sum it all up, dryer balls, especially 100% wool dryer balls are a great, natural, and safe way to get rid of static and make your cloth diapers that much fluffier. They may also decrease your drying time, which in turn can save you in utility costs.

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