All of us are familiar with dryer sheets. That fragrant smell that causes something in our brain to conjure up images of freshly laundered and clean clothes? Perhaps some of you still use them. No judgement, but a gentle nudge suggesting there is another way to get static-free clothes (and even that hint of a lovely scent- in a non-toxic sort of way). Of course ideally, we are line drying clothes. But between winter in upstate NY and the constant cycle of seven people’s daily clothes around here, our dryer does see its fair share of use.
So the bad news about dryer sheets is that they are loaded with some not so good stuff. The “fresh” smells we associate with clean clothes turns out to be pretty bad for us. Unfortunately, the term fragrance has become a catch-all to mean just about anything. And since companies producing anything with the term fragrance are not required to disclose what ingredients actually create that scent, those fragrances can include some pretty toxic stuff. (Environmental Working Group has a list detailing the contents of many of the most common brands of dryer sheets. Really worth checking out, even if you no longer use them.)
What’s a person to do? DIY to the rescue again – with wool! Wool is such a fantastic fiber. It is renewable (unlike petroleum based polyester dryer sheets and plastic dryer balls). It is absorbent (wool can hold something like 30% of its weight in water and not feel wet). It can regulate body temperature, it is breathable and long lasting and the list goes on.
What does wool have to do with the dryer? Wool dryer balls can reduce drying time (the balls create space between the clothes and the air in the dryer can circulate and dry clothes faster), give the clothes a softer feel and reduces static.
How to Make Your Own Wooly Dryer Balls
There are two ways to make these – either with wool yarn or wool roving. Wool roving is washed and carded wool. I got mine at a Waldorf school but it can also be purchased online. Working with wool roving is such a beautiful and sensory-filled experience; it’s worth tracking down some roving or even better, finding a local sheep farmer and supplier of wool.
We did the latter. Tutorials abound online for both. Start with what you have access to, which for us was roving.
Stretch out a very long piece of the wool roving (no pics here but roving is washed and carded wool – so it is clean and smooth) and begin wrapping it on itself very tight. Around and around. The bigger the better (even bigger than the ones in our pics if you have enough roving). It will shrink from being felted. Once you have a large ball, hold it together delicately and immerse it in warm, soapy water until all of the bubbles rise to the top and are done.
What better way to warm your hands in the cold days of January than with a craft that involves warm, soapy water? Very carefully lift that ball (at this point lump) of wool out of the water, drizzle some more liquid soap on it (we used Dr. Bronner’s castile soap) and then just move it back and forth from one hand to the other, as if holding an egg. This begins the process of felting. This takes a while. Stick with it about ten minutes or until it seems to be holding together well on its own. Dip in the water again and gently squeeze some of the soapy water out.
Then for fun and for the love of making even the ordinary beautiful, needle felt some designs on it! We happen to have both a needle for needle felting and some dyed roving on hand. (If you are intrigued by needle felting – this kit makes a wonderful gift!)
My three year old asked for ‘her’ wool dryer ball to have pigtails. How could this mama resist? Not at all practical but oh so cute. (yes, they did fall off on their first dyer run!)
Throw a few of these into the dryer with your next load of clothes. The more the better, but then of course the more to fish out of each load! (But even that’s no trouble. Who doesn’t want to be greeted with a smiley wool face when doing such a mundane task?!) Drop a few drops of your favorite essential oil on it if you are hankering for that fresh smell.
(Adapted from Meg’s blog www.growingpeasandjustice.blogspot.com)