Why I'll Never Use Fabric Softener or Dryer Sheets Again

Welcome to the life-changing magic of wool dryer balls.

Wool dryer balls

M Breyer / Treehugger

If you were to find yourself poking around Environmental Working Group's Guide to Healthy Cleaning and you filtered down to fabric softeners, you know what you'd find? Of the 212 fabric softeners and dryer sheets that the environmental advocacy group has analyzed for "hazards to health or the environment," 72.1% are ranked as high to highest concern—with just 11.8% ranked as low or lowest concern. So some are OK, but the majority, not so much.

Meanwhile, by 2025 the world is expected to spend $22.72 billion on fabric softener. All that money and all that potential hazard—and all those plastic bottles. Is the smell of lab-formulated "April Fresh Scent" or "Sea Breeze" really worth it?

It is especially confounding when there is a really great alternative—and that, my friends, is the humble wool dryer ball.

I got my first set of wool dryer balls years ago as a gift. I would have never expected them to be so effective, but effective they are. A set is comprised of six felted wool balls that one puts in the dryer with their laundry. By bouncing around with the drying items, they work to separate layers and create air pockets to help fluff and soften, and reduce drying time. I add a few drops of pure essential oil to the balls for a botanical-based fragrance, which is a lovely alternative to the conventional fabric softeners that are scented with synthetic chemicals that can lead to skin irritation.

Aside from the mechanical action, the balls also absorb moisture, further reducing the time it takes to dry clothes. That absorbed moisture does double duty to help reduce static cling—of which the balls do a wonderful job. Most static cling comes from overdrying; but as the balls release the absorbed moisture as the drying progresses, the conditions for the build-up of static electricity are minimized.

They also help with wrinkles, remove pet hair from clothes (no small miracle) and help towels and linens not intertwine into soggy braids.

They are effective, cost-effective since they can be used for years, non-toxic to person and planet, and plastic-free. I really can't imagine ever buying liquid fabric softener or dryer sheets again.

I asked eco-advocate and entrepreneur Mimi Ausland about the Friendsheep Eco Dryer Balls available at Free the Ocean, the daily trivia site she co-founded to clean up ocean plastic. (Friendsheep is the same brand I was given all those years ago—mine are still going strong.) Ausland said:

"Not only do I love that these dryer balls replace single-use dryer sheets but I really appreciate how they reduce drying time, wrinkles, and static, naturally! No chemical softener found here. Did I mention how the six cute faces make doing laundry so much more fun?!"

(She was talking about the penguin-themed balls, in case you were wondering why she has a sextet of cute faces helping her with her laundry.)

Cute wool dryer balls with penguin faces
Available at Free the Ocean

The Details

Wool may not be an option for vegan households; but for the record, Friendsheep is adamantly opposed to mulesing. They use 100% organic New Zealand wool that is 100% cruelty-free and Leaping Bunny Certified.

The wool comes from a consortium of family-owned farms and the balls are handmade for fair wages in Nepal. As Friendsheep explains, their products are not mass-produced in China as are many of the other wool dryer balls on the market. "Our artisans are people—mostly women—from underprivileged communities living in the Himalayan Valley of Kathmandu. We believe that the best product should not only be made with the best materials but also made with love, in the best ethical and environmental conditions by passionate people like our artisans."

Dryer balls will last for around 1,000 loads of laundry, and can then be backyard-composted or used as balls for children or pets (true story—my cats steal mine and seem to think they are fabulous). They can be fashioned into air fresheners, pincushions, ornaments, used for juggling practice, turned into toys, mobiles, made into dolls or creatures, endless crafts, and more. I mean, you can't do all of that with an empty plastic bottle, right?

Ausland's shop at Free the Ocean offers the dryer balls in five cute designs: penguins, sloths, ladybugs, pigs, and a beautiful array of ocean blues. And if you shop there, every purchase of dryer balls funds the removal of 10 pieces of plastic from the ocean. Which is like adding a win-win to a win-win-win. Head over to Free the Ocean to shop and learn more ... and you too may find yourself never buying liquid fabric softener or dryer sheets again.