Have you heard about Dryer Balls? Crafty folk everywhere are making balls from wool yarn and using them instead of fabric softener sheets while drying their laundry. The purpose behind these things is to save money (no more buying dryer sheets), be "green" (reducing waste and not adding chemicals to your laundry), eliminate static naturally, and reduce drying time. The more balls you add to the dryer, the less time it is supposed to take for your laundry to dry.
Here's how it's done: Using 100% wool yard, tightly wind the yard into a ball, about the size of a baseball or larger. Tuck the end of the yarn inside the ball using a crochet hook. I was able to make two balls from each skein of yarn.
I experimented with some 100% wool sweater sleeves, also, cutting the sleeves into thin strips and winding them into balls.
It was far easier to wind the sweater strips than the yarn. If you have tendinitis or carpel tunnel, I would suggest you find someone else to wind the yarn. Several times, my hands cramped up so badly that tears leaked from my eyes. I took little breaks, but still had to hold the ball in one hand to keep it from unwinding. Owie! The down side to the sweater strips was that it was very difficult to tuck in the end. They were too big to use the crochet hook, so I used a skewer to cram them in as far as I could.
After you've wound up about six balls, squeeze them into an old pantyhose leg. Since I didn't have any old pantyhose lying about, I bought one of those knee high stocking bubble balls at Walmart for 33¢. Use a piece of non-wool yarn to tie off between each ball and to tie the open end of the stocking closed. Toss the ball caterpillar in with a load of whites, washing in hot water. Dry the caterpillar with the laundry in the dryer, too. The heat will cause the wool fibers to felt, thus make a nice solid, un-unravel-able (a word according to Sheldon!) ball. It make take a few trips through the washer and dryer for this to be achieved. The balls will look like this when they are nicely felted:
The yarn balls felted much better than the sweater balls did. One of the yellow balls kept losing its last strand, no matter how many times I re-tucked it, so I finally just left it off. The sweater balls are considerably more dense than the yarn balls, so it took them longer to dry in the felting process. Their extra weight comes in handy using them now, though.
To use the Dryer Balls, simply toss them into the dryer along with your wet laundry. They will bounce around, helping to soften your clothes naturally. Yes, I was able to take a photo of my dryer in action with the door open! This dryer is almost 24 years old. The time quit working a couple of years ago, so I have to watch the clock and turn it off manually. A recent development is that it will keep running even after you open the door. That was a surprise! Now I wonder how much longer this old thing will keep plugging away...
Back to the balls -- Now that I've been using them for a couple of months, I can tell you that:
1. They do soften laundry very nicely, without adding any slickness to towels or scents of any kind.
2. They are limited in their ability to reduce static. Towels are fine, as well as jeans, but socks stick together like cat hair on velvet.
3. They do not reduce drying time that much. Of course, if I had more than six balls, that might make a difference. Usually, my dryer takes about 45 minutes to dry a load of towels. With the Dryer Balls, it takes about 40 minutes. I still haven't used the two skeins of yarn in the first photo above, so if my hands are feeling up to it, I'll wind up a few more balls before dryer using season is over. (In warmer weather, most laundry gets dried on the clothes line around here.)
My ultimate opinion on wool dryer balls? They're pretty neat! I like them a lot! If you've got wrists of steel or a kid who does, you really should make a batch of your own. If you don't feel like winding your own, however, there are lots of industrious folks who sell them ready to go on Etsy.