Cheapism readers buy a lot of products online. Among their favorites — and also among the most humble — are wool dryer balls. You can find them at Amazon under a variety of brand names (they're all essentially the same), and they're designed to do the work of softener sheets or liquid fabric softener without using chemicals. But do they really work? We decided to find out by comparing Ecoigy organic wool dryer balls, one of Amazon's best sellers, with Bounce fabric softener sheets, one of the most popular brands sold.
How Wool Dryer Balls Work
If you've ever tried washing clothing (especially heavy fabrics like denim or cotton) without any kind of fabric treatment, you know the results: stiff jeans, scratchy T-shirts, and towels no one wants to snuggle in. Wool dryer balls are designed to bounce around inside your clothes dryer along with your garments, gently massaging and fluffing fibers, removing lint and pet hair, and reducing static cling. They're about the size of an orange and feel like soft, slightly fuzzy tennis balls; naturally odorless, you can use essential oil to give them a gentle scent.
Dryer Balls vs. Fabric Softener Sheets
We tested the dryer balls and softener sheets by washing and drying sets of similar laundry on the permanent press cycle. Each load included a cotton bath towel, a pair of men's jeans, a pair of men's cotton hiking shorts, a dark-colored cotton/polyester T-shirt and a synthetic-fiber workout shirt, two white cotton undershirts, two pairs of cotton boxer shorts, and a pair of men's dress socks. Following the package instructions, we used two sheets of Bounce Outdoor Fresh fabric softener for one load, and three unscented wool dryer balls for the comparison load. We also ran a load using dryer balls that had each been treated with a couple drops of lavender essential oil.
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There's no question that a chemical fabric softener like Bounce makes clothing feel softer, especially heavy fabrics. The bath towel fibers felt plush again; the jeans practically folded themselves. By comparison, the clothes dried with the wool dryer balls were stiffer. Not uncomfortably so — the pants weren't going to stand up by themselves — but the towels, jeans, and T-shirts all needed a little extra smoothing to fold neatly and lacked that "finished" feel. Although Ecoigy claims its dryer balls will reduce drying time by up to 40%, we found that not to be the case in our test; both loads of clothing took about the same time.
If snuggly soft, sweet-smelling laundry is what you crave, then Bounce (or your preferred chemical fabric softener) is your best choice. But if you're sensitive to chemicals, dislike strong scents, or simply prefer eco-friendly laundry methods, the wool dryer balls are the way to go. Your clothes won't be quite as cuddly soft when you first slip into them, but as one of our staffers noted, it's nothing you don't get used to after about a minute. If you prefer a subtle scent added to your clean laundry, we found that adding three drops of essential oil to each of the dryer balls did indeed impart a very subtle, but fresh scent (in our case, lavender, but lemon and eucalyptus are also pleasant) to clothing.
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What Buyers Say
Ecoigy wool dryer balls — and similar products — get overwhelmingly positive buyer reviews on Amazon: 4.7 stars out of 5 on average. Truly negative comments are rare, but the most common concern lint and static cling. A vocal minority of reviewers complain that wool dryer balls are prone to leaving lint on dark-colored fabrics. Another common gripe: excessive static cling. We didn't experience either of these in our test, but we did notice that clothing did seem ever so slightly more wrinkled than the load dried with Bounce dryer sheets.
Buyers are even more enthusiastic about Bounce dryer sheets. They're a top seller at Amazon and have an average rating of 4.8 from more than 13,000 people, few of whom seem to have anything bad to say. The most common complaints come from buyers who found the scent unpleasant or overpowering, or from people who say the dryer sheets arrived all stuck together and unusable.
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