OK, so you don't actually need to feed your dryer balls. But I often hear from people who want to use dryer balls in place of dryer sheets and fabric softener but are unsure after a lifetime of training to not put wool in the dryer.
Let me be absolutely clear. I am speaking of 100 % felted wool dryer balls. They are completely natural, and unless you get some that may be the ends of dyed fleeces, no chemicals have ever touched this wool. This makes them ideal for everyone of all sensitivities. (The only exception may be those few who are allergic to the animals themselves. Alpaca dryer balls are also an excellent option, and that may be better if you know you are allergic to sheep.)
Why use wool dryer balls?
Many health sites have warned people about the dangers of chemicals in dryer sheets and fabric softeners. These include benzyl acetate, benzyl alcohol, ethanol, limonene, and chloroform. However, the only potentially harmful chemical that has been proven dangerous is the group of agents used for fragrance.
Apart from the chemicals deposited on your clothing and linens, single-use dryer sheets are made of polyester. That's more plastic being added to the environment with every load that goes into the dryer.
Lastly, the chemicals used to coat your fabric to reduce static cling reduce how much moisture the fabric can absorb. This means you're not getting the full use of natural wicking properties from your towels and athletic wear.
One article also mentioned that these deposits can make fabric more flammable. I could not find separate corroboration of this.
The cause of static electricity buildup in your dryer is natural fibers and synthetic fibers rubbing against each other. Adding a natural fiber like wool means less static electricity! The additional agitation of the weight of the dryer balls also fluffs up your laundry as it moves in the dryer, meaning air can flow more freely, drying your clothing faster. If you have a dryer with a moisture sensor, this translates to savings on your utility bill!
How do you use dryer balls?
Dryer balls simply live in your dryer. I prefer to use at least 3 for best results. As you pull your laundry out of the dryer and find each one, simply throw it back into the dryer where it will wait for the next load.
Still want a nice scent on your clothes when they come out of the dryer? Simply add a few drops of your favorite essential oil on each dryer ball before starting the load!
What if they start getting fuzzy?
Over time, dryer balls can start to get a bit of a halo. This effect may vary based on the type of wool your dryer balls are made from. There are a few things you can try when this happens.
Shave your dryer balls. Nothing kinky or complicated here. Simply use a disposable razor to shave off the halo.
Throw them in the washer. Make sure to use a hot/cold cycle when you wash them. This will renew the felting and compact the wool again.
Do nothing. If the wool isn't shedding fiber on your clothing, there is no harm done. It is simply part of the aging process.
What if they start falling apart?
If your dryer balls are actually coming apart, that is another matter entirely. If you purchased your dryer balls from me, and they start coming apart within 6 months, please contact me. I will replace your dryer balls for free.
If you purchased your dryer balls elsewhere, I encourage you to contact where you bought them. However, you can also try placing them in a nylon stocking and follow step 2 above for washing them.
How long do dryer balls last?
The first set of Icelandic wool dryer balls I made for our own use to try out survived for 2 full years. We were still using them when we got new kittens, and slowly the dryer balls were stolen away and used as toys. Pictured here is one of our cats, Taz, three years later, with one of those original dryer balls, still holding up well as an extremely entertaining cat toy.