Have you heard of dryer balls? They’re literally little balls that you put into your tumble dryer to speed up drying time and save energy. At least that’s the theory, but do they really work or are they a complete waste of money?
The manufacturers (of which there are many) obviously stand by their products and claims that their dryer balls can cut drying time and energy use by up to 25%. Some consumers also swear by the efficiency of their dryer balls (although there are differences between the bumpy rubber or plastic balls and wool balls). However, there are also many consumers who never put much faith in the claims and have gone out of their way to disprove their claims.
How do they work?
Dryer balls absorb the heat from the tumble dryer and spread it more evenly throughout the load when they bounce around. The bouncing around also softens the clothes so there is no need to use softener and they smooth out wrinkles and creases, saving you ironing time. In addition, the bumpy bouncing stops clothes lumping and clinging together, which improves air flow (speeding up drying) and prevents static.
Fact or fiction?
In July 2010, Which? published a list of 10 products that are a waste of money: Dryer balls were high on the list. Products were tested in the Which? lab, where it was found that dryer balls make no difference to drying time or creases.
But is one consumer test enough to disprove the independent testing that backs up the manufacturers’ claims?
Maybe not, but several consumers have conducted their own, surprisingly in-depth, studies and found dryer balls wanting. For example, Robin Green took a deeper look into the claims. After some effort he managed to find the independent test results, which had one glaring problem: According to the dates, the report was written seven days before testing was complete. Green then dissected some more of the test results and found problems with claims regarding drying times (who knows when exactly the clothes were dry within a given time frame. According to his calculations, the dryer balls possibly reduced drying time by 10.7% – a far cry from the 25% claimed.
Svein Medhus also thought dryer balls were too good to be true, so he put them through four tests. He was rigorous down to the exact weight of each load and even used an electricity meter to measure the energy used. He found that dryer balls actually increase drying time and that there was no difference in the energy used per litre of water between loads with balls and loads without. He was so thorough that his test was picked up by the Norwegian Consumer TV Report, FBI. Other media attention put pressure on the manufacturer of the balls Medhus used to give all customers a full refund – although sales continued.
A review on Popular Mechanics also found that dryer balls make no discernable difference to drying speeds, efficiency and energy use. The article cites Carolyn Forte who, at the time, was director of home appliances and cleaning products at the Good Housekeeping Research Institute. Forte said that the contents of the load play a role in dryer balls’ effectiveness; down, for example, will dry more quickly if it isn’t allowed to clump. She adds that, in essence, it doesn’t matter what you use. So instead of buying special dryer balls, you could throw in an old (clean) shoe.
However, most modern tumble dryers reverse direction during the cycle, which prevents clumping. So, provided you have a dryer that is still relatively new, you shouldn’t need any gimmicks to improve efficiency.
Rubber or wool?
Green and Medhus put rubber dryer balls to the test. Brittany Hollister (The Barefoot Baby) tested wool dryer balls and absolutely loves them. Apparently, they reduce drying time by up to 30% but the catch is that you have to use at least six balls per load to get those kinds of results.
Lance Shroyer (thehomemadeexperiment.com) is also very taken with wool dryer balls, especially as they should last for 1000 loads. Depending on the size of your family, that could be years. He recommends three extra large balls per load and also suggests adding some essential oils to the balls to give your laundry an extra fresh smell.
It’s worth noting that the bulk of the comments on Green’s post are from people who are very happy with their rubber balls.
So, do dryer balls work? It depends on who you ask. Perhaps they’re like placebos and they work if you believe in them.