Household,  Laundry

Greener tumble drying: dry your laundry without toxic chemicals

Ever worry that it’s impossible to be greener if you tumble-dry at home? I know having a tumble dryer can seem completely at odds with caring for the planet.  BUT they do have their uses if you live in a rainy area or a compact home without much hanging space. And if you have babies or young kids having a dryer is pretty much essential, especially in winter. So much washing! It can’t be helped.

In a nutshell, tumble dryers have their place and are here to stay. Many newer models are available with A+ or higher energy ratings. If you’re thinking about upgrading yours, that’s definitely worth bearing in mind.

Aside from cutting back on usage wherever you can, a key part of greener tumble-drying is what you’re putting in the dryer with your laundry.

The problem with dryer sheets

Do you use dryer sheets? They can seem so handy and smell oh so good. They’re also great  for other things like stinky vacuum cleaners or when you’re storing your winter/summer clothes away. Just chucking in a few sheets keeps everything smelling fresh.  

But (and it’s a big but), have you ever thought about just how toxic these sweet-smelling sheets actually are? They contain artificial fragrance and loads of other chemicals. Also, so many of the ingredients in tumble dryer sheets don’t have to be disclosed by law if the formulation is considered to be a trade secret. Which it often is. What a surprise.

If you have a venting machine, the chemicals are pumped into the air outside. They also go on to linger inside your home through the items you’ve dried. Suddenly that snuggly, fresh-scented towel doesn’t seem so appealing after all.

There is a better way

If you’d love to know about a more sustainable and healthier alternative to dryer sheets which works just as well, the holy grail is here: eco-friendly wool dryer balls. These little beauties look a bit like white tennis balls but are much lighter. 

The dryer balls I use are made of 100% organic wool, sustainably and ethically sourced from New Zealand sheep. Whichever brand you go for, undyed balls are best to reduce the risk of any colour transfer.

The balls reduce drying time and energy use by soaking up water from the towels/sheets/clothing. Another environmental gain. Like dryer sheets, the balls also soften fabrics and reduce static.

Best of all, unlike dryer sheets, the balls don’t emit toxic fumes or leave any chemical residues on laundry or in the air.  They also work out far more economical as they last for AGES (see below). Whereas dryer sheets are single use.

But I hate the smell of wet wool

If you’re thinking this may be a no-go because of the wet wool stench, I hear you. Somehow these balls don’t smell of anything before or after use. You can easily use them unscented without any issues. That’s what I do.

If you really can’t bear the idea of not having beautifully scented towels and sheets then you could try adding a few drops of essential oil to the balls just before the end of the drying cycle. That said, given how hot the machine gets, do be mindful of the potential fire risk. I think adding the oil about ten minutes on a lower heat before the cycle ends is probably about right. 

Aren’t they noisy?

While you can hear the dryer balls moving around the machine, the sound is gentle and kind of relaxing. Think of it as laundry meditation.

I’ve heard that non-wool dryer balls can sound a bit alarming thumping about. Like there are actual tennis balls, or worse, in there.

While we’re on the tennis ball subject, my dog Winston adores the wool dryer balls. He often waits by the machine to steal one when I am unloading or loading it. I couldn’t resist adding a little pic below of him with his loot. 



If you’re concerned about how long the wool balls last then do not fear!  They have an estimated life of over 1000 loads.  

Depending on how heavily used your dryer is, you may need to ‘recharge’ the balls every so often. This is because, after a while, the heat from the dryer can stop them absorbing water effectively which can reduce the humidity and performance. You might also notice more static than before.

Recharging your balls is easy (ahem). You just need to soak them in a basin of hot water and then dry on high heat in the tumble dryer along with other items, of course! This regenerates the wool which apparently makes the balls even more effective. Woo-hoo!

When they get to the end of their useful life, unlike dryer sheets, you can just cut up the wool balls and compost them.

If you are looking for a greener way to tumble-dry, I think you’ll love the wool balls. Why not try them out and let me know what you think in the comments below.

Wool dryer balls, various brands, around £10.00 to £12.99 online.

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