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Keen followers of consumer news will know that fabric conditioners have been having a rough ride in the press of late. I am just old enough to remember when “Comfort” was first introduced into my home. We all thought it was wonderful. Clothes that stayed soft to the touch, smelt nice, and no longer generated static – three good reasons for celebration. Over the years, we experimented with different brands as they became available, the main differentiation between brands being the colour of the bottle and the smell of the freshly laundered clothes. Then along came detergents with built-in fabric conditioners that “Bold”-ly went where detergents had never gone before. Not quite such a cause for celebration in our household – any financial advantage or extra convenience was overridden by the fact that they seemed to cause some irritation to the skin. And finally “Bounce” appeared on the scene. All that was needed to keep one’s laundry fluffy and fresh was to add a sheet to the tumble-dryer. For a few pence a sheet, it did the job admirably.
So why consider changing again?
I mentioned that fabric conditioners had been having a rough ride in the press. Not everyone understands, for example, that fabric conditioners are not supposed to be used on towels. You might want a nice soft fluffy towel but if you use fabric conditioner to obtain it then you’ll also lose a certain amount of its absorbency. Dare I admit I didn’t know that myself until fairly recently? Then there’s the more headline-grabbing issue of the effect fabric conditioner has on fire-retardant properties. Better not to use it on those children’s nightclothes you so carefully selected to be flame-resistant, or it will negate the effect, so they say. And what about its effect its coating on tumble dryer components has on tumble dryer maintenance, and its accelerating effect on, or perhaps even root cause of, some tumble dryer fires? If that doesn’t worry you, then there are always supporters of the green argument to be found. It’s one more toxic chemical concoction we human beings just don’t need to inflict on our world or ourselves, they say. When I think about the environmental cost of its production, distribution and use, I’m forced to admit they have a point. And when I recently read some reports of health risks of inhaling the fumes from fabric-conditioned clothes, I began to wonder if I was being antisocial wearing softened clothes in public, subjecting all who came near to the effects of passive fabric conditioner use!
Is there an alternative?
At the Ideal Home Exhibition I was introduced to “dryer balls”, an alternative approach to softening laundry. An enthusiastic demonstrator told me of their “amazing” properties and set out to persuade me to give them a try. Dryer balls, I was told, were “safe”, “toxic free” and “environmentally friendly” – unlike all the fabric conditioners on the market. Moreover they pay for themselves over time. Not only do you not have to pay for a sheet for each use, but the tumbling takes less time and therefore uses less electricity. For £9.99 I could buy a pair of balls (one pink, one blue; no gender discrimination there). They are guaranteed for 2 years, and expected to last 5. I could even buy some as a Christmas present! Now hold on a moment, I don’t know about your Christmas gift-buying practices, but somehow I can’t imagine anyone being too excited on Christmas day when unwrapping their presents to discover a couple of balls to help soften their laundry. So I don’t think I’d buy them for that purpose, personally – except perhaps as a joke! Nevertheless, I was interested enough to buy a pair for my own use.
So how do they work?
The balls are about the size of tennis balls, with a soft rubbery feel to them and you must use them both together in the dryer to be effective. Their outer surfaces are covered in little projections called “softening nodes”, a bit like gear teeth on a wheel, but spread out in three dimensions over the spherical surface. (It may or may not help to imagine a curled up hedgehog with truncated spines to visualise this.) If you look closely you’ll notice that there are differences between the balls. The protuberances on the blue ball are slightly squarer in cross section, whereas those on the pink ball are rounder. The idea is that they engage with one another (just like gear teeth), but with some of your washing caught in between, as they tumble about in the dryer. In this way they help to “lift and separate the laundry whilst softening”. Well, I wasn’t entirely convinced, but I was prepared to give them a try.
And do they work?
I’ve been using the balls now in my tumble dryer for a couple of months and my experiences have been mixed. My towels have gradually lost some of their previously fabric-conditioned surface silky softness, but they are now very much more effective than they were. The dryer balls do not appear to be doing any harm, and may actually be doing some good, as the towels do emerge from the tumble dryer quite fluffed up with little or no evidence of any tangling or matting of their fibres. The majority of my other laundry items are still reasonably soft but when they emerge from the tumble dryer they look and feel more like they’ve been hanging on a line. One or two items have not fared so well. I’m not convinced of the wisdom of putting the balls in with acrylic jumpers. I’ve noticed some wear and tear that rightly or wrongly I’m suspecting could be attributed to the balls. Slightly more annoyingly I’ve noticed that one or two lingerie items that normally tumble well have creased & crumpled very badly, although this could in part be attributable to leaving items a fraction too long in the tumble dryer. The creases turned out to be temporary, mostly coming out as a result of hanging for a while but even so, it was unexpected.
What do the scientists say?
My tests are by no means scientific but there are details on the Dryer balls’ website of some independent scientific tests carried out by an organisation called Technicare Services Ltd, asked to test the manufacturer’s claims. Their report makes interesting reading and is largely supportive of the manufacturer’s claims. (But then we wouldn’t expect to find it on their website if it wasn’t, would we?).
The Static Question
One subject on which the scientists are remarkably silent is the extent to which using the dryer balls reduces static. I asked about this at the Ideal Homes Exhibition, and the demonstrator was quite confident that their product did reduce static electricity. It is certainly true in my experience that when I remove clothes from the tumble dryer, they do not show any immediate evidence of static, which they would do if I was not using any treatment. However, I have noticed a return of proneness to becoming charged with static on one or two jumpers that I have washed a few times and tumbled using the dryer balls. At first I thought a new jacket I had bought was the culprit as the static tended to arise only after I had been wearing it, but I can reproduce the effect with a newly tumbled (acrylic) jumper and an old jacket. So my thoughts are that I am noticing a side-effect of NOT using other fabric conditioner on my acrylic jumpers in particular.
As I already have a pair of Dryer Balls I will continue to use them at least for my towels, and probably also for bed linen and robust items of clothing. I have noticed some reduction in drying time necessary, so the balls are paying for themselves, albeit gradually, and they’re helping me do my bit to help the environment, albeit only a little. However, I confess I plan to revert to using Bounce for any jumpers that I tumble to see if I can eliminate the static effect. (I will update this review if I am successful in this). I have given them only an average rating because of my current personal disappointment over the static issue.
For further information (and opportunity to purchase) visit: www.dryerballs.com or email: email@example.com or Tel: 084 5404 9525. Dryer Balls are manufactured by Green Lane Products Ltd., Control House, Station Road, Radlett, Herts. WD7 8JY
Interesting review, your experiences re: drying time seem to a bit more positive than the other review on here. Still a mixed bag though sadly!
tekin21 05.01.2005 23:35
Interesting! However I do not have a dryer 8-( Jane x
LegendaryMrDude 31.12.2004 16:56
<sigh> if only I had a tumble-dryer. A great review in every way. Don't question how many chemicals go into the manufacture of said dryer balls though, they may turn out to be just as environmentally unfridnely as everything else. Actually, that gives me an idea. What about "Dryer Stones". Natural flinstone nodules just as mother earth intended them. They make beautiful earth-music in the tumble-dryer as they work their wonders too. ;-) Happy New Year. Sam.
This packet of JML dryer balls® gives you 2 balls that you can use to soften up your ... more
fabrics. The re-useable dryer balls® are made out of cardboard and are a safe, natural way to soften your fabrics without having to rely on fabric softeners. You place the balls in the drier with your sheets or clothes, and they lift and separate your drying load. The balls can massage heat into all kinds of fabrics, softening them up and removing creases to reduce the amount of ironing you need to do after the drier has finished your load. These balls can help to increase your drying time by up to 25%.
The Amazing Dryer Balls developed at The Laundry Labs. Used in conjunction with your ... more
tumble dryer and without the need to add fabric softener to your normal wash, the nodes on both balls helps to remove creases, soften fabrics and relax fibres.. . Key Features:. . Dryer Balls: reduces the hardness in fabrics created by water drying, thus providing softer results without the need for chemical aid.. Noticeably Softer: fabrics thanks to the mixture of square and round nodes.. Square Nodes: compress and soften the fabric.. Round Nodes: relax fibres to reduce hardness.. Reduce: drying time by up to 25%.. Cut Down: on the amount of lint..