DIY Lima

Wool balls: The sustainable fabric softener

Fabric softeners are advertised as one of those “must-have” products that, in reality, we could completely live without. What is NOT advertised are the harmful effects of fabric softeners on the environment, our skin, and our health. If they did, I want to think no one would buy it.

I have a big confession to make. I do have a bottle of fabric softener at home. Before you judge me and stop reading, let me tell you the story. Sometime, years ago, I bought this bottle together with detergent, stain remover, soap, chlorine, etc. It was when I first started living on my own and taking care of laundry. I had no idea at the time what exactly I was buying. It was in the supermarket aisle together with all laundry products, and so I assumed it was needed.

fabric softener

While writing this post, as I took the photo of the ingredients on the label, I was “shocked” to read “BIODEGRADABLE, NOT HARMFUL TO THE ENVIRONMENT” in three languages! How can this be legal? I have no idea. Listed in the ingredients is Quaternary Ammonium, and several studies have stated that it is harmful. Recently, you will find many articles about it as it is often found in disinfectants, widely used now as COVID-19 prevention, and many cases of toxicity have been reported.

On my path to sustainability, at some point, I researched and tackled “body products.” Once I understood the ingredients in the bottle, fabric softener was out of my life forever. I’ve had that bottle now for at least 10 years. Disposing of it has been one of those things on my eternal “to-do” list as I still haven’t figured out the best way to do it. It is so toxic that I don’t want to pour it down the drain and send it to the ocean, I don’t want to send it to landfills to contaminate the soil and generate lots of Kg of CO2, and I won’t give away what I consider harmful. This bottle has moved with me three times, and I can’t believe I am writing about this. I hope this post makes me finally solve how to dispose of it in a country like Perú!

But let’s get back to the point. I am here to tell you about what I discovered years ago, and what I think SHOULD be advertised. Companies are not interested in products that don’t imply permanent re-sell and so they won’t make and advertise it, but I will.

It is my pleasure to introduce you to wool balls. Have you heard of them before?

What are wool balls?

Why, they’re balls made of wool!

What are they used for?

  • Softens clothes!
  • Reduces drying time (so it cuts down your electricity bill too!)
  • Reduces static (add a safety pin to them)
  • Can give laundry a nice scent (just add 1-2 drops of essential oil to the ball before you use them in each load)

How do they work?

The wool balls hit clothes, shaking humidity out of fabric and opening space between clothes so they don’t stick together and retain water. They also increase heat and absorb humidity. All of this accelerates the drying process.

How do you use them?

After washing your laundry, throw them into the dryer together with your clean clothes. Use 4-6 wool balls depending on the load size.

How long do they last?

About 1,000 uses (or until they lose firmness)

Where do you buy them?

In many countries, you get them online or in natural stores. In countries where they are not available, you can make them. Is very easy.

How do you make them?

  1. Un-knit an old wool sweater (real wool).
  2. Make 6cm balls of yarn and insert the last part inside very tight so it won’t come out easily.
  3. Put them in a pan of boiling water until they become felt.
  4. Put them in the dryer, and you are all set to go!

Of course, the best eco-practice for drying is to hang dry, but this is not realistic in cities with small apartments or damp climates. If you need a dryer, these wool balls will reduce the energy used and your energy bill! If you are a softener user, your savings will double as you won’t need to buy it anymore. You also get the bonus of avoiding more plastic containers, keeping all those chemicals out of our oceans, and protecting your skin and your family’s general health.

It is a win-win situation. I can’t see any reason to use fabric softener. Can you?

Bonus tip:

Some people claim tennis balls do the trick. They don’t have all the benefits of wool balls, but they can reduce your electricity bill. If you have them around, try them out and let me know!

PAOLA // Lima


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