How To Make Wool Dryer Balls from Old Sweaters – A Whole Set for $1 and NO Waste!

You’ve got some balls, Kate!”  Not the kind of words one would generally expect to hear from their mother, but I know she means it as a compliment (most of the time).

Lately I’ve been thinking about getting me a new set of balls.  People keep asking me if I know anything about dryer balls. Those plastic ones that are supposed to cut down on static and reduce drying time in the dryer.  You know, these things:

dryer-ballsTruth be told, I’m clueless. I haven’t tried them and the reviews online are so mixed that I understand why people are asking.  Some seem to swear by them, others find them totally useless.

When you search for dryer balls online, you also find WOOL dryer balls, and there are lots of tutorials on how to make them using wool yarn. I’ve pointed more than a few people to these sites, suggesting that they try making some.

I was hoping that someone else would try making them and tell me how they worked.

But… a few of my kind readers have mentioned that they don’t have a yarn store nearby and if they do, the store doesn’t sell pure wool yarn, and if the store did have wool, it was bloody expensive!

And at this point my curiosity was peaked and I was just itchin’ to make some freaking dryer balls.

Plan 1: Wool Yarn

I have a few really nice balls of wool yarn sitting around here but I’d be damned if I was going to waste it on dryer balls.  I mean c’mon, don’t be ridiculous.

Scrap Plan 1!

Plan 2: Old Wool Sweaters

I went on a used-wool-sweater-buying-binge 2 years ago when I was heavy into making wool soakers for Remy.  It was this time of year and Value Village, Salvation Army, etc. were clearing out their sweaters and I managed to get 8 or 10 of them for about $6. The soakers came out beautifully, by the way 😉

Hoarder that I can be at times, I saved all the scraps of wool and FINALLY I’ve thought of what to use them for.

How To Make Wool Dryer Balls from Old Wool Sweaters

Step 1: Raid Your Closet or Get to Your Local Thrift Shop

Remember:

  • You want sweaters that are 100% wool (or cashmere)
  • Merino or other “machine washable” sweaters WON’T WORK. You need a sweater that will shrink

Step 2: Cut the Seams out of the Sweater

By “cut the seams out” I mean just that.  Cut on either side of all the seams. You’ll end up with several large pieces of sweater (opened up arms, front and back). You can keep the cut out seams to use as stuffing for the balls (see below) or just throw them out.

Step 3: Felt the Wool

It’s possible that this step is optional but I think it will make things easier for the next few steps. You will need to cut the wool and by felting it slightly first, it will cut more easily and won’t fray as you cut.

Wash the sweater pieces in HOT water (no detergent necessary but if you purchased from a thrift store, maybe add a bit) then dry them in the dryer.  When the sweater pieces come out, they should be smaller and more tightly woven.

Step 4: Pick Your Piece

Depending on how thick the wool pieces are, you may need more than one piece of your sweater.  With the 6 balls that I’ve made so far, each one only required the wool from one arm of a sweater.

For this ball, I used the arm from the most wonderful cashmere sweater I’ve ever felt and some scrap bits that were in my scrap basket.

Felted Arm from Cashmere Sweater & Some Other "Bits"

Felted Arm from Cashmere Sweater & Some Other “Bits”

Step 5: Cut Cuffs and Ribbing Off

Cuffs and ribbing don’t felt well so cut them off.

Cut off ribbing and cuffs

Cut off ribbing and cuffs

Step 6: Cut Your Sweater Piece into One Long Strip

Lie the wool on a flat surface (or your lap if you’re watching TV while you do this like I did) and start cutting a long strip around the piece. You’ll keep going until you get to the centre of the piece.

I tried to keep my strip just under 1/2 inch wide – until I got to the centre.  As you continue to cut the wool, you’ll get closer and closer to the middle.  When you get so close to the centre that the piece is about 2 inches wide, I’d stop cutting. Keep the last bit (the 2 inch wide bit) attached to your long strip though.

Cut your wool piece into one long strip.

Cut your wool piece into one long strip.

Note that I started to “round” the corners on my first time around.  I found “rounded” corners wound around the ball more easily.

Step 7: Use Scraps to Form Centre of Ball

I used the cuff that I had cut off and a couple of other scraps (this is where you can use the seams that you cut out earlier too) to form the centre of the ball.

Step 8: Start Winding Your Ball

Starting with the wider end of the strip that was at the centre of your piece of wool (i.e. the end that you cut LAST), wind the strip around the scraps. This picture shows what was the centre of my piece of wool and the main strip attached to it.

DSC_0006

This was the centre of my piece of wool and is the starting piece for winding the ball.

Step 9: Wind Until Fist-Sized

Keep winding the ball until it’s fist-sized. Or like a medium sized apple. A bit smaller than a navel orange.  Something like that. Tennis ball size. How’s that for a description?

Step 10: Tuck the End In

I suppose you could just weave the end under a few pieces of the ball but I decided to kind of sew mine in.

I thread(ed?) a darning needle with a piece of yarn and tied it to the end of wool. I used that to tuck the end of the strip under a couple of the layers of wool and then I pulled the yarn through the ball a couple of times.

So that I wouldn’t have a piece of yarn sticking out at the end, I put the needle in one last time and then before pulling it all the way into the ball, I cut the yarn short enough that when I pulled the needle out, the end of the yarn would be left in the ball.

Step 11: Make More

Step 12: Tie them in a Sock

If you have an old pair of pantyhose or a knee-high kicking around, that’s great, otherwise use a thin sock.

Place one ball at the very toe of the sock and then tie a knot above the ball.  Ensure that the ball is in there nice and snug otherwise, it will move around in the sock and it might fall apart a bit.

Continue to put balls in the sock and tying knots until you get to the top.  I was able to fit three into my sock. Remy wanted you to see how tight the sock is around each ball…

Tie the balls into a sock

Tie the balls into a sock

Step 13: Felt Your Balls

For you men out there, that’s “felt“, not “feel“, your balls.

Put the sock full of balls into the washing machine and run them through a hot cycle.  Then put them in the dryer.

Depending on the wool, you may have to do this 2 or 3 times. If you’ve got other items that need to be washed in hot, might as well put them in too so you’re not wasting energy and water.

Step 14: Sit Back and Admire Your Work

Aren’t they nice? FYI, it’s next to impossible to get your kids to keep their hands off them.

These three balls took me about an hour to make and went through the washer/dryer once.  The yellow one looks like the strips haven’t “melded” together well but I really have to pick at them to pull it apart.  I expect they’ll be perfect after I use them a couple of times.

felted dryer balls from old sweatersI’ll provide an update on how well they work after I’ve been using them for some time.

Three Benefits of Homemade Wool Dryer Balls from Old Sweaters

  1. Cut down on static and required drying time
  2. This is a fun craft that you can do with your kids, or if you’re looking for something to do while you watch tv
  3. SUPREMELY CHEAP! Get a used wool sweater on sale at Value Village for $1 or $2 and you’ll get 6 or 8 or 10 dryer balls! That’s way cheaper than $29.99 for 3 that Norwex is charging or what you’ll pay on Etsy.com (although my goodness, they’ve got some nice ones on there!)

Coincidentally, I found someone else with a very similar method but she used an old wool skirt. Good idea! Here’s a link to her site so you can see how hers turned out.

If you try this, I’d love to hear from you or see yours!

And now, because you’ve read through all this and need a little comic relief, let me introduce you to Schweddy Balls (sorry, you have to watch a short ad on this video first)…

 

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6 Responses to How To Make Wool Dryer Balls from Old Sweaters – A Whole Set for $1 and NO Waste!

  1. Sharon Seegert says:

    Can’t wait to try this, I plan on using a few myself and giving at least 2 each as gifts with Lavender essential oil! Thanks for the info!

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  2. Tracey says:

    I made these and they DO work! I bought 3 sweaters from the thrift shop for $8 and will probably end up making about 20 dryer balls from those 3 sweaters. Enough for me and gifts. I was skeptical as to if they would remove the static and YES it works. My work uniform is polyester and polyester blend and I have cats, so cat hair sticking was a concern. No static. You do have to wrap them really well. A couple of mine came unwound in the dryer so I learned to take the time and stich in a couple places on the ball. Thanks for the great tutorial.

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    • Awesome, Tracey! isn’t it addictive? It’s like it’s so easy and kinda relaxing and so freaking cheap that you just gotta make more 😉 I was interested to hear that they’re actually working to cut down on static for you too.

      Thank you for taking the time to add you comment, I do really appreciate getting feedback from people that try my wacked-out ideas.

      Like

  3. Rachel says:

    Awesome! Thanks for the info😄

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  4. Rachel says:

    Kate,

    I know this post is older but maybe it will help since you have had time to use the dryer balls a lot. Have you felt like they work? Do you use any sort of fabric softener in the washing machine before clothes go into the dryer? Do you think it will make a difference if you have hard or soft water? Have you had to replace your dryer balls yet by making new ones? I really would like to stop using dryer sheets and was thinking of purchasing the norwex dryer balls but wanted to get your thoughts and experience with the homemade version first😄

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    • Rachel – I wish I had a good answer for you. The dryer I have came with the house and it’s grey, which makes me think it’s from the 1980’s. It’s very unpredictable. Sometimes it works great and others it’s like we didn’t even turn the dryer on. So I can’t tell if the dryer balls are making any difference or not. As for Static, the jury is still out. I don’t use fabric softener of any kind but since I switched to Charlie’s Soap several years ago, static hasn’t been an issue. The only time static seems to appear is when I wash a lot of fleece items together. I “think” the dryer balls have helped with that.

      As for their condition, the balls have held up really well. They’re a bit pilly looking but I’m not concerned about that. I had one woman complain that hers fell apart but she didn’t stitch them at the end like I suggested. The stitching is crucial – particularly if the wool is well felted before you roll the balls. Well felted means there isn’t much more shrinkage or “melding” potential in the wool. The stitching only took an extra minute so I do recommend it. Frankly, I enjoyed making them and I gave a few as gifts that were warmly received.

      Oh, I will mention that I had a few old stiff prefold diapers that I threw in the dryer once with the balls and they came out wonderfully soft!

      I have no idea how these would compare to the plastic ones that you can buy but if you have an old wool sweater to cut up, you’ve got nothing to lose 😉

      Like

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