Make Wool Dryer Balls from Recycled Sweaters

homemade DIY wool dryer balls old recycle repurpose sweater

My crafting sweet spot: a tactile project that can be done with kids, will be a useful everyday item in your home, save money, help the environment, and recycle items that have already served their primary purpose.

These hard-to-meet criteria are all present in today’s DIY craft project: how to make wool dryer balls! Have you heard of these? They are bouncing around dryers everywhere. It’s pretty cold up here in Canada in the winter, and even the line-drying enthusiasts among us turn to the dryer sometimes – see how the wool dryer ball offers something for everyone?  Read on for the what, why and how of the dryer ball’s popularity.

What They Are:  Quite amazing.  More specifically, they are felted balls of wool. They are made by winding any wool product (yarn, roving, or wool scraps) into a ball and washing and heating the wool so that it shrinks and felts into a firm ball that will not unravel.

Why We Care:  They are fantastic for your clothes in the dryer. When you toss them in with your laundry, they bounce their way to these benefits:

*  creating more air and space between your clothes so that they dry 30 to 50% faster – you’ll save both energy and money!

*  absorbing some of the clothing’s dampness which further speeds drying time

*  reducing static cling

*  by adding a few drops of your favourite essential oil(s) to your wool dryer balls, you’ll have lovely, natural, safe scents in your laundry

*  eliminate dryer sheets forever (you know these aren’t good for you, right?)

You can buy wool dryer balls, but you can also make some for yourself and for gifts for a teeny fraction of the price. It’s possible to make them from yarn or roving, but I’m reluctant to use these materials because they’re expensive (especially when trying to support your local yarn shop, which I do) and can be made into other things. Using wool sweaters that were past their prime (holes from enterprising moths, worn out, stains) meant my materials didn’t cost anything, and I’m saving them from the landfill. If you don’t have wool sweaters or scarves on hand, you can pick them up for a few dollars from a thrift store.

What You’ll Need (hint: hardly anything)

* wool sweater other clothing (preferably 100% wool (a minimum of 85%) to ensure it felts)

* sharp scissors

* old pantyhose legs (cut the panty part off)

* needle and thick thread or yarn

What You’ll Do

1.  Cut your wool sweater into as long a strip as you can. You will be winding this into a ball, and keeping this strip under an inch wide will make it easy to wind.  I cut the arms off my sweaters and started with cutting the body into a single circular strip. Later I would slit open the arms and cut those into a single strip also.

homemade DIY wool dryer balls old recycle repurpose sweater

homemade DIY wool dryer balls old recycle repurpose sweater

DIY handmade dryer balls wood recycled sweater

2. Start the ball with scrap pieces of wool. I rolled up the top of the sweater and the bottom and sleeve trims to start my balls.

homemade DIY wool dryer balls old recycle repurpose sweater

homemade DIY wool dryer balls old recycle repurpose sweater

3. Start winding your long strip of wool around your starter ball made from scraps. I tried to keep some tension in my ball without pulling it crazy tight.

homemade DIY wool dryer balls old recycle repurpose sweater

homemade DIY wool dryer balls old recycle repurpose sweater

4. Stop when you like the size ball you have created. Keep in mind that your ball will shrink when it is felted. I made various sizes, and I think I like the size of a softball the best – this shrunk down to about a tennis ball size after felting.

homemade DIY wool dryer balls old recycle repurpose sweater

5.  Secure the end of the strip to your ball. I did this by tucking in the end under other strips but with the benefit of hindsight (see troubleshooting below) I would highly recommend that you stitch the end into place with a thick thread or even some yarn, connecting it a couple of neighbouring strips and perhaps pulling the thread through the ball a few times just to help keep it together.

You can also decorate your ball at this stage if you like. For one of my charcoal grey balls, I added a golden strip of wool roving with a felting needle. The felt-skilled among you will know you can create all kinds of designs this way.

homemade DIY wool dryer balls old recycle repurpose sweater

6. Push your dryer ball into the very bottom of your pantyhose leg and tie a knot or two securing the ball into place. You want to have as little room for the ball to  move around and come loose in the pantyhose so tie it tightly in there.

homemade DIY wool dryer balls old recycle repurpose sweater

7. Wash the dryer balls in a hot water wash, followed by high heat in the dryer.  You may need to repeat this two or three times to get the balls tightly felted. You can combine this process with your regular washing and drying.

8. When you can see the balls have shrunk, cut them out of the hose. There they are! Your very own handmade eco-friendly satisfying-to-make wool dryer balls!

homemade DIY wool dryer balls old recycle repurpose sweater

homemade DIY wool dryer balls old recycle repurpose sweater

Troubleshooting:

If you took my advice in step 5 and stitched your ends into your dryer ball, you may not have any balls that look like this.

homemade DIY wool dryer balls old recycle repurpose sweater

But if you do, don’t despair. This grey and red ball shown is actually quite well felted, it’s just the end that doesn’t have anywhere to attach itself to. I will salvage it by stitching this end into the rest of the ball. If I can’t hide the thread well or if I want for some extra security against unraveling, I may add a layer of roving over the ball and put it through one more cycle of hot wash and hot dry. It’s going to make it.

homemade DIY wool dryer balls old recycle repurpose sweater

These balls, on the other hand, are a different story – they’re not felted well enough to stay together. The blue one I’m going to let go. It was a scarf that was already felted when I cut it into a strip. It was thick and stiff to work with and I don’t think it will stay together without a lot of work.

The cream one is worth another try. I made two of these and one of them felted well. I will unravel this one and start over. It was quite big to start with, so I probably add another scrap starter ball and divide the original ball into two smaller balls.  As with the grey and red ball, I can also finish these with roving.

And of course you can do this DIY craft project with your kids. They may not be able to roll their balls quite as well as you can, but you can address this with some extra sewing at the end to keep their balls closed.  Tell them why dryer balls are such a good idea, and then let them get in on the action!

homemade DIY wool dryer balls old recycle repurpose sweater

homemade DIY wool dryer balls old recycle repurpose sweater

homemade DIY wool dryer balls old recycle repurpose sweater

homemade DIY wool dryer balls old recycle repurpose sweater

5 thoughts

    1. I’ve never tried it, but I don’t think it would work with soap, because running it through the hot wash cycle to shrink the wool would compromise the soap. I have made felted soaps with roving though, and it’s a wonderful craft – I did it with my boys. We still use them!

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