Laundry

Meet Brooke Petry, Whose Dryer Balls Make Laundry a Little More Beautiful and Virtuous

February 12, 2015

We choose products for the Food52 shop not only because we're obsessed with them (always) -- most of the time we're just as inspired by the creatives who make them. And we listen up when those makers share their own insight and tips for smarter living. 

Today: Who needs 50 shades when you could have 3 shades of Food52 gray? Meet the maker behind our exclusive set of gray dryer balls that could even make Christian Grey’s clothes softer and wrinkle-free.

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Laundry is likely one of the most unpretty and dreaded home activities. We really didn’t think we could add beauty to our wash-and-fold routine, until we came across the dryer balls from Bog Berry Handicraft. Owner Brooke Petry makes, packages, and walks each batch of her wool dryer balls to her local UPS in Philadelphia so that her company's footprint stays small -- her product is a truly environmentally-sound, more stylish way to dry laundry. 

Brooke believes that dryer balls are not only a great alternative to dryer sheets (for a variety of reasons), but they could also make you love doing laundry. Even better: Brooke has sourced new wool and dyes for a wintry, cozy set of gray dryer balls exclusive to Food52.

If you ask us, laundry is really starting to look up. Read on for the story behind Bog Berry Dryer Balls.

 

What are dryer balls? What do they do? Why are yours made of wool?
Dryer balls are the earth-friendly replacement for chemical-laden dryer sheets. They reduce wrinkles and static, soften laundry naturally, and help cut down on drying time. Using them keeps harmful chemicals off of your laundry (and yourself, actually) and keeps dryer sheets out of landfills. Wool is a great alternative to the blue PVC that dryer balls are often made of, because it doesn’t damage your laundry, fall apart, melt, make a bunch of noise, and you aren't heating PVC (yikes!).

How long will they last?
They last a REALLY long time -- I have a set I've been using for 5 years! They do look a bit worse for the wear over time, but they keep on working. Most people add to their collections (and replace the ones that have rolled under the dryer) every couple of years.

How do you care for them? How should you store them?
You don't really need to do anything to care for them. They can just stay in the dryer between loads, in the storage bag that they came in, or take them out and use them for something else in the meantime: Unlike dryer sheets, which are unitaskers, dryer balls can be kept in a bowl as a tactile decoration, sprinkled with essential oils for a non-toxic potpourri, or used as stress balls. A cat will abscond with these if given the chance. I've also had people use them for everything from decorations to wedding centerpieces and kids’ toys. The options are endless. 

 

Why use them over dryer sheets?
Here's the deal: Dryer sheets are harmful to you and the environment for a few reasons. First, they work by coating your clothes with chemicals that make them feel soft. Those chemicals go from our clothes to our skin and build up in our bodies over time. If that's not enough of a reason not to use them, that thin layer of fabric softener also ruins the absorbency of towels, dish cloths, cloth diapers, and the like, which means you’ll have to replace your linens more frequently. Dryer sheets are also one of those things you have to keep buying, and each time you buy more, in addition to spending money, there’s a lot of waste -- one more box to toss in the recycling, and a bunch of dryer sheets for the landfill.

How’d you get into making wool dryer balls?
It's a long story! The shortest version is: Making dryer balls is a great way to combine my love of making things, working with wool, and protecting the environment. I love that they combine form and function -- that they're so simple, but serve an important purpose -- and that they make it so easy for you to ditch the chemicals, make less trash, and maybe make you smile while doing the laundry!

 

How do you make dryer balls?
It feels tempting to say, "If I told you, I'd have to kill you" ...but that seems kind of intense since we're talking about balls of wool here. ANYWAY, it is a very hands-on process: I start with washed wool, and roll and sculpt it into a ball using a felting tool to pull the fibers together and make the ball strong. Using the same process I then cover them with a few layers of dyed wool, and then finish with a wet felting process to lock the fibers together.

Do you have any smart tips or tricks for doing laundry (besides using dryer balls)? 
Between being a parent, making a laundry item for a living, and the wool and other materials that we are messing around in all the time, you'd think I'd be really laundry savvy. Sadly, that is not the case -- but I do love folding laundry. I recently read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, and she has this really strict method of folding and storing laundry. It is kind of amazing, and makes me want to tell people: Love your laundry. Use your dryer balls, because they're fun and beautiful, and you can feel really virtuous about it. You’re doing a chore but you're doing it in a way that's good for your health and the planet. They've been handmade for you (by me!). Then, pour some wine and fold your laundry -- maybe using Marie Kondo's method, or maybe your own. I think folding laundry is really soothing (though the wine helps, too.)

Product photos by James Ransom; portrait and process shots by Julie Desidero.

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19 Comments

Annie D. February 14, 2015
thank you Ali I have to say I don't use them sheets anymore with my skin allergies I use a liquid fabric softener and I then have to cut it with water.<br />I use a Ariston washer/dryer in one when you live in a 800sq.f Condo great machine I may have to try them balls <br />thnx for everything <br />
 
trbriones February 14, 2015
Am I missing the direct link from this post to the dryer balls on Provisions? It's really nice to go directly to the item you want to be able to buy it.
 
Annie D. February 13, 2015
I too am one of the people that also has a severe wool allergy and was also looking for info on these balls
 
Author Comment
Ali S. February 14, 2015
Hi Annie, See the maker's thoughts below.
 
SarahBee February 12, 2015
I have never heard of these! Had to order them. I confess I am guilty of dryer sheets, that all natural Meyers brand?.. but I knew they were bad. Thank you for these!
 
Catherine F. February 12, 2015
Wow, I hope that these become better known. I don't use devil-sheets myself but all my neighbors do, and the scent is like a rusty nail right through my sinuses. Eventually the headache makes me dizzy and disoriented. That's when I take them a box of unscented. Maybe I'll start taking them these little gems instead...
 
Maya T. February 12, 2015
I had a problem a few years ago when the lint trap in my dryer caught on fire. The repairman said it was caused by the chemicals from dryer sheets coating the lint trap screen and preventing ventilation. I haven't used dryer sheets since, so am really glad to see this all-natural alternative!
 
ARTIST February 12, 2015
I love scent, but the scents I choose and NOT the scents in commercial dryer sheets!<br />Can one scent these dryer balls with a spray of a favorite scent, drop of essential oil, without it spotting the articles one is drying? Thank you in advance.
 
Author Comment
Ali S. February 12, 2015
I would like to know the answer to the question too. Let me ask the maker and get back to you.
 
Author Comment
Ali S. February 14, 2015
Hi again, From Brooke: "I know that people like to put essential oil on dryer balls for a light scent. I've done it, as have tons of my customers, and I've never had nor heard of a problem with it. When I do it, I put a drop on, and rub it in before tossing the ball in the dryer."
 
Maria February 12, 2015
Are there any really light color ones? I wouldn't feel safe putting grey colored wool balls with my white bedding linens.
 
Author Comment
Ali S. February 12, 2015
The 3 shades are shown in the first photo, but I will ask the maker if there's anything to keep in mind when drying white linens.
 
Author Comment
Ali S. February 14, 2015
Hi Maria, From Brooke: "I’ve sold thousands and thousands of balls, and not one comment or complaint about dye running. And it's never happened to me, and I use all the colors just to be sure! Some people just LIKE to use similar colored dryer balls to their laundry, and that's totally fine, but just not necessary. At most, during the first couple uses, you may find a stray wool fiber here or there on the laundry."
 
steph M. February 12, 2015
Is there any concern or issues for people that have a wool allergy? My 6-year-old has crazy severe eczema, and I'm always looking for better alternatives for his skin, but I worry about the wool component compounding the problem rather than alleviating it. Please tell me I'm crazy!
 
Author Comment
Ali S. February 12, 2015
That is a good question! Let me ask the maker and get back to you.
 
Un Y. February 12, 2015
I have found wool dryer balls to be more effective on controlling eczema than dryer sheets. However, my daughter suffers with eczema and found that line drying her clothes and bedding to be a game changer. When kids suffer from itchiness, anything is worth a shot at bringing some relief. It took a couple of weeks to see the effects.<br />
 
steph M. February 12, 2015
Thank you, Un Yung, for that idea and recommendation! And thanks too, Ali - will be looking forward to more info and opinions from the maker....
 
Author Comment
Ali S. February 14, 2015
Hi Steph, Hope this information from the maker is helpful: "I can only say what my experience is with this: I certainly don't want to make any claims that could effect someone’s health! My sister has a terrible wool allergy and uses the dryer balls every day with no trouble — same with my mom. Neither of them could ever wear a wool sweater or anything like that, but they've been fine with the dryer balls for years. It might be because they're not really touching your skin — only your clothes. That said, I definitely can't promise that that outcome would be the same for everyone, as allergies vary so much from person to person. That's a personal decision, but if wool dryer balls aren't a possibility due to an allergy, I'd STILL ditch the dryer sheets, which are not just yucky but horrible for people with sensitive skin…"
 
steph M. February 14, 2015
Brook - this is perfect. Thanks so much for the info - will definitely be ordering these soon!