I Tried Dryer Sheets, Dryer Balls, and a DIY Hack: Here’s What Happened to My Towels

updated Nov 4, 2022
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Credit: Photo: Ashley Poskin; Design: Apartment Therapy

There’s something so absolutely wonderful about wrapping yourself in a soft, fluffy, pleasant-smelling towel after a bath. Practically speaking: No one wants a scratchy towel against their bare skin. So in an effort to keep you comfy cozy, I tested three laundry-fluffing methods to see which was the best, with one method coming in way ahead of the others. 

The Contenders:

Dryer Sheets: A disposable commercial product and a staple of many families’ laundry routines for many generations. The sheets are treated with a chemical fabric softener (and often fragrance) which transfers to coat your clothes when heated.

DIY Essential Oil Dryer Sheets: A viral hack you might have seen before, which tries to capture the fluffing and scenting powers of commercial dryer sheets (minus the chemical fabric softener) by dropping essential oils onto a paper towel or small cut cloth.

Dryer Balls: A more recent addition to the laundry pantheon (although felted wool is ancient), commonly referenced as the best alternative to dryer sheets. They absorb heat from the dryer, then roll and bounce around to help dry your clothes and keep laundry from clumping.

How We Tested:

To test our methods, we ran three loads of laundry using each of the three different methods. Within each load were two towels: one brand-new towel straight from the store and one older bath towel from my family’s stash. Each was washed with the same detergent in warm water, then dried on the “tumble low” dryer setting.

To reach the results for test ratings, we considered primarily softness and scent since the goal was fluffier, better-smelling towels. You might also want to consider sustainability, cost, and how absorbent the towels remain after washing when deciding what’s best for your household.

Method: DIY Essential Oil Dryer Sheets

According to what we’d seen floating all around Pinterest, you can create your own dryer sheet in a pinch by adding a few drops of essential oil to a paper towel, or spraying it with perfume or whatever other scent you like. We chose the essential oil method, added eight or so drops of lemon essential oil to a paper towel, then tossed the paper towel in the dryer with our new, freshly washed towels.

The results were so-so. The towels smelled pleasant, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on the scent—I couldn’t detect the laundry detergent or the lemon essential oils. In terms of softness, I didn’t feel like it did much at all. I’m not saying it didn’t work—it just didn’t pack enough of a punch when held up against the other tested methods.

Overall rating: 3/10 

Read more about this method: I Tried That Viral Essential Oil Laundry Hack and Here’s What I Thought

Method: Wool Dryer Balls

The dryer balls did the job they were intended to do. They kicked around in the dryer, making the towels just a bit softer and fluffier; they dried in less time and came out completely static-free.

The two most notable benefits to using dryer balls are that they’re sustainable—lasting for up to 1,000 loads—and they don’t add or take away scent. Your laundry will come out of the dryer smelling exactly like it did going in—no mixing and mingling of scents, no smelly exhaust clouds pumping out your dryer vent. (I really love my laundry detergent, so the no-added-fragrance thing is a big benefit for me and a big reason why my family primarily uses dryer balls at home.)

Overall rating: 6/10 

Read more about this method: One Laundry Essential I Happily Splurge On, and One Place Where I Save

Method: Commercial Dryer Sheets

The dryer sheets produced the softest, fluffiest towels out of all the methods tested. They were like, puppy fur soft in comparison to the paper towel + essential oil test. The difference was pretty significant, to say the least! They also smelled exactly like the dryer sheets smelled in the box—which could be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your preference.

We’re giving dryer sheets an 8/10 rating because while they fulfill all our criteria for the test, they lose a few key points. In terms of sustainability, they’re a disposable product; you can try reusing a dryer sheet again, but you aren’t going to get the same quality outcome, so they’ll end up in the trash pretty quickly.

I’m also docking them an additional point because the coating left behind by fabric softener may actually make your towels less absorbent—so they’ll be fluffy but won’t do their other job quite as well ever again.

Overall rating: 8/10 

Read more about this method: Dryer Sheets Come Out On Top for Softer Towels—But I’ll Never Use Them Again