The agony of victory, and the thrill of defeat

Mother Nature’s Maid is very much in need of a win.  Our cable went out last week and cost nearly $50 to fix.  The AC in my Volvo seems less-than-prepared to work this summer.  Our backyard is already completely overgrown with ivy.  And I’ve been followed around for about a week by a lingering vinegar scent.

Sound like first-world problems?  Wait til you hear this: My dryer balls don’t even work!

Everything I read in my research about these homemade dryer sheet replacements said they would actually cut down on drying time.  Did I believe that?  Absolutely not!  MNM believes nothing until it has been run through a number of proven, thorough, and exhaustive testing processes before my very own eyes.  And, you can trust me – I have 20/20 vision.

So I stirred up my very own experiment to determine the effectiveness of my dryer balls.

  1. Strip your bed and wash your sheets
  2. Put a fitted sheet in the dryer, alone without dryer balls
  3. Dry the fitted sheet for 10 minutes, then remove
  4. Put a top sheet in the dryer, with dryer balls
  5. Dry the top sheet for 10 minutes, then remove
  6. Repeat steps 2-5 until one sheet comes out completely dry
  7. Record drying times

Easy enough, right?  Wrong…here are a few steps I left out:

  1. Realize that fitted sheets and top sheets are not at all the same size
  2. Ignore this information and proceed anyway
  3. Take a book down to the basement while you wait
  4. Take your dinner down to the basement while you wait
  5. Swipe Gargantua off your ankle and chase him around the basement
  6. Clothesline yourself with an actual clothesline in your basement
  7. Drown Mother Nature in defeat

I spent a total of about 45 minutes alone in my basement with no one but Gargantua and his poor dead prey for company only to find out that my homemade dryer balls do not, in fact, shorten drying time whatsoever.  Turns out the fitted sheet (dried without dryer balls) took about 20 minutes to dry, while the top sheet (dried with dryer balls) took more than 25 minutes to dry!  Explain that, hippie bloggers!

Maybe the explanation is that top sheets are actually larger than fitted sheets and naturally require more time to dry.  Maybe the explanation is that more than two wool balls are required to really cut down on drying time (sorry, but I was not about to employ the blue fart balls again).  Maybe the explanation is that my experiment was not at all proven, thorough, or exhaustive and actually had a number of scientific faults (do we call those variables?).  For example, I could only dry one sheet at a time, which means that both sheets had amounts of time to air dry independently of the dryer.  The list could go on, but I won’t bore you with my scientific facts (or lack thereof).

The basic point is that Mother Nature got herself a big, fat TKO in this experiment.  Whether it’s really my fault or hers, I guess we’ll never know, because I’m not about to spend another evening in the basement with Gargantua just to correct my ragtag experiment and prove, once and for all, that dryer balls really work.  Still, I’ll probably keep using my wool balls in place of dryer sheets, because they seem to work great for static.  But, for now, let’s just bask in Mother Nature’s defeat.  She’s such a tyrant; it’s nice to see her knocked down a few pegs.

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The place where sustainability and trepidation meet

Up until a few days ago, I’d only been brave enough to try my homemade laundry detergent and homemade dryer balls with loads of sheets and towels.  It’s not that I don’t trust myself, but after last week’s tiny hiccup with the gaseous wool dryer balls, you can understand why I had been waiting to throw my whole wardrobe into a homemade cycle.  As with every natural experiment I conduct, I knew there was going to be some horribly negative side effect, and I just had to wait for it to present itself.  After the passing of the gassy blue wool balls, I knew I had landed safely away from the smelly and the nasty.  At least I hoped so, but I had to press on anyway.  Despite turning my underpants inside out, Febreezing the pits of my shirts, and wearing sweatpants and a blazer to work several times, I eventually did run out of clean clothes.

With much trepidation, I did a load of laundry that contained more or less everything in my wardrobe.  The wash cycle was a huge success, but I wasn’t fazed; I still had to deal with the dryer balls that smelled like….well, you know.  Luckily, the purple dryer balls didn’t seem to present signs of gas, so I only used those and set the odorous blue ones to the side (probably never to be touched again, regardless of how their open-air recovery goes).  Lo and behold, my clothes came out of the dryer fresh and clean and without any lingering intestinal air scent!  I know it may not sound like much, but I’m going to take it as a win.  For even more freshness, I’m going to add a few drops of essential oils to my yarn balls next time.

The second plus for dryer balls – aside from sustainability – is that they are supposed to drastically cut down on drying time.  Unfortunately, I have no conclusive evidence of that at this time, but I plan to conduct one of my good, old-fashioned, not-at-all-doomed-to-fail experiments to test this theory, so there’s more to come on that front.  But, in the meantime, I’ve found an even better way to cut down on dryer time – something still cheaper than dryer sheets and more sustainable than yarn balls: Air.

That’s right, I’ve gone 100% old-fashioned, grandma’s podunk backyard and hung a clothes line.  I put two on our back porch and strung one down the basement, in case of rain…or winter.  Of course, nothing’s as soft as the dryer, so everything comes off the line stiff as a board – especially towels – but after dealing with No Poo hair and homemade deodorant, wooden laundry is a cake walk.  So far, I love air drying – I just can’t wait for summertime, so my clothes will have that sun and cut-grass scent!  At first I did feel a little exposed with all my unmentionables flapping in the breeze for the entire alley to see, but as Albert Einstein said, “Once you can accept the universe as matter expanding into nothing that is something, showing off your bagged underpants from Target comes easy.”

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The end:IMG_20150419_221715

When I opened up the dryer to pull out my laundry, an overwhelmingly foul scent immediately escaped.  It was the scent of a dinosaur passing gas.

How we got there:

I researched how to make wool dryer balls on DIY Natural.  A sustainable alternative to dryer sheets was the second project in the Mother Nature’s Maid Service Challenge, and these dryer balls promised to be just that.  So away I went.

I made a special trip to my local Jo-Ann Fabrics for some 100% wool yarn.  Apparently yarn is a very important material for serious crafters, because I was bombarded with two aisles and approximately 200 brands of it.  I checked what must have been 150 labels (probably more like 10…) before I found Patons 100% wool with a sheep on the front.  Sold to the gal wearing homemade deodorant!

I bought a purple spool and a blue spool, just to make things more fun.  That night, I twisted up my yarn balls and wrangled them into an old and dilapidated nylon stocking to ensure that they would felt correctly.  Felting is basically how dryer balls are made – you roll them up, stick them in a stocking, run them through a hot/cold laundry cycle, and then blast them to hell and back on your highest dryer setting.  If they felt correctly, you should be able to run a fingernail across the surface without loosening the yarn.  Then you’re free to toss them in your dryer at will.

The very next night, I excitedly threw my dryer balls into the washing machine with a load of sheets and towels.  They came out unscathed, and I tossed everything in the dryer to finish them off.  I nervously waited.  Then came the buzz: It was time.

I ran down the basement to collect my (hopefully felted) yarn balls.  When I opened up the dryer to pull out my laundry, an overwhelmingly foul scent immediately escaped.  It was the scent of a dinosaur passing gas.  I stuffed my head in the dryer – in search of the odor – and buried my nose in my sheets, horrified that they would emit this gaseousness.  But there was nothing.  My sheets and towels didn’t smell like anything.  How were they unscathed?  The source had to be somewhere!

And then I turned to the dryer balls.  I picked them up tentatively and smelled them one by one.  Purple 1: fine.  Purple 2: fine.  See that?  It wasn’t the yarn ba– Blue 1: FART.  Blue 2: FART.  I dropped the balls like hot potatoes and shoved my face at our “Cotton Breeze” dryer sheets.  Trust me, it was terrible.  It was as if I’d wrapped the blue yarn balls around hard-boiled eggs or blocks of cheese and then thrown them through the laundry cycle.  I carried them upstairs, holding them as far away from me, my nose, and my sheets as possible, and then shoved them under Carrie’s nose.  She recoiled and threw my yarn balls across the room as if I’d just tossed a bag of thousand leggers at her (which, in the defense of my dryer balls, would have been a way worse scenario, no matter how foul the yarn smelled).

So we’re working now with two dryer balls – the purple set only, obviously.  I’m not really sure what happened to the blue – maybe it was the color, maybe it was the spool, maybe that sheep had a love of beans and leafy greens.  I will admit that much of the odor has diminished since they’ve been left out in the open, but I’m not sure whether I’ll ever be brave enough to try them again with my laundry.  Smelling like homemade deodorant is bad enough, but smelling like a gigantic fart is is definitely above my pay grade.

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MNM’s Laundry List

I have never been more excited to do laundry than I have been these past fewIMG_20150414_132643 days.  In fact, my life has been so laundry-centric, that I haven’t even had time for anything else.

On Monday, I was invited to happy hour and politely declined: “Wish I could, but I have to go home and make laundry detergent.  It’s promising to be a lot of fun, would you like to–” (No, she wouldn’t like to join me, apparently.)

On Tuesday, a friend was stranded on the highway with a flat tire, but I was, unfortunately, unavailable: “I’m so sorry, but you couldn’t have caught me at a worse time.  I’m just in the middle of making dryer balls.”  (Not to worry.  I sent Carrie instead.)

On Wednesday, U.S. Airways called with an offer on a free trip to Dubrovnik, leaving the next day, as a special offer for passengers who had ever felt pressed for leg-space on a previous flight.  Well I certainly fit that description, but: “I’d love to go, but I just don’t think I’ll get the time to pack.  I have to do my laundry tonight.”

Yea, I’ve gone overboard.  Or have I?  This is Mother Nature’s Maid, after all.  I can’t disappoint my five readers.  So I stayed in and made laundry detergent instead of heading to Dubrovnik.  And guess what?  It worked!!

The laundry detergent recipe I used, from DIY Natural, is a powder, made with three ingredients: Borax, Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda, and 1 bar of soap, grated.  Easy enough, right?  Sure, when you have a grater in your house.  I had to shred my soap with a vegetable peeler and then put it through the food processor to chop it up tiny enough to dissolve in the wash.  But after the chopping – super simple.  I just mixed all my ingredients in a recycled Cool Whip container, and it was ready to use.

I was slightly nervous to use homemade detergent on my clothes – I’ve been burned by Mother Nature before, and I was not about to let her ruin my wardrobe as well as my hair – so I used it on a load of sheets and towels first.  I was pleased with how they turned out; the detergent seems to work just like store-bought, with the soap providing most of the scent.  With my nerves assuaged, I threw in a load of clothes, and they turned out just as fresh and clean as the towels with no lasting negative effects.  Success!

I think I’ve found my new laundry detergent, and the best part is that it only cost me about $10!  We’ll just have to get ourselves a grater…I wonder if I could have bought one of those in Dubrovnik.

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Don’t wash your clothes in the woods

Would you trust Mother Nature to wash your clothes?  Of course you wouldn’t!  That’s because she’d probably dunk them in a freshwater lake in the woods somewhere next to a badger carcass, and you’d have to walk around smelling like lake trout and dead badger.  I think even the hippies would be too discerning to befriend you then.  They’d just toss you some patchouli and tea tree oil out the window of their bus and keep truckin’ (because they’re obviously Dead Heads).  Right on.

Now I’m no Dead Head (although I do enjoy a little Touch of Grey every now and then), but I do know a thing or two about tea tree oil, and I can tell you that there is no way it’ll cover up the scent of dead badger – no way, no how.  So it’s best to just not let Mother Nature wash your clothes.  End of story.

But curiosity killed the cat, and it made the unsuspecting hippie smell like yesterday’s un-washed clothes.  So, in that vein, we’re attacking laundry for week 1 – homemade laundry detergent and homemade dryer sheets.  After some internet research, I found some recipes.  Here’s what I’ve whipped up to clean my wardrobe and to (hopefully) not smell like yesterday’s un-washed clothes.

I found both of these tutorials on DIY Natural.  The laundry detergent recipe includes just three ingredients:

  • 1 Cup of Borax
  • 1 Cup Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda
  • 1 bar of soap, grated (I used Dial, but to be extra green, pick Dr. Bronner’s or another all-natural brand)

For a homemade, sustainable alternative to dryer sheets, I’m trying my hand at wool dryer balls, which require just one ingredient: 100% wool yarn.  I couldn’t find a sheep, so I bought some commercial yarn yesterday, so that my dryer balls will be ready for tomorrow’s laundry cycle.  But if I come across a sheep in the meantime, you can bet that sucker is getting sheered.

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