Instagram Giveaway! DIY Wool Dyer Balls

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Hello dear friends! This blog is taking off at a rapid pace, so to celebrate, I’m doing a giveaway on Instagram!* Oh yea, this page has an Instagram:  SustainableCityLiving. I also have a Pinterest page so check it out! Follow the instructions on Instagram to enter to win 4 DIY Dryer Balls made by yours truly.

I’ve been wanting to make wool dryer balls for quite some time. With a little help from our old pal Google, I found a few different instructions and did a little combination of everything I read. I also went for some experimentation to see what works best.

Why use wool dryer balls?

Liquid fabric softener and dryer sheets may give the allusion that your clothes and towels are cozy and soft, but in reality, all they are doing is coating the fibers of your clothes and towels with synthetic softeners. That means that your towels, the things who’s job is to absorb water, are being coated with a substance that will inhibit how much they absorb. This is why you should never use fabric softener in your cloth diaper laundry. Wool is a natural, renewable resource. No plastic and nothing in the garbage!

Save your money! Liquid softener and dryer sheets can really add up in cost over time. I bought one skein of yarn for a few dollars and was able to make 4 dryer balls that will last pretty much forever. Look for an old sweater at the thrift store, and you’ll save even more.

How do they work?

Throw anywhere from 4-8 dryer balls (depending on how big the load is) in with your laundry as it dries. The balls do two things: they help draw moisture from your clothing, and they allow warm air to flow more easily as they bounce around. Both of these things ensure shorter dry times which saves energy. If I had a favorite “green” product it would definitely be wool dryer balls (after cloth diapers of course).

What you need:

  1.  100% wool yarn or old wool sweater
  2.  Scissors
  3.  Old pantyhose

What I did:

I made two different kinds of wool dryer balls to see if one felted better than the other. First I bought a skein of 100% wool yarn from Pat Catan’s. Make sure there is no acrylic! It has to be 100% wool, or it won’t felt properly. I also found a 100% cashmere sweater from the thrift store for $1.

The sweater I found couldn’t really be unraveled, so I just cut it into one long, thin strand, keeping part of the cuff as the middle part. Then I just wound the strand around until it was tennis ball-sized. I tied the loose end to another piece and poked it in the middle with the end of the scissors.

cut up sweater

(I’ll tell you now that the ones made from the sweater didn’t turn out great. One of them worked better than the other two. They felted a little, but not enough to keep from unraveling. I’m unsure if they needs a few more washes or if it was how I wrapped the strands. Next time I plan on finding a wool sweater that can be unraveled.)

two failed wool balls
I didn’t fail. I just found two ways that didn’t work. -Thomas Edison. And me.

I did the same thing with the yarn, and again used part of the cuff from the sweater as the “base” to wrap it around. With the yarn, I wound one ball very tightly and another loosely, but they both felted perfectly!

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To felt the yarn balls, put them in a leg of a pair of pantyhose, tying a not in between each ball to keep them separate. Wash on hot with some towels or other laundry that needs done, followed by a cold rinse. You’ll need to do this 3-4 times. I cringed when I saw I had to wash on hot as I always use cold, but I figured it’s just this once and the savings should outweigh all that hot water usage.

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Throw your wool caterpillar in the dryer, and you’re done!

The finished product:

four finished wool balls

Don’t forget to find SustainableCityLiving on Instagram to enter for four dryer balls of your own!

*Per Instagram rules, I’m supposed to mention this is in no way sponsored, administered, or associated with Instagram, Inc. By entering, entrants confirm they are 13+ years of age, release Instagram of responsibility, and agree to Instagram’s term of use.

Three Things I Wish I Would Have Known About Cloth Diapers

If you’re interested in switching to cloth diapers or thinking about using them from the get-go, you know how overwhelming it can be to research them. AIO, pocket, fitted, EUC, PUL. It’s like learning a whole new language. Then you start thinking about washing and stains and poop and “Won’t it get all over my washer??” I can talk about cloth diapers for days, so I narrowed it down to three important things to get you started. Here are the top three things I wish I would have known before purchasing my very first cloth diapers.

1. Use regular detergent.

Don’t waste your money on that fancy detergent “formulated” specifically for cloth diapers. I can pretty much guarantee that it’s probably just water softeners anyway. Whatever you normally use for everyday laundry is fine. From Sun to Tide. The only things to avoid are fabric softeners. So put down the Downy! Dryer sheets too. You don’t need them. Synthetic softeners do nothing more than coat the fibers of your clothes. You don’t want something that’s supposed to absorb liquid to be coated! (On a related note, this is also why you shouldn’t use fabric softener on your towels. Actually you should use fabric softener at all, but that’s for another post).

2. Use natural fibers.

In my research before I jumped into using cloth full time, I kept finding all these people who were having issues. I joined a couple cloth diaper groups on facebook, and post after post were people dealing with stink and repelling! That made me nervous, but after a few months I realized I only saw it a lot because rarely does someone post to a group just to say “Hey guys! Letting everyone know that things are going great! See ya!” People post to groups to ask for help, so of course that’s what you’ll mostly see.

But wash routine still scared me. I didn’t want to invest a bunch of money into something that was going to give me more headaches. This is what I’ve learned: if you want a truly fool-proof cloth diaper, skip the all-in-ones, and choose covers and good ol’ fashioned prefolds. Prefolds can be cotton or hemp. They seem intimidating at first, but here’s a secret: you don’t have to learn any fancy folds. That’s right, just fold it into thirds and stick it in a cover. It’s just as simple as any “system” and prefolds clean SO EASILY. One thing I wondered in my research is how so many people could have problems getting diapers clean, when it’s how everybody diapered prior to the disposable’s invention in 1948. The answer is that before the last decade or so, cloth diapers were made primarily of cotton.

A prefold. Notice how it has three "sections." Fold into thirds using those seams.
A prefold. Notice how it has three “sections.” Fold into thirds using those seams.

Cotton is incredibly easy to clean and is virtually indestructible. Today, the most popular diapers are primarily made of polyester. Polyester isn’t as forgiving when it comes to heavy soiling and deep cleaning. Lots of people have had success using diapers made of synthetic fabrics, so go for it if that’s what you’re leaning toward! Wash routine is what holds a lot of people back from making the switch. If I could go back in time and give myself one piece of cloth diaper advice, it would be to use prefolds.

3. Stock up on Flour Sack Towels.

Ask your grandmother what flour sack towels are, I bet she’ll start to rave about them as much as I’m about to do. FST are can be found in the kitchen section of Walmart or Target for about $1 each. I think Walmart has them in a 10-pack for $8 right now. They are very large, thin pieces of cotton and are extremely absorbent.

A flour sack towel. You can see how thin it is!
A flour sack towel. You can see how thin it is!

People essentially use them like an old-fashioned “flat” cloth diaper. You can fold them up so they’re wrapped around the baby’s bottom or, just like a prefold, fold it into a pad-shape and use it like an insert.

Top: Prefold in the "trifold." Bottom: FST "padfold" inside a Flip cover.
Top: Prefold in the “trifold.”
Bottom: FST “padfold” inside a Flip cover.

If you’re on a tight budget and want to start using cloth diapers and building a stash, get two of those 10-packs and four or five covers. You’ll have enough to use cloth for a whole day plus washing (wash at night after baby goes to sleep). FST clean easily since there are no layers to them, and dry incredibly fast. I have white ones that I use for diapers, and red ones I keep in the kitchen in lieu of paper towels.

*Diaper cover shown is a Flip cover made by CottonBabies. CottonBabies also carries Econobum, which is a more “economical” option, though it’s possible to find new covers for as little as a few dollars each.

Six Ways to Reduce Waste While Grocery Shopping

Today is grocery day! Making your life more sustainable really starts here. There are a lot of little choices that you can make in order to have a more sustainable grocery trip. I’ll share a few things that I try to do and some things that I don’t do as often as I should. Most of them have to do with reducing the amount of plastic in your cart, which reduces the amount of plastic in your home, which reduces the amount of plastic in our oceans.

1. Have a meal plan.

I know, I know. Meal plans can seem boring or like a lot of work, but I guarantee your budget will thank you. Having a weekly meal plan ensures you only buy food you’ll eat, reducing the amount that ends up in the garbage. Wasted food also means wasted packaging. It doesn’t take that much extra time to do. Plus I always find that on the weeks I do a detailed meal plan, the time I spend grocery shopping decreases.

2. Opt for the least amount of packaging.

Instead of individually wrapped cheese sticks, get the block of cheese and slice up snack-sized portions. Buy meat at a butcher shop or in that section of your grocery store, where meat is usually wrapped in paper. Bring glass jars or paper bags to get beans and nuts in bulk.

3. Eggs

Eggs have their own section for a reason. When you go to the grocery store, more often than not, you’re inundated with about a dozen different terms and labels. I read a good article on some of the differences between Organic, Free-Range, Cage-Free, etc., and the best thing I can tell you is to try to buy eggs from a small, local organic farm. I would love to have my own chickens someday, alas, that day is a long way from now. If I haven’t made it to the farmer’s market that week, I try to at least get organic ones that are in a paper carton instead of styrofoam.

4. Bring your own bags.

I primarily shop at ALDI where you must bring your own bags, so I’m pretty good this one. Try to find fabric bags that are made from cotton instead of polyester or vinyl. A lot of grocery stores now have recycling for plastic bags, so remember to save for them for the times you just pop in somewhere and forget to bring your own. Another note: I’m somebody who doesn’t like to bother people for things. Asking the cashier to use my fabric bags pushes me to the brink of an anxiety attack almost every trip, but no one’s ever rolled their eyes or huffed at me for asking. As a matter of fact, usually they see my bags and offer to take them before I even have the chance to ask.

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We ❤ ADLI!
5. Buy local.

I cannot stress this enough. Buying local has so many benefits. For the sake of being succinct, I’ll only highlight a few things. The closer your food was grown or raised, the less emissions were used in transportation. When you support organic, local farms you support responsible land development, increase biodiversity in your local ecosystem, and keep your money in your community. It’s a win-win. Try to find a farmer’s market and buy as much from your grocery list as you can. When at the store, check labels to see where your food came from.

6. Grow a garden.

What better way to save at the grocery store than by not going? Anything you can grow yourself is saving that much in emissions (farm->store->home) and packaging. Just a small patch of land can make a huge impact. If you live in the city or in an apartment, herb towers or small tomato plants are not difficult to care for, and you can grow them year-round. I believe in you!

What are some ways you reduce plastic and waste while grocery shopping? Comment below, and I’ll feature your ideas in a future post!

Cloth Napkins: The Basics

Let’s start off our little cloth adventure slowly, shall we?

Have you ever tried wiping your hands with a paper napkin after eating chicken wings? You know how you get those little pieces stuck to your fingers? Why anyone would subject themselves to such torture is beyond me. Cloth napkins are cheap, versatile, and oh-so-pretty!

We always had cloth napkins growing up. They’re not just for fancy dinners or company you want to impress, oh no. A face stuffed with pizza and beer deserve a sustainable option too. Quit wasting those precious pennies on something you throw away!

You can easily find cloth napkins at Target or Walmart. Or if you’re feeling extra earth-conscious, you can even make your own. For my husband and I, 10 napkins are more than enough. That’s plenty to last between washing plus enough for a dinner guest or two.

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Look at how pretty!

We have a laundry basket at the bottom of our basement stairs for used towels and washcloths. After each use we just throw the napkins on the pile. Once there’s enough for a load, everything gets washed. Easy peasy. The only thing I would suggest as far as washing goes is making sure any bits of food get thrown away before tossing the napkin into the laundry pile. Washing machines aren’t made to handle food, and you will end up with chunks (gross word, I know) in your machine. Just a quick shake over the trash can after use should do it.

Use those folded paper squares to make some snow flakes for the holidays instead, and invest in a nice set of super soft cloth napkins. Your face (and the planet) will thank you.

Cloth Diapers: How I Started

Believe it or not, it was actually my husband that convinced me to use cloth diapers. While I was pregnant, he mentioned the idea, and I quickly shot it down.

“Do you really want to do an extra load of laundry every day?”

Fast forward to today, and I’m obsessed. I buy and sell them. I’m a member of cloth diaper Facebook groups. I talk about them whenever I get the chance, much to the chagrin of family and friends, I’m sure.  Despite all my annoying swooning, several friends have even ask me about them.

I did a ton of research before buying cloth. I mean, a lot. I read the blogs, frequented Pinterest, joined the groups, and asked the few mom-friends I knew who used cloth. After weeks of research, I still felt lost. I couldn’t tell you the difference between a pocket, an all-in-one, or a fitted. I didn’t know how to wash them. I didn’t know how many I needed. It was overwhelming, and made want to say “Forget it!”

But I’m stubborn. In a sudden swell of determination I returned over 600 Babies R Us disposable diapers and brought home six BumGenius 4.0s, some extra inserts, detergent, and two big wet bags. I had no idea what I was doing, but I started the next day.

My first stash shot!

I decided that I made the rules, so even though I only had six diapers (not even enough for a full day) I wanted to just try. So I used the six I had, then switched to sposies when those were washing. Once they were done (which was usually the next day) I used the cloth again. I couldn’t believe  how easy it was. I also started when Ellie was only two months old, so she was exclusively breastfed. That means her poop was water-soluble. No toilet swishing! My diaper changing routine didn’t change at all except the load of laundry. (Now that Ellie eats solids, her poo-dipes get sprayed off in the toilet before going in the washer. Another post for another day).

I was hooked. Once we got a hang of the routine, Nick and I decided to buy enough to be able to use cloth exclusively.

Even with all the researching I did, it wasn’t until I started using cloth diapers that I really figured it out. It’s hard until you get your hands on them, because they’re not the norm. Everybody sees disposable diapers, so even if you’ve never changed one before, you get kinda the basic idea. I never saw a cloth diaper before I thought about using them. I had to start from scratch. That’s what made it so overwhelming.

If you’re thinking about switching to cloth diapers, feel free to talk to me! I love chatting about them, even if you’re not totally sure you’re ready. Have questions? Leave a comment or send me a message!