Dryer Balls (every time I say that Hubby snickers.) They come in a variety of brands, but are all the same basic idea: a "rubber" ball with nobbly protrusions. Toss them in the dryer with your wet clothes and they claim to cut down on drying time, eliminate static, reduce lint, soften your clothes, and make your towels fluffy.
It all sounds a little too good to be true, but I saw some at Fred Meyer for $5.99 and decided to cave and give them a try. I normally use dryer sheets (I always forget to put in liquid fabric softener). Kiddo has sensitive skin and fights excema, so I have to be cautious with laundry. Anything heavily scented is bad, but not softening the laundry leaves it too rough. I personally hate unsoftened towels and jeans, and it's so dry up here static is a big issue.
I swore I wasn't doing laundry on the weekends, but had enough for two medium sized loads after I sorted. So here we go, based on those two loads with the Dryer Balls and no fabric softener:
Drying Time: I'd have to do a bunch of loads and actually time them, but it does seem the clothes dried faster.
Static: Absolutely no static whatsoever, even on a load of cottons where I'd expect it.
Lint: The quantity of lint looks about the same to me, but again I'd have to try it with some normal-sized loads. The quality of the lint was different: I'd call it flufflier or lighter.
Softening: Yes! I made sure to wash towels and jeans, and neither have that sand-paper like unsoftened feeling. On the other hand, the clothes do not have that "slick" feeling you get from fabric softener. I do miss the little bit of scent you get even from unscented fabric softener. They still need the Kiddo's Sensitive Skin Test, but they feel soft enough to me.
Fluffy towels: Well, they aren't un-fluffy like they'd be if I line-dried them. Seems about as fluffy as with fabric softener. It did fluff up the beaten-down towel we use on the floor by the tub very nicely.
Overall Review: Works As Advertised. I'd like to do further testing to see if it really reduces drying time, because that'd be a huge bonus over never having to pay for fabric softener again. Overall, I'd recommend this product as a money saver that does what it says. Oh, and since they're reusable, they're good for the environment. Wonder how long they'll last?
Follow-Up Question: asked via Twitter, Beckanai wanted to know if the dryer balls get hot. They weren't any hotter than the laundry was. My dryer has a cool-down cycle at the end, though.
More Follow-Up: Back when I published this in August 2009 someone asked how long the balls last. They'd heard the balls tend to shatter dramatically. I'm editing this almost exactly two years later and I'm still using the same dryer balls in the original picture above!