.Being a chemist the thought of washing clothes without detergent seemed at first impossible, but curiosity and a desire to live life as non-polluting as possible had the better of me.
So do they work?
In short yes. Your clothes won't emerge 'perfumed' as with normal washing detergents. So now expensive perfumes can be worn without detergent smells masking them.
How Do They Work?
The contents are listed as non-toxic solid washing pellets containing the following:
- higher alkyl sulfate
- non-ionic surfactants
- sodium metasilicate
- calcium carbonate
- sodium carbonate
- sodium tripolyphosphate
- cellulose gum
All these ingredients are molecules which 'attract' various other molecules from the laundry 'soup'. Fat based residues (oils), ionic solutes and some proteins that effectively make up 'dirt' are attracted to the pellets thus taken away from the clothes and effectively 'cleaned'. As the pellets don't actually lurk in the clothes, the number of rinses required is very low. The manufacturer claims the balls are good for 750 washes and provide top up pellets to make good for a further 250.
How I use them
I use a Zanussi standard washer dryer and invariably wash everything on 40C. I would use 30C but there isn't a setting for it on the machine. Despite the warnings on the box, I have used them very successfully at 60C with no obvious problem. I can't reduce the number of rinses on the machine, so invariably they go through three rinses. I have used them occasionally on the quick wash cycle with success. I live in a hard water area so also use a 'magnoball' (also from Ecozone) with them to soften the water. I do not add fabric softeners. So far I reckon I've used them over 100 times.
A single feather duvet which clearly stated 'do not wash'. The duvet was cleaned with the wash balls and it dried back to its previous fluffy state. I reasoned that the 'do not wash' instruction related primarily to the use of detergents which would have stripped the feathers of any natural coating (similar to lanolin on wool). If the natural coating on the feather is not lost then the feather won't stick and matt with other feathers. I felt confident that I could wash the duvet again without any subsequent damage.
The balls arrive with a stain remover which I used with unprecedented success on a red wine stain. It was removed, gone. This hasn't happened before, normally a pale brown residual stain is always there. I'm waiting to see after a few more washes if the 'stain remover' is none other than a stain filler in disguise as further washing will eventually remove the filler. So far so good, the stain has not returned. The stain remover can be purchased separately.
Since writing the review, I have to now add, that the 'brown' type residue from the red wine stain has returned. As I suspected, the stain remover probably includes stain fillers. However, this is no different to any other stain remover that I can think of. Red wine has some pretty strong dyes in it (have you checked your tongue after a glass!!?), I suspect I'll need to use an oxygenating bleach (sold by EcoVert) to finally be rid of this stain. I hope this addition helps, it doesn't spoil my general appreciation of how good these wash balls are.
These aren't manufacturer's claims but over time I have noticed the following:
- The 'greying' of whites is slowly reversing. The other half wears white T shirts as if they were vests. Over time with conventional detergents these have turned grey. Since using the wash balls the grey is slowly receding. The greying is caused by 'optical brighteners' from the detergent accumulating in the fabric. I reasoned that the washballs are slowly eroding them (the optical brighteners not the T shirts!).
- I suffer with urticaria (allergy contact - nettle rash), since using them the itching has died down and I have to take less antihistamines. A friend who suffers from psoriasis has also noticed a benefit.
- Clothes do seem less 'battered'. They don't seem to wear out as quickly, zips don't seem to clog at all now (I've long suspected an accumulating effect or a reduction in the glide of the zip surface from detergent use).
- Ironing isn't any harder (not that I ever enjoyed it so its not easier either).
Apart from the obvious; less pollution of detergent in the sewage water, the lowering of water temperatures and (if I could I would) reduction in water use, I also consider the less lorry scenario. The latest advert from one of the fabric softener manufacturers claims that using concentrated softener reduces the amount of lorries on the road making the deliveries and hence pollution. Great idea guys now if we apply that to these washballs consider this:
- the balls last for 1000 washes. A thousand washes using detergent is equivalent to 100kg of detergent! If every household in Britain (approx 12 million) bought these on a regular basis that would mean 1200 million kg of detergent less on the road. This doesn't include the air pollution caused by all the consumers using their cars to go and collect the detergent.
Equates to 3p a wash. No brainer on this score.
The Not So Good Bits
Over the six months I have noticed that the balls work less well against 'body perfumes'. I'm not referring to sweat odours, but I guess these must be the pheromones. As pheromones are huge complex molecules, four-five carbon ring structures they are probably too large to be attracted to the ionic bits in the balls (stearic hindrance in chemicoparlance!). However this might explain the success with the duvet. Reluctantly I'm considering that certain clothes may need the odd wash (say 1 in 20) in detergent just to lose these underlyng scents!
Are they on ebay?
Since writing this guide, I felt I ought to add the following proviso. There are plenty of these eco balls available on ebay, hurray! However there are now two types. There is a lower price version that doesn't last as long; on average 100 washes. As the average price for these seems to be about £14-17 they are clearly more expensive per wash (average 15p). This makes sense if you are sceptical and wish to try the technology with a lower outlay. I have not used this version of the balls, so I cannot comment. This review relates to the all inclusive three ball pack from Ecozone, it includes top up pellets and stain remover. The average price on the net seems to be about £35. If you see this pack for less ~ snap it up!! My washballs are still going strong.