Washing machine designs haven't changed that much over the last few decades. One area that has improved slightly is water efficiency.
Modern washers are much more environmentally friendly, but they still use a lot of water.
Waterwise, a water efficiency company, believes that around 15% of our total water use is solely down to doing the laundry - that’s a staggering 50 litres a day just on cleaning our clothes.
One company that thinks they have a solution for saving mass-quantities of water is Xeros.
Xeros have spent years developing a washing machine that uses significantly less water than a standard machine. It also provides a considerably better clean. Sounds like a win-win to me!
In this article, I'll look at Xeros' washing machine to see if this is the first step towards a greener future.
A Waterless Washing Machine?
Ok, so the Xeros washing machine isn't entirely waterless.
It does still use up to 80% less water than a standard washing machine - that’s a pretty big saving!
Instead of water, the Xeros machine uses hundreds of small nylon beads to remove stains from fabric.
It sounds odd that we would consider replacing water with plastic beads.
However, Dr Stephen Burkinshaw, a specialist in polymer chemistry, discovered that nylon can attract and absorb stains.
Once the stains are absorbed, they don't get released back into the small amount of water, so the clothes remain clean.
The beads are so efficient that you don't even need to use as much laundry detergent as a standard washing machine - yet another way to save money while helping the environment!
How Does The Xeros Washing Machine Work?
Step One - Clothes Are Dampened
First, a small amount of water dampens the clothes and creates a humid environment. The humidity helps the beads absorb stains more effectively.
At this stage, a small amount of detergent is also added.
Step Two - Beads Are Released
A pump brings thousands of small beads (about the size of a rice grain) into the washing machine drum.
Water is used to bring the beads into the drum, but is siphoned off before it goes into the drum. The water is recycled to push more beads into the drum.
Step Three - Beads Are Agitated
The beads then tumble around the drum with the clothes to agitate the dirt to get it to lift from the fabric.
The lack of hard edges on the beads and the powerful absorption properties means that the washing is gentle on even delicate fabrics.
The beads trap not just dirt and stains, but also stray dye that may otherwise taint the colours of other clothes in the wash.
Step Two - Beads Are Removed
Once the wash has completed, the machine extracts the beads through openings in the washing machine drum wall.
Xeros claim they can remove 99.5 % of the beads, so there is small chance a stray bead may appear when removing the washing.
The washing machine then cleans the beads within the machine. The beads can then be reused hundreds of times before they reach the end of their life.
Once they are worn out, the beads are recycled and used in items such as car dashboards.
Here's a great video that shows how it all works.
Other Benefits Of Xeros' Washing Machine
If saving water and reducing your laundry detergent spending weren't benefits enough, there are also other benefits from using this near-waterless washing machine.
Extends Life Of Clothes
We have all experienced the sadness that comes with having worn out our favourite pieces of clothing. After hundreds of washes, clothes start to look tired and faded.
Xeros claim that their method is much more gentle than the traditional washing method and this leads to less wear and tear of the clothes.
Quite quaintly, they say it's like "millions of tiny hands gently kneading the fabric".
Improved Cleaning Ability
The beads are so good at cleaning they claim you no longer need to pre-wash stain removal treatment.
One of Xeros' commercial customers, Ejaz Osmani, claims:
“What it can do at 30C–40C a conventional machine can’t do at 60C–80C. It’s really amazing how much stain removal they can do.”
I've got to admit; I certainly wouldn't mind a more effective washing machine.
Having to wash something a couple of times to get rid of a stubborn stain (even when using a stain-remover) seems pretty wasteful.
As the beads are able to absorb stray dye, you don't need to spend as much time carefully separating different colours.
Instead, just plonk it all in and let the magic beads get to work!
The Downsides of Xeros' Washing Machine?
Currently Unavailable For Domestic Market
The major downside of Xeros' washing machine is that it is not yet available to you and me on the domestic market.
Xeros currently target commercial customers, such as hotels, where there is the potential to save the most money and water.
Although there is a domestic washing machine being developed, it may be some time until they become commonplace in utility rooms up and down the country.
Currently, commercial customers have their spent beads picked up and recycled for them, but it's not yet known how domestic customers could successfully and efficiently recycle their beads.
Ineffective At Disinfecting Clothes?
One thing that does concern me ( a lot!) is pathogenic bacteria inside the washing machine.
It sounds like the beads will clean the clothes, but will they disinfect them? Research points to water needing to be 60°C to eliminate such nasties as E.Coli, Salmonella and Staph.
I think I will reach out to the company and ask them this very question!
With the issue around disinfection aside, I think waterless washing machines sound a great idea!
I love the fact that the beads can be reused multiple times, and even when they do come to the end of their washing life that it is still possible to recycle them.
Hopefully, Xeros will find a way to bring their technology into mainstream markets so we can all make use of it too!
What do you think of the near-waterless machines? Do you think it's a good idea and would you want one?