Laundry Balls and other Alternative cleaning solutions.

In this column, Cecil’s experimental evidence indicates that laundry balls don’t work. It also finds that regular detergent doesn’t work.

Now, I realize that the section at the end of the column has already mentioned some of this, but I feel I must make a few points about the way we do laundry.

Most americans wash their clothes in what is referred to as a “top load” washing machine. Top loaders are more popular because they are less expensive than front loaders, and because people are accustomed to that style of laundry.

Top load washers, while somewhat effective at stain removal suffer from a few drawbacks. They require a large amount of empty space in a wash load in order to remove stains because they are somewhat dependent on water circulation. They all have a large agitator in the center of the tub. The agitator esentially beats the clothes to loosen dirt and stains. Because of the agitation process, most people find that their clothes experience more wear and tear in the washing machine than when they are being worn.

There are many other drawbacks to front load washing machines, but most of them are minor in comparison to the ones above.

So what, you ask, is the answer?

I was an appliance salesman for a number of years, and I have personal experience to back it up. Front load washers (of which there are now several models available in the U.S.) are far superior in performance and reliability to top loaders.

I guess what I’m saying is, it doesn’t matter what you use in your washing machine if your washing machine isn’t capable of cleaning your clothes very well in the first place.

Front-loaders are definitely superior. And they should become more popular, as it’s easier to make front-loaders meet some environmental regs that are coming up.

I do love the literature that comes with ‘catalogue’ products; it often gives one the opportunity for deconstructive analysis on some truly creative writing.
To wit

As Mr Adams points out ‘far infrared electromagnetic waves’ refers to the heat emitted by all objects (not currently at 0 degrees Kelvin). Although in this case, some friction probably augments this, as the innards of the balls are discombobulated by the turbulence in the washing machine.
He however goes on to say that this has…

This is almost correct however at a strictly molecular level the energy in the form of ‘far infrared electromagnetic waves’ will be transferred to some surrounding water molecules which could in some cases lead to them ‘disassociating’ from another molecule i.e. breaking the weak inter molecular polar bond that water often exhibits.
The net overall effect of this is well, negligible. The probability of a water molecule having been thus disassociated then striking a ‘dirt’ molecule attached to some item of clothing and dislodging it, well I would rather not think about it. However it does in some very very rare occurrences

Surely hydroxide ions would raise the pH. Low is acid, high is alkaline.


This is one column that I feel like Cecil didn’t quite make the grade. His assistant’s test is severely flawed - she only uses two protein stains and a dye stain. The primary job of detergent is to clean oils, then to suspend dirt in the water. Detergent doesn’t handle stains very well, which is why they suggest pre-treatment.

A better test would include one shirt liberally muddied with garden dirt, one shirt with a nice big greasy patch and one shirt worn while playing basketball on a nice hot summer day.

(BTW, there is a line of stain removers based on the idea that different stains need different chemicals to remove them. They have at least 14 different products, including separate ones for tomato based stains, ink stains, green plant stains, etc)

First regarding changing the Ph. You cant change the Ph of a bulk solution of water without adding a counter ion. example: Lie is Na + OH. You can’t have free hydroxide ions in solution without having some free positive ion as well. hence unless the balls are disolving they cannot by the laws of chemistry change the Ph of the water.

One possible mechanism by which ball might actually work would be to catalyse the destruction of dirt or dye molecules. Forexample if said balls were made of platimum one might very well expect them to destroy certain kinds of organic and inoganic molecules. By destroy I mean reducing a large colorful molecule to many tiny transparent molecules or even gas bubbles. Thus it would clean by simply by keeing the water cleaner. Not really a cleaning adjent since simply adding lots more water would also do the same thing.

Interesting points raised! I studied chemistry in college (better living through…) so a lot of it makes sense.

The detergent is supposed to break up large chain hydrocarbons by emulsifying them, that is, surrounding a clump of them with something that binds to hydrocarbons on one end and is water-soluble on the other end. If you mix olive oil and water you’ll see that they don’t mix very well. Put in some soap and that changes. The detergent’s active ingredient is a molecule with “2 heads”, one dissolves in water and the other dissolves in oil. The oil side is repulsed away from the water and clings to the oil, the water side dissolves. The grease gets pulled off the clothing into the water. Supposedly.

Chlorine bleach is a weak solution of sodium hypochlorite. The hypochlorite ion is a weak oxidizer which reacts with dyes and pigments. Good for getting out certain stains from organic matter. Which is why I bleach my underwear, not that you particularly wanted to know.

Most washing through the ages seems to have been beating stuff in water. The rubbing probably abrades the stain off
the cloth.

In the supposedly highly advanced “Western” culture, most
people didn’t even wash clothes! One wore ones clothes until they wore out. You dunked them in water sometimes
to wash out the sweat, etc.