Laundry Capsules: Good, Bad, or Bogus?

Those “T-Wave” or “Turbo” laundry capsules, that are supposed to clean your clothes without detergent; how effective are they? Some while back, Cecil wrote a column about similar devices, but I can’t find a search now that will bring it up out of the Archives. Here is the Consumer Protection Agency’s hopelessly outdated report on such devices. I’ve never seen the “liquid-filled” balls they cite.

Explanations of the supposed physics behind the T-wave capsules are given at catalog sites like Real Goods and Isabella, but I can’t get the specific page urls to work, so interested Dopers will have to search those sites. Most detailed, and perhaps funniest, is at Cutting Edge.

Are these explanations mere emu oil, or are valid physical phenomena described? Physicists, please step up and state your credentials!

I suspect that such devices have some effect by creating air spaces in the washer, allowing for some extra aeration of the clothes.

I worked for a place that sold them once. When asked by customers how they work, we were supposed to feed them bullshit about ionized water and quantum effects.

How do they REALLY work? Well, a washing machine can actually do a pretty good job of cleaning clothes without detergent. These capsules teach people that. 8^)

Me again with further research. Here is text from the above-cited catalogs:
Real Goods- "The legendary Turbo Disc just got twice as effective. Two types of activated ceramics work with ionization so water penetrates fabrics better, lifting out dirt particles, and delivering clean, bacteria-free clothing without chemicals.’

Isabella- “These T-WAVE LAUNDRY DISCS (formally Turbo/Plus Activated Laundry Disc) work by releasing electrons which reduce the water’s surface tension when agitated in the washing machine. The reduced surface tension greatly increases the water’s ability to penetrate fabric and remove dirt particles. Detergent works by reducing surface tension too, only it does so with harmful chemicals.”

Cutting Edge- “This is the next generation of this product. The T-Wave consists of two discs that contains two types of specially activated ceramic beads, that work along with magnets to enhance waters solvency. You simply put the discs in with your wash and at the end of the cycle you have clean clothes. Here is how they work: the sophisticated ceramics and the magnets cause the water molecule to dissociate through an electrical phenomenon called ‘destabilization’. For the technically minded, this destabilization of the H+ (hydrogen) and OH- (hydroxide) ions causes the water to become super SOFT which is exactly what soap and detergents are supposed to do. The presence of the OH- ions maximizes the permeability of fabric and charges the clothes negatively, eliminating static cling!! Furthermore, the crystallization of dissolved lime and phosphor is changed, preventing their reattachment to fibers. This results in soft clothes and gets rid of residual scaling in your washing machine.
The discs will last for approximately 2 years… Heavily soiled clothes will need some pretreatment.”

Here is a link to a copy of Cecil’s original columns,

and here is a site that may contain enough information to make my whole thread irrelevant:

Yes- it might be argued that the benefit to the environment, from less detergent use, justifies hoaxing the consumer.

I know, that was a lame comment. I have to post once more because I forgot to enable e-mail last time. I’ll get the hang of this sooner or later.

Good point.

I believe that using the “recommend” amount of detergent stated on the box is usually unnecessary, wasteful, expensive, and bad for the environment. Furthermore, too much soap will eventually destroy the fibers in your clothing.

These things are completely fraudulant, and so is the “science” which claims to explain their actions. IMO, the perveyors of these “products” and other magnetic nostrums should be prosecuted.

Yeah, but if we started prosecuting all the snake-oil salesmen, to be perfectly fair we’d have to start with Congress, and then where would our government be?

…hey, wait a minute…

Too much sitting down will also eventually destroy the fibers in your clothing.

I heard about these devices about a year ago, and have always been skeptical. As the old saying goes, if it sounds too good to be true, it is.

I work for Whirlpool, and checked this out with the product testing department. They basically told me that washing with these discs or balls is as good as washing in… plain water. This will do a more-or-less adequate job on some types of dirt, but it won’t touch greasy soils. These can only be removed effectively by using a detergent, which also serves to suspend soiling in the water, so it doesn’t settle back on your laundry when the washer drains.

Oils from your skin are transferred to clothes as you wear them. Other types of dirt will cling to this oily residue, making the fabric look dull and grubby over time. You can’t avoid getting these natural residues on your clothes, hence the reason why you really do need to use a detergent. In other words, plain water will get most dirt out, but if you don’t use a detergent to shift the greasy soils, you’re wasting your time.

Detergents also contain enzymes, to break down protein-based stains, and bleaching/brightening agents to improve whiteness and keep colours bright. Plain water, with or without laundry discs/balls, has none of these properties.

To sum things up, you won’t get truly clean clothes unless you use a detergent. As mentioned before, however, there’s no need to use the dosages recommended by the manufacturer. I use 1/3 less than the typical dosage, and my laundry comes out perfectly clean. Most people use too much detergent, wrongly believing that suds are essential in order to get clean clothes. Suds are just trapped air, and have no effect on cleaning performance. Excess detergent will just leave a residue on your clothes after rinsing, and can also gunk up the outer tub of your washer.

IIRC, Cecil’s own tests(!) found that the laundry discs did slightly improve cleaning when washing in plain water, probably due to increased agitation. But the effect didn’t come anywhere near justifying the cost of the discs.

So, breaking up grease is the key to really clean clothes? I assume that primitives who whack their clothes on rocks in a stream don’t care if their clothes look fresh and bright. If we didn’t care what our clothes looked like, could we do without detergent? (If we didn’t care how our clothes smelled, could we do without washing entirely? Robert S. DeRopp lived as a child among Russian peasants who bathed, as a rule, about once a year, and lived communally in close quarters during the winter. One assumes that they did not wash their clothes any more often.)

(DeRopp’s authobiography, Warrior’s Way, -yes, named for a Castaneda reference- is well worth reading if you can find it.)

IIRC, G.I. Gurdjieff, who hailed from the Caucasus, used to remark that many of the diseases of civilized peoples were due to their “too frequent bathing”.

When I was “poor”, and living alone- I had a giant box of baking soda. I found that did almost as good job in washing clothes as the most expensive detergents, except on the bad stains- and rubbing them with Fels naphta soap removed the stains just fine.

However- after a while- your whites get “dull”- as detergents contain optical brighteners.

Those “balls” are plain hokum.