The GreenWashBall is a device that you toss into the washing machine to clean your dirty laundry in place of detergent. An innovative concept, but not the first of its kind – “laundry balls” like the GreenWashBall are abundant, including the Miracle II Ball, the Laundry Solution ball, and the Mystic Wonder Laundry Ball. They are supposedly popular in Europe and the laundry ball industry is hoping to gain popularity in the U.S. Completely cutting the use of detergent is enticing from both ecological and economic standpoints, but how exactly does the GreenWashBall work, and can it up to its claims?

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Laundry balls seem to inspire skepticism. I speculate that this is for two reasons. One, they tend to be sold through direct marketing, like catalogs, and multi-level marketing schemes where sellers recruit buyers and other sellers — both mediums lend themselves to rackets. Two, the explanation of the technology involves some fuzzy chemistry involving everything from magnets to “far infrared rays.”

This company could not have picked a worse name for a product that Consumer Reports decreed ineffective and Wikipedia desribes as “pseudoscientific” and a “scam.” The GreenWashBall ($39.99) is filled with “antibacterial ceramics” that emit OH- ions, or hydroxides, and O2- ions, or dioxides, according to Michael Bitton of the GreenWashBall Team. The OH- ions have “strong sterilization capability” and the O2- ions have the “capability of decomposing organizing matters and deodorizing scents by being attached to oxidation reacting intermediates.” Both ions “destroy cell membranes of bacteria.”

Does any of that make sense? The Straight Dope wrote a piece about laundry balls, saying that that metal elements in the ceramics could produce ionized oxygen, like peroxide, but probably not enough of it to clean your clothes. Hydroxides could be created in the same way, although not in large quantities. These ions could lower the water’s pH, the the same effect produced by lye soap and sodium hydroxide.

So at least the science isn’t entirely baseless. But it is weird. The pamphlet that comes with the GreenWashBall says that the ball can keep food fresh if placed in the refrigerator. The reason is that the ball’s ceramic material has antibacterial properties that “purifies harmful substances, enriches taste and flavor, and suppresses viruses from spreading.”

I used the GreenWashBall and found that the effects were like washing my clothes with just water and no detergent (which I have done multiple times due to forgetfulness or lack of detergent). The dirt that was visible before washing was still visible and the armpits still faintly smelled like BO.

The company says there have been tests done on the GreenWashBall but did not have the results readily available.

Is it green?

Bitton says, “The GreenWashBall is made of natural ceramics and non-toxic plastics and pigments which is non-toxic for human and nature. The non-detergent ball does not release harmful and toxic chemicals back into the environment unlike detergent. Compared to a normal washing process, GreenWashBall reduces risks of allergic reactions linked to the use of detergent, eliminates germs and contributes to well-being, saves money and helps protect the environment. Also, one GreenWashBall equals 100 pounds of laundry detergent.”

I am not sure how to convert pounds into a unit of volume, but if you use this product for the recommended three years instead of laundry detergent, you will save yourself a lot of detergent and a lot of soap down the drain. The ball is reusable, but none of the components are recycled or recyclable. It comes from Korea, which means damage is done to the environment during transportation.

Sham or no, the makers of the product obviously have no commitment to the environment beyond invoking it as a sales strategy, I would say its claim to be “eco-friendly” is just like its name: greenwash.

+ GreenWashBall