While most modern washers cut down on the massive amount of time and physical labor they used to require, they still hog a great deal of electricity, water, and detergent. The Xeros washing machine developed by Stephen Burkinshaw at the University of Leeds, however, trades buckets of water for specially formulated nylon polymer beads that help suck away dirt and grease. The beads can be used up to 100 times (or for about six months) and save the consumer up to 47 percent in electricity costs and reduce water usage by 72 percent.
Taking its name from the Greek word for “dry”, the Xeros washing machine was recently listed for £100 million on the stock market for March. Already available in select cleaners, athletic clubs and Hyatt hotels, the offering will act as the company’s first step into large-scale production.
The machine itself resembles a standard front-load washer. A cup of water and a small amount of detergent are added before the wash cycle begins. Small nylon polymer beads are released into the load to both agitate and remove dirt from fabric. Their unique polarization helps to loosen stains without the need for hot water, and are then removed by the machine’s dual drum system.
The biggest question concerning the Xeros machine is what to do with the plastic beads once they need to be replaced. While the company insists that they will be recycled, it is up to the individual consumer to remain diligent and responsible for their proper disposal. Otherwise, the already serious microplastic pollution problem seen in both freshwater and ocean ecosystems could get a whole lot worse. Still, the Xeros has already earned itself a place on the WWF’s list of “Green Game-Changers” and the UK government’s “Best Technological Breakthrough” at the 2011 Climate Week Awards. The machines are available now for purchase in the UK and North America for businesses and Xeros has plans to expand into the residential market in about two years.