While today's high efficiency washing machines use far less water than their predecessors, they still consume between 37 and 90 litres of water per load—and as much as 34,000 litres per US household per year. That's a lot of water just for cleaning clothes, especially with the growing drought conditions throughout the American West. But Xeros' revolutionary washing machines could reduce our laundry water usage to a trickle, using... plastic beads?
Developed by Stephen Burkinshaw at the University of Leeds, the Xeros washing machine leverages the mechanical force of specially designed polymer beads, rather than water, to loosen and lift soil stains from fabrics.
As the Xeros website explains:
In any textile cleaning process the combination of mechanical action on the cloth, chemistry from detergents and temperature to activate this, all act together over the wash cycle. The higher the action, the more detergent and the higher the temperature used, generally the better the cleaning. Large amounts of water are required too, to allow the suspension of the soil and its removal, and then again during rinsing.
Xeros takes these elements required for good cleaning, and completely reinvents them. The polymer beads provide a gentle, uniform mechanical action on the cloth, aiding the removal of stain and soil. Their hydrophobic nature allows better removal of oily and greasy stains than with water based systems, and their polar surface chemistry attracts and retains all types of stain as it is transported away from the cloth surface. Some polymers even have the ability to absorb stains into their molecular structure.
As a result, great cleaning can be achieved at lower temperatures, and with less detergent than has previously been possible. Water acts as a lubricant in the Xeros process rather than as the main wash medium, and hence much less water is required. Rinse water too is reduced, as there is less detergent to be rinsed away.
So instead of pouring litres of water into every load, the Xeros requires just a small cup full of water and detergent. What's more, the beads can be reused over and over, for up to six months (roughly 100 loads), before being recycled. Consumers stand to save up to 47 per cent in electricity costs and 72 per cent in water usage.
The Xeros machines are already used by a small number of professional cleaners, athletic clubs, and Hyatt hotels—but they're expected to hit the wider consumer market over the next few years. [Xeros Cleaning via Inhabitat]