Lab – What are wash balls without detergent really worth?


Detergent-free wash balls are an environmentally friendly and economical alternative to liquid or powder detergents. To assess the effectiveness of these “magic” balls, we washed our dirty laundry in the lab.

Washing balls have many advantages over paper. “Practical, ecological, economical, magical” : there is no shortage of adjectives from consumers a priori to qualify these alternatives to traditional detergents. Intrigued and always quick to provide you with the best buying advice possible, we put these balls to our formidable test bench. Our goal is clear: to evaluate the washing efficiency of these new laundry accessories and compare it to that obtained from traditional laundry and clean water. What to expect Mystery and gumdrop…

A washing ball: what for?

Miracle product for some, the washing balls promise to do without detergents and their cohort of elements harmful to the environment, a desire could not be more commendable. They all have in common to contain hundreds of ceramic balls. Nevertheless, the chemical-physico-perlimpimpesque action of these beads is never really very clear. For some designers, the agitation of the beads will break the hydrogen combinations, for others they will modify the pH of the water to make it alkaline. Others rely on the creation of negative ions (or positive, let’s not be sectarian).

What is certain is that the ball necessarily has a mechanical action. By beating (lightly) the laundry during washing, it can help loosen some dirt.

Our protocol

Our know-how in the field of washing machines allowed us to set up a protocol fairly quickly. Our early readers know this: we are not using our personal laundry (the soiling of which would not be comparable from one test to another), but simulating a load in which we place a test strip stained with the same stains: Ketchup, fake blood, powdered carbon, and mixed with water, blood, lipstick, coffee, wine and baby food. We then analyze these spots using the colorimetric probe.

Our test corpus consists of samples of liquid detergents from major brands with different price positions. One of them plays precisely on the ecological aspect. The Green Tree is an organic detergent, and therefore less aggressive. This is precisely the one we use for our lab washing machine tests because its formula is less likely to change.

Hoping to see significant differences, we also combined a (shamefully chemical) stain remover with Ariel laundry.

As for the ball, we opted for a set of two washing balls without detergent sold at 20 €. Our choice was motivated by the simple fact that this washing ball reference is number 1 in sales on… Amazon. It seemed to us necessary and judicious to use a model acclaimed by consumers. And in terms of its characteristics, they are common, if not identical, to most of the other washing balls on the market.

Laundry started from good old Samsung Addwash. This benchmark washing machine, which drags its gaiters in the home lab, has carried out 12 washing cycles, sometimes programmed in cotton at 30 ° C, sometimes at 60 ° C, but always loaded with 3 kg of laundry. As for the dose of detergent used for each cycle, we relied on the advice for using each of the detergents.

Balls vs detergents

The differences in washing between the leached stains and those treated by the ball are visible to the naked eye. The stains are much more marked on the tape which was inserted into the drum with the ball without detergent. We still clearly see the stains of carrot, blood, wine, and we do not even talk about the lipstick which seems to have been spared any treatment. The colorimetric probe confirms these results. Whether at 30 ° C or 60 ° C, Ariel detergent does the best and stands out (even more at 30 ° C) when combined with Vanish stain remover – we are okay, that’s cheating! At its side, the Green Tree and the Mir detergent do not demerit and also ensure good washing efficiency; the differences between all the detergents are almost imperceptible. The ball ends up last in the ranking and whether there is one or two in the drum does not change anything. However, one would have thought that by multiplying the washing of the laundry by two, the washing efficiency would be twice as high. Well no !

Small aside. As you will have noticed, it is always the 60 ° C program which proves to be the most efficient in terms of washing efficiency. All the tests that we carry out in the lab also point in this direction and the explanation is very simple. In the same way that dishes are more easily degreased when the water is hot, laundry is washed and comes off better when hot.

Balls vs water

Faced with these rather disappointing performances, we wondered if ultimately the ball was of real interest compared to clear water. We therefore launched two machines, still loaded with 3 kg of laundry, one at 30 ° C, the other at 60 ° C. Fortunately, in this duel, the boules show a certain effectiveness. This is subtly seen on the strips of stains treated at 30 ° C, the dirt being a little more faded when they have been stirred by the ball. It is at 60 ° C that the gap widens further: we can no longer distinguish theatrical blood, the spitting of the little pot of carrot or ketchup. As for the stains of lipstick and diluted carbon, they are much more erased. Colorimetric probes confirm these results, although they remain significantly lower than those obtained with lye.

Balls with two balls

The idea is not to shoot red balls at the laundry ball without detergent, whose green concept is as astonishing as it is attractive, simply to face the facts. There is nothing magic about the washing ball, let alone effective. Its “power” is limited to mechanical action. And again, the latter is difficult to discern on the very encrusted spots of our test protocol. Indeed, our different measurements have shown us that the balls do not have much more effect on dirt than clear water. The various pseudo-scientific explanations based on the change in pH, ionization or oxygenation of water are ultimately nothing but powder in the eyes. To blur the traces, nothing beats (unfortunately) the chemical processes of our liquid or powder detergents, which we will also soon submit to our test bench.

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