Traditional washing machines can guzzle upwards of 40 gallons of water in a single cycle.
Thing is, most of that water doesn’t make the clothes any cleaner.
Xeros, a design company started at University of Leeds in the UK, has been developing the solution to this waste problem since 2006. Now it’s on the brink of widespread application.
The Xeros washing machine uses up to 80% less water than ordinary machines, all because it avoids the cleaning agent that conventional machines lean on: soapy water.
Instead, Xeros uses recyclable plastic beads.
Here’s how it works:
Each bead is made of a delicate polymer blend. In an industrial wash weighing 25 kilograms (roughly 55 lbs.), some 1.5 million beads are used. Gently, they attach to clothes and use a static charge to open the fibres up and pull dirt out. At the end of the wash, the beads sink to the floor of the machine through openings in the walls of the drum, and release the dirt.
“Not only do Xeros beads last for hundreds of uses, they are completely recyclable as well,” Xeros states on its website.
When the beads have served their duty in the wash, they can get turned into plastic for other uses, such as car parts.
Xeros estimates that if everyone had switched their ordinary washing machine to a Xeros washer in 2013, by now we would have saved approximately 37 billion gallons of water.
Xeroes doesn’t provide estimates in total cost savings, just an online calculator. But it does point out that people will save money on both their water bill and in buying new clothes, as the beads help preserve the health of the fabric.
Xeros is currently available only in industrial settings. Home use won’t be an option for several years, Jonathan Benjamin, president of Xeros Inc., told Popular Mechanics.
“It’s not tomorrow and it’s not ten years for now, but we haven’t set a timetable for when the machines will be available for consumer purchase,” he said, “but everything we’re doing right now is geared toward that introduction to the residential market.”
The benefits extend far beyond a cheaper water bill and longer-lasting clothes. The company envisions a future in which everyone has switched to its super-energy-efficient system and can relieve drier climates of heavy water burdens, like the increasingly parched California.
Minimising water use on the small scale benefits people individually, but multiplied over millions of people each time they wash their clothes, that “37 billion” figure no longer seems so out of reach.