Washing machines aren't sexy until you have to choose between two hours or 20 bucks to get your underwear clean. After nearly a decade of that racket, I'm not ashamed to admit I lust for laundry unit of my very own. As it turns out, science is hard at work helping my mundane wet dream come true.
When I heard rumblings about a couple innovative washing machines out of CES last month, I decided to look at what options are out there for city-dwellers and renters in laundry-less apartments. Fellow coin-op wash-and-folders, there's hope — no home runs, but some promising developments on the horizon.
In some cases, companies are forgoing the actual appliance entirely and trying out completely new tech to get your clothes clean. I'll start with my favourite, called Dolfi; I'm definitely considering buying this thing. It's basically a plastic rectangle you stick in a sink or bucket of water with a bit of detergent and it cleans your clothes with ultrasonic vibrations.
Here's the science behind it. At the heart of the plastic device (designed to look like a bar of soap) is an ultrasonic transducer that emits soundwaves that travel through the water and form invisible microscopic, high-pressure bubbles. Those bubbles implode, creating millions of microjet liquid streams. The force of the tiny vibrations dislodges the dirt and stains from your clothes, where it's broken down by the detergent.
Sign me up! After a successful Indiegogo campaign, Dolfi is due out in August, going for about 100 bucks. It's marketed as a suitcase-ready travel gadget but hell, I'd stick it in my bathroom sink and save a weekly trip to the cleaners by vibrating a few crucial items of clothing into freshness. It'd pay itself off in a month.
Another machine-without-a-machine is Swash — basically a clothes freshener and de-wrinkler but without the Febreeze or iron. You stick your dirty garment in a rack, stretched out and clipped into a frame, add a "Swash pod," and it basically gives your clothes a shot of freshness in about 10 minutes.
My coworker tried it out and found it's handy, yeah, but at $US500, not cheap. Plus you have to keep buying the pods. It's not going to replace your current laundry routine, but, like the Dolbi, it would be a useful stop-gap that can get you out of a bind when that one shirt you really wanted to wear that night still smells a bit from last week.
Small Is Beautiful
Then there are the actual machines themselves. Suddenly, makers are paying more attention to design — and how these appliances will actually fit in your apartment. The domestic darling of CES, for example, was the "futuristic" LG Twin Wash machine. Here's the gimmick: It's actually a regular old washing machine but with a little mini washer built into the bottom of it. The idea is that you can run two loads simultaneously to separate out your whites or whatnot without waiting an entire cycle.
My interest was perked because the mini washer can also operate on its own, and will be sold separately — a cute little thing about the perfect size for a reasonably clean single person. The major catch is that, as an LG spokesperson told me, it needs to be connected to a larger washing machine to work. It's set to be commercially available this year, and I beseech you, LG, to make the mini washer independent.
Of course, small portable washing machines are already a thing. The drawback, however, is they need to be connected either to a traditional washer hookup, which many apartment units don't have, or a sink faucet, which has it's own inconveniences. Plus they will run you around $US300. Personally, at this price and dependence on a sink, I'll probably hold out for the next innovation. I am currently willing this good-lookin' piece of machinery into reality. It's just a prototype right now — barely that in fact, more of a design concept — and it doesn't improve on the machine functionality at all. The image doesn't even include any water source to speak of. But: Look how pretty!
It's so Future. You could stick this your bedroom instead of hiding it in the closet. If someone designed a portable washer this slick and could keep the price reasonable, then we'd be talking. Especially if it didn't need a traditional water hookup. Which leads me to the Next Big Thing in laundry tech.
The Real Future: No Water
Waterless washing machines have long been proclaimed as the future. Obviously this is for reasons unrelated to personal laundry machines, but rather to address the water shortage and environmental crisis facing the planet. The innovation getting tech bloggers hot and bothered right now is this Xeros washer, which cleans clothes with polymer nylon beads instead soapy water.
The Xeros is not waterless, but it uses 70 per cent less water than a normal machine — basically the clothes just need to be damp so the synthetic beads will stick to them. The company does a good job explaining how it works, so I'll let it do the honours:
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.
What does it mean for my dream of washing my clothes in my own home? Nothing. Not right now. The tech is already making waves in the hospitality industry, with several utility companies partnering up to bring the polymer bead method to hotels. But it's still in development. There's currently no timeline for a consumer-available machine, nor a cost estimate. It's OK. I'll wait.
We're not quite there yet, but it's nice to know folks are trying. As the tech improves and the prices come down, I may actually come to know the adult experience of washing my underwear in my own home whenever I damn well please.