Eco Balls are no better than nothing, they are just another eco-scam.

I have been running a little, admittedly unscientific, experiment; I don’t use any laundry liquid, or other detergent, when washing my clothes and I have not noticed if they come out of the wash any dirtier than if I did use detergent. They don’t come out of the machine smelling of detergent and fabric softener, but they don’t come out smelling dirty either, they just smell of nothing much and appear clean.

(Update: I have now been doing this for several years.)

There are exceptions, heavily soiled clothes do not come up clean, but how much of ones washing is heavily soiled? I can always use some detergent if I need to, the point it that most of the time of the time I don’t.

There is a product called Eco Balls, it has been about for years and it has many copies, it used to claim to use “ionized oxygen” to get your clothes clean, no need for any nasty washing machine detergents apparently.

So, all you have to do is pop them into the machine along with your clothes and, as-if-by-magic, they come out clean. There are exceptions, apparently heavily soiled clothes need some detergent, as well as the Eco Balls, to get them clean.

I say “used to” because Eco-Balls have changed their literature several times since I originally wrote this article, changing the mechanism by which they “work” each time.

This is entirely consistent with other scams, confidence tricks and snake oil products; when questioned or criticised change the mechanism by which the product works or move the goal posts thus side stepping the need to provide actual evidence to support the idea that the product actually works because the question or criticism is no longer valid.

According to the original literature the pellets inside Eco-Balls were ceramic and “produce ionized oxygen that activates the water molecules naturally and allows them to penetrate deep into clothing fibres to lift dirt away”. When questioned by me, and scores of other people, they failed to provide any evidence to support this claim, let alone explain what this pseudo-scientific mumbo-jumbo means. Recently, rather than answer the question, they simply stopped saying it.

Back in October 2008 I was reading from a pack of Eco-Balls, in the CAT shop in Machynlleth that the granules inside Eco-Balls are actually “salts” that soften the water, no longer was ionized oxygen the mechanism by which they get your clothes clean.

On the Guardian’s Shop (yes, I know, even The Guardian are peddling this crap) it clearly says that the pellets inside Eco-Balls are “concentrated soap” and this is how they get your clothes clean.

So which is it; are Eco-Balls filled with ceramic, salt or soap?

Eco-Balls still claim:

  • to use “no harsh chemicals” (what, other than the ceramic/salt/soap?),
  • to reduce rinse cycle times (because there is no ceramic/salt/soap to wash away, right?),
  • not to fade bright colours or damage fibres (because ceramic/salt/soap does not do that?),
  • to be “hypo-allergenic” (because people are not allergic to ceramic/salt/soap?),
  • that fabric conditioner is not necessary (except Dryer Balls, I guess?),
  • to be anti-bacterial and kill Escherichia Coli and Staphylococcus Aureus (what? the Eco-Balls or the hot water? And who say that these nasties are even in my laundry?)
  • … and they still come with a “stain remover”. (why? because most of the time you don’t need to use anything, including Eco-Balls, and occasionally you have clothes dirty enough to warrant some real product?)

They cost £35 and used to last 1000 washes, now they only last 750 washes… why is that?

You can also also buy Dryer Balls which apparently do way with the need for softening dryer sheets and fabric softeners. Again, no evidence or mechanism to explain how they work or how they differ in performance from, for example, tennis balls, or indeed, not using them at all.

According to ecoballsdirect.co.uk Eco-Balls are made by ecozone.co.uk – neither company has responded to my repeated requests for explanation of how their product (or indeed, any of their other miracle products such as their magnetic toilet descaler or magnetic washing machine descaler) work, or any scientific data on them, or studies carried out on them… Why? I presume because there is no such information available, it does not exist, which means they are selling an untested product and cant back up any of their claims… does that sound like a scam to you?

Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary proof and Eco-Balls make some very big claims while providing no proof whatsoever, Eco-Balls are blatant modern day snake oil, one of many eco-scams designed to part well meaning consumers from their cash. Everything I have seen relating to Eco-Balls is entirely consistent with this – no evidence, no science, changing description of how they work, changing description of what they are made off.

If you are looking for a greener way to wash your clothes then try wearing them longer, washing at lower temperatures (30 deg C should be hot enough most of the time) and using a lot less laundry powder… and if you are looking for a green way to dry your clothes I recommend a washing line!

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Don’t believe me? Try a few links:

The Straight Dope has an excellent article on it, if you click just one link make it this one:
http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/944/do-laundry-balls-really-work

See what consumers think here:
http://forums.moneysavingexpert.com/showthread.html?t=77987&highlight=eco+balls

Another (unscientific) test:

http://www.bean-sprouts.blogspot.com/2007/01/load-of-old-laundry-balls.html

Even New Scientist says it is bunkum:

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20026852.700-water-washes-whitish.html

And search Google for “eco balls scam” and see what you get…….

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8 Comments

  1. Simon Brown:

    So it may be that there are two scams. Eco balls are taking advantage of a natural phenomenon that happens anyway in a washing machine – water dissolved stuff. Water is often known as the universal solvent – it will dissolve most things at least in part. When water is nice and warm it dissolves more stuff and when you churn the dirty clothes around in it for an hour and a bit, it will dissolve pretty much everything but the stubbornest of stains. All by itself. Without ecoballs.

    So, you say, the eco balls are a scam. Well sort of.

    But what is also a scam, and far more alarming in my mind, is that the detergent manufacturers are intent on us adding vast quantities of the detergent they make to our washes. Obviously they have to maximise return for investors because they’re companies, not charities, but it does beg the question, who is calling scam? As you say, to save the earth, and a ton of money, just use less laundy liquid and dry your clothes on a line. And save the liquid for when clothes are REALLY filthy…

  2. Anonymous:

    Salt, soap, detergent, ceramics… Whatever is inside the balls, what really matters is if they wash the clothes or not (and in an ecological way as claimed). The way to find out is to compare with washing water only.
    Consumer associations of several countries tested the balls and all pretty much concluded that the result of washing with them is about the same as washing with water only.
    You can check the tests results here:

    http://sopadabola.wordpress.com/testes-2/
    Translated to English: http://translate.google.pt/translate?u=http%3A%2F%2Fsopadabola.wordpress.com%2Ftestes-2%2F&sl=pt&tl=en&hl=&ie=UTF-8

  3. Puhtoiseksi tekevät pallit | Kauaskatsoja:

    [...] Tässä blogissa kerrotaan, miten maailmalla jo vuosia markkinoitu Ecoballs on muuttanut markkinointiaan, ja samalla [...]

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  5. Revolve Rewards | Ecoballs on Sale Now!:

    [...] Now, back to the balls and the controversy.  There seems to be three camps; those that use and like the idea of minimising the chemicals; those that are rabid about traditional powders and those that just think these balls are a scam.  A great article by Jeremy Johnstone http://www.jeremyjohnstone.com/blog/2008-05-11-ecoballs-are-they-for-real.html provides a good balanced view.  Jon Starbucks on the other hand reckons they are a scam (see http://www.eco-scams.com/archives/121) [...]

  6. Domi:

    I’ve never seen anything like that! Horrible and ridiculous, doesn’t make your washing smell nice at all and doesn’t soften it. What’s more, it makes all white go grey very quickly! Over-rated ! I would definitely advise against buying eco balls unless you want to destroy your favourite clothes!

  7. Jon:

    My wife used them for a short time until everyone in the family complained that our clothes did not smell pleasant, or were particularly clean so after a near domestic riot they were ditched, money down the drain.

  8. SEVEN YEAR USER:

    THESE ARE FANTASTIC, I HAVE NOT BOUGHT DETERGENT FOR 7 YEARS, OUR CLOTHES ARE SOFT, CLEAN AND FRAGRANCE FREE. LOVE THEM!

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