While in London last weekend I stumbled across an interesting laundry detergent alternative called EcoBalls. They are these green UFOish shaped balls with pellets inside. Not hearing of them before and being skeptical, I decided to hold off buying them, especially at £35.
Doing a bit of research online, I’ve found mixed information. The majority of the skeptics I have seen arguing against them seem to focus on the gimicky nature of the product description and/or inaccurately point to debunk stories on “similar” products. I use the term “similar” like I do because I really feel that after researching it, EcoBalls are a bit different than many of the products out there like it.
The one thing I found most interesting about all of the information I read online attempting to debunk them is that none of them paid any attention to the components of the pellets inside the balls. Reading that they had a limit on the number of wash cycles (albeit high one), I knew the pellets had to break down in some way. Digging a bit more, I found out the ingredients of the pellets are as follows:
For something claiming to be chemical free, that ingredient list definitely seems to point otherwise. Looking at the ingredient list more, I started to recognize some of them as stuff I had heard of before, interestingly enough from cleaning products. Let’s go through each one, one by one.
First we have “higher alkyl sulfate”. This is listed as an “adjuvant” which basically means it’s an inactive ingredient which serves the purpose of assisting the dispersion of the active ingredients. It can be likened to an emulsifier and I’ve found several references to it being used in cleaning products online.
Next we have “non-ionic surfacant”. This one is a wetting agent which assists in lowering the surface tension of water. This allows the cleaning solutions to have better ability to break up stains and soils. Again, a common ingredient in cleaning products.
Then we have “sodium metasilicate”. This is one is used to assist the surfacant above by reducing the hardness of the water. Interestingly, this one is both poisonous and reacts fairly violently to acids. For something claiming to be so safe, this ingredient doesn’t support that claim. It could be a small ingredient, though, reducing the potential for issues. Still something you want to make sure small children don’t ingest in any event.
The second to last ingredient is “calcium carbonate”. This one just about anyone should recognize and thus doesn’t need much explanation. It’s a common ingredient in many cleaning products it seems, especially “green” ones, so it’s presence comes as no surprise.
The final ingredient is “sodium carbonate”. This is better known to many as “Washing Soda”. It’s a water softener sold in most grocery stores which prevents calcium and magnesium ions from bonding to the detergent. It’s effective at removing oil, grease, and alcohol stains. Again, it’s presence comes as no surprise.
So, basically what we have here is moderately large plastic balls which contain a very mild detergent. It’s thus no surprise that they do a little better than doing laundry with just plain water alone. The large size of the balls would work well at mashing the clothes, sorta akin to a washing board, and the combination of the mild detergent should prove to be effective. It might not brighten your whites as much as the store bought detergent, but otherwise should clean just as well based on what I can gather without actually using the product. Also, since it doesn’t contain the fragrances which most have gotten used to in laundry detergents, the clothes won’t have that “fresh clean” smell. At about $70 US + shipping, not sure I am going to try them, but I wanted to post this so others doing research on the topic could form a more educated opinion.