EcoBalls — Are they for real?
Category: Blog

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:

  • higher alkyl sulfate
  • non-ionic surfacant
  • sodium metasilicate
  • calcium carbonate
  • sodium carbonate

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.
 

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12 Responses to “EcoBalls — Are they for real?”

  1. David says:

    Thanks, this is exactly what I wanted to know.

  2. Jean says:

    I was in London for the past three weeks, at my daughter’s house. She has a new baby so I was there to help her with household chores. She and her husband bought EcoBalls a while ago, so I did the laundry for the four of us, including the baby’s clothes, with them.

    The results were way better than I expected….they worked so well I’m buying them for my house in the States!

  3. DENISE says:

    yes yes yes THESE DO WORK FABULOUSLY..I have been using them for 2 years ans they are still working…have not used the refil yet!!! Do the math at this rate I will use them up in 2 more years.. $70 = 4 years DIvide 17.50 per yr THATS A DEAL. THEY SAID 1000 LOADS I STOPPED COUNTING LAST YEAR AT 322 LOADS. p.s. the big corps here p&g lever bros and dow etc are NOT happy about this product and will try to stop them anyeay they can .. PASS IT ON.

  4. Larry says:

    Thanks! This is the most useful, clear and fact-based explanation of EcoBalls I have seen posted.

  5. Phillipe says:

    Can you tell me where you bought them in London please? Many thanks.

  6. Emma Tysoe says:

    I’ve been using for over 6 month and dont have any problems with them but was curious to what was inside. they dont get pasta sauce stains out but I use the SUN for that and clothes sometimes smell if dried on airer so prefer the washing line. my clothes are always soft and dont need ironing :o )
    Lakeland sell them for £10 http://www.lakeland.co.uk/ecoballs!REG/F/keyword/eco+ball/product/21756 – I also use a magnoball as have very hard water

  7. Laundry Ball says:

    These balls seem to be working in my household. Eco friendly products are the way for our futures.

  8. [...] In the future, I hope this entry into ‘eco’ laundry enables you to think more about your impact and move towards more sustainable practices like super efficient washer replacements, 100% natural homemade washing products. Just making small changes like this might bring to your mind other sustainability related thoughts. Maybe you will recognize that you are using too much of something, or buying a harmful product which sits next to a more gentle alternative. It’s a start. If you would like to eliminate washing detergents entirely there are many options such as the eco ball and what not. However for every site selling them there is one about false marketing, exposing pseudoscience (anytime you hear people quoting physicists for a dishwasher disc ad is questionable, and I doubt an email spammer has much respect for let alone idea about how ‘quantum physics’ works with his laundry product). I suggest care here for now, and more study.  After all not everything is as it seems, and the example eco ball i gave, under further study, actually shows it to be full of detergent chemicals after all. [...]

  9. pauline says:

    Thanks for the info, I just bought two eco balls in Aldi. €6.99. If they only do half my washing for the next year I will have saved a fortune.

  10. squirrel says:

    Put things in perspective now:
    1. Ecoballs weigh ~150g. Use 3 in the was ~500g. remove weigh of plastic: ~350g of the “stones”.
    2. Ecoballs run through (claimed) 150 washes. (I’ve gone through ~50 and it seems a long way to the “stones” being worn out so 150 seems reasonable (250 seem quite possible to be honest)). 350/150~2g/wash
    3. use washing powder and fabric conditioner ~ 50-100g/wash? (this may be a bit generous!) – say 30g/wash on the optimistic side.

    So conclusions:
    a. you use 15-50 times less detergent per wash
    b. you pay £30 for 150 washes (minimum) = £0.2/wash vs ~£12 for 50 washes (manufacturer claims – but in reality isn’t it more like 30?) = £0.24

    => lot less detergent for roughly the same price

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