When looking into a claim critically, I first ascertain if a product or method has gone through a double blind test. It’s a good measuring stick, but it would be more interesting if I could carry out such a test myself.
To my good fortune, I have the apparatus to conduct one at home: My washer and dryer. They will be the testing ground for laundry balls, which supposedly make detergent superfluous and last 2,500 washes.
The clothes will be laundered in one of three ways: With detergent, with the laundry ball, and with hot water alone. As to the double blind element, the clothes won’t know in which manner they are being tested and my wife won’t know which pile of clothes is which when I ask her which is cleanest. For that matter, she doesn’t even know she’s been drafted for this assignment.
For the first portion of the test, I dressed my four oldest children and myself in identical jeans and T-Shirts and commenced to sliding, slipping, and sluicing in the backyard. This proved a painful experiment for my 46-year-old bones and muscles, but I have always resolved to donate my body to science.
We trudged back in, exhausted, sweating, and most importantly, filthy. While doing laundry, we kept with the science theme and I familiarized my 7-year-old with the Periodic Table. He was handicapped by being 7 and having me as his chemistry professor. But he memorized the symbols and numbers for hydrogen and helium, so at this rate we’re eight weeks away from success. We also got a lesson in acoustics when our conscripted scientist walked in. We discerned how far yelps of outrage will bounce back when hitting drywall. We were also tutored on optics, learning a glare can be laser-like without burning a hole through you.
A couple of hours later, we took our experiment results to the tester for product evaluation, or as she called it, wasting her time. Normally, I’d want at least one other person as a control, but it’s best to not question her conclusions. She picked the ones washed with detergent as best by far. She was mostly inconclusive on the other two. Some clothes washed in hot water alone seemed a little better than the ones washed with the laundry ball, and vice versa.
It turns out I got little for my activated water, manipulated electric field, and quantum mechanics. Maybe the instructions meant the same load needed to be laundered 2,500 times. I looked on the box to more closely examine some of the other claims. One noted that the laundry balls “emit far infrared waves.” This is true, since all materials emit far infrared waves. By this logic, the clothes should have laundered themselves. There was also a claim that the balls contain agents that neutralize chlorine. Chlorine is an antibacterial agent, so neutralizing it in washing water would seem counterproductive. Maybe that explains the dark green and brown splotches left behind. Another boast noted that the balls manipulate electric fields to form crystals, and these crystals retain their form in boiling liquids. It never explicates why this form matters or why this would make socks and pants cleaner.
I looked into the claims made by other laundry ball makers for comparison. Besides making these balls, the companies also seem to manufacture their abilities. Even though the products are similar and have the same goal, there exists little agreement on how they work. This is a strong indication they don’t work at all. There are many antacids and, while they have varying benefits and efficiency, there would be general consensus on why they were effective.
Some laundry ball users report a seeming increase in efficiency on certain types of stains, but this is the result of hot water washing as opposed to cold. Moreover, the mechanical action of the laundry balls could help clean a few types of stains, but you’d get the same result if you tossed in a golf ball, plus you’d increase the golf ball’s aerodynamics.
I learned in my research that silver has antibacterial properties. For a follow up, I could test the results of laundering with items from our jewelry box. But I’m in enough trouble with the evaluator as it is.