Lab – What are laundry balls really worth without detergent?

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Aina Martin
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Detergent-free washing balls are an ecological and economical alternative to liquid or powder detergents. To assess the effectiveness of these “magic” balls, we washed our dirty laundry in the lab.



Washing balls have many advantages on paper. “Practical, ecological, economical, magical”: the adjectives of consumers a priori abound to qualify these alternatives to traditional detergents. Intrigued and always quick to provide you with the best buying advice, we put these balls to our fearsome test bench. Our goal is clear: to evaluate the washing efficiency of these new laundry accessories and compare it to that obtained from traditional detergent and clean water. What to expect? Mystery and gumdrop…

A washing ball: what for?

Miracle product for some, the washing balls promise to do without detergents and their cohort of elements harmful to the environment, a desire that could not be more commendable. They all have in common to contain hundreds of ceramic balls. Nevertheless, the chemical-physical-perlimimpesque action of these beads is never really very clear. For some designers, the agitation of the beads will break the hydrogen combinations, for others they will modify the pH of the water to make it alkaline. Others count on the creation of negative ions (or positive, let's not be sectarian).



What is certain is that the ball necessarily has a mechanical action. By beating the laundry (lightly) during the wash, it can help to remove a little dirt.

Our protocol

Our know-how in terms of washing machines allowed us to set up a protocol fairly quickly. Our readers of the first hour know it: we do not use our personal laundry (whose soiling would not be comparable from one test to another), but simulate a load in which we place a test strip stained with the same stains: Ketchup, fake blood, powdered carbon, and mixed with water, blood, lipstick, coffee, wine, and baby food. We then analyze these spots using the colorimetric probe.

Our test corpus is made up of samples of liquid detergents from major brands with different price positions. One of them plays precisely on the ecological aspect. L'Arbre vert is an organic detergent, and therefore less aggressive. This is precisely the one we use for our lab washing machine tests, as its formula is less likely to change.

Ariel Original Introductory price €10


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How the Mir Colors Revive & Repair price chart works Introductory price €8


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How the L'arbre vert price table works Detergent with concentrated vegetable soap Introductory price €8

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Hoping to observe significant differences, we also combined a stain remover (shamefully chemical) with an Ariel detergent.


Vanish Stain Remover & Whitening Powder Introductory Price €5

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As for the ball, we opted for a set of two washing balls without detergent sold at 20 €. Our choice was motivated by the simple fact that this washing ball reference is number 1 in sales on… Amazon. It seemed to us necessary and judicious to use a model approved by consumers. And as for its characteristics, they are common, if not identical, to most of those of the other laundry balls on the market.


ILP GmbH ProfessionalTree 2 x Wash Balls Introductory price €20

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The detergents were launched from that good old Samsung Addwash. This reference washing machine, which drags its gaiters in the house lab, carried out 12 washing cycles sometimes programmed in cotton at 30 ° C, sometimes at 60 ° C, but always loaded with 3 kg of laundry. As for the dose of detergent used for each of the cycles, we relied on the recommendations for use of each of the detergents.

Balls vs. laundry

The differences in washing between the stains washed and those treated by the ball are visible to the naked eye. The stains are much more marked on the strip that was inserted into the drum with the ball without detergent. We can still clearly see the stains of carrots, blood, wine, and we don't even speak of the lipstick which seems to have been spared any treatment. The colorimetric probe confirms these results. Whether at 30°C or 60°C, Ariel laundry detergent performs best and stands out (even more so at 30°C) when combined with Vanish stain remover — we are OK, that's cheating! At its side, the Green Tree and the Mir detergent are not unworthy and also ensure good washing efficiency; the differences between all the detergents are almost imperceptible. The ball is found last in the ranking and there are one or two in the drum does not change anything. However, one would have thought that by multiplying the mixing of the laundry by two, the washing efficiency would be twice as high. Well no !

Small aside. As you will have noticed, it is always the 60°C program that proves to be the most efficient in terms of washing efficiency. All the tests we conduct in the lab also point in this direction and the explanation is very simple. In the same way that it is easier to degrease the dishes when the water is hot, the laundry washes and comes off better when hot.

Balls vs Water

Faced with these rather disappointing performances, we wondered if finally the ball presented a real interest compared to clear water. We therefore launched two machines, always loaded with 3 kg of laundry, one at 30°C, the other at 60°C. Fortunately, in this duel, the balls show a certain efficiency. This can be seen subtly on the strips of stains treated at 30°C, the stains being a bit more faded when they have been stirred by the ball. It is at 60°C that the difference widens further: you can no longer distinguish theater blood, the spitting of a small pot of carrots or ketchup. As for lipstick and diluted carbon stains, they are much more erased. Colorimetric probes confirm these results, although they remain significantly lower than those obtained with detergent.

Two ball balls

The idea is not to fire red balls at the detergent-free washing ball whose ecological concept is as surprising as it is attractive, simply to face the facts. The washing ball has nothing magic and even less effective. Its “power” is limited to mechanical action. And again, the latter is difficult to discern on the very encrusted stains of our test protocol. Indeed, our various measurements have shown us that the balls do not have much more effect on dirt than clear water. The various pseudo-scientific explanations based on changes in pH, ionization or oxygenation of water are ultimately just window dressing. To blur the traces, nothing beats (unfortunately) the chemical processes of our liquid or powder detergents, which we will soon submit to our test bench.

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