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An incredible washing machine needs only a fraction of the water

Posting in Technology
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that if all U.S. households switched to water-efficient appliances, more than three trillion gallons of water could be saved each year. 

Now imagine if everyone switched one of their most water-intensive appliances, the washing machine, for one that was nearly waterless, but just as effective.

That's the vision of Xeros, the company behind an innovative washing machine that uses 70 percent less water than a standard washing machine. In the U.K., according to Xeros, washing machines use more than 13 gallons per load. In the U.S., the water savings could be even greater with the EPA estimating that the average, non-HE washing machine uses 41 gallons of water per load. 

So what's the catch? Instead of using so much water, the company has developed a bead-cleaning technology that uses more than a million tiny polymer beads in each load to clean clothes. The patented technology was developed at the University of Leeds. 

Here's how it works:
 
 
With Xeros marketing itself as an environmental solution, the biggest question is: is the washing machine just replacing one environmental problem with another: less water used but more plastic waste? Here's how the company addresses the issue

Xeros beads can be used 100’s of times before they need to be replaced and they never go down the drain. Better still, after replacement, the used beads will never be thrown away, and can be re-used in other industries that already deal with recycled polymer. The way we look at it is that Xeros borrows the beads from the polymer supply chain, puts them to good use in Xeros cleaning, and then puts them back without any incremental plastic production.

Of course whether or not the beads make it back to the supply chain depends on the consumer's motivation to recycle and the ease of the recycling process. 

The technology already has already been adopted on a commercial scale with customers ranging from dry cleaning services in the United Kingdom to hotels in the United States. And at least one hotel is very happy with it. 

"The Xeros technology is truly amazing," said David Eisenman General Manager at Hyatt Regency in Reston, Virginia. "Xeros has absolutely delivered on the promises of savings and superior performance."

But if you're looking to get into bead washing, you'll have to wait a bit. The company is currently developing a consumer model that looks like a standard front-loading washing machine. According to Physics Today it could go on the market as early as next year. 

[h/t Grist]

— By on February 20, 2014, 1:15 PM PST

Tyler Falk

Contributing Editor

Tyler Falk is a freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. Previously, he was with Smart Growth America and Grist. He holds a degree from Goshen College. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure