Washing machines are one of those appliances that seem to get fancier-looking as time goes on without anything under the lid changing much; aside from digital readouts and perhaps the occasional touchscreen, the technology that gets your clothes clean hasn't changed a lot in the last few decades. Second only to the toilet, a conventional washing machine uses more water than anything in your house -- an average of forty gallons per load, or about 14% of household water use. More recent "energy star" rated machines use about half as much, but still -- that's a significant amount of water. Consider this: 26 billion gallons of water are used each day in the United States, 4.5 billion of which go to operate washing machines. Water aside, it also takes a lot of energy to run washing machines, which mostly comes from fossil fuels, and most detergents contain phosphates that end up in rivers and oceans once they're dumped. So what's the solution? For starters, a new washing machine called Wash2O can clean your clothes without detergent by using a little fancy chemistry. (Unfortunately it's only available in Europe right now, and will set you back about $1,000.)
On an even greener note, however, a prototype washing machine called the Xeros promises to clean clothes using only a single cup of water and just 2% of the energy of a conventional washer. How do they do it?
Basically, a user throws clothes in and starts the load, then a cartridge in the back of the machine drops in the plastic chips, and a cup of water including detergent is added. The water dissolves the stains and dirt, which is then absorbed by the chips. At the end of the cycle, a grill at the bottom of the machine opens to collect the chips. The process leaves clothes nearly dry, so using a dryer is not necessary. Tests from the University of Leeds show that the machine can get rid of all kinds of everyday stains, making it as cleanly as a washing machine, and the chips can be used up to 100 times, which adds up to about six months worth of washing.
Whether or not it'll be available for the average consumer to use in their home is an open question -- but either way, it sounds like washing machine technology finally got a much-needed fast-forward into the future.
Photo from Star1950's Flickrstream.