Detergent-less laundry systems lack cleaning power


“Does detergent-free laundry sound too good to be true?” So asks Pure Products International, maker of the pureWash Eco Friendly Laundry System. Based on Consumer Reports’ testing of this product, as well as the similarly marketed Wash It laundry system, the answer for now is, “Yes, it’s too good be to true.”

The $300 pureWash and $400 Wash It systems are about the size of a large toaster oven. They mount to the wall behind and above any top-load or front-load washing machine. An inlet and outlet on either side of the devices connect them to your home’s cold water line and washing machine. Both devices also come with a power adapter that plugs into the nearest electrical outlet.

We had no trouble installing the pureWash and Wash It systems. But that’s where our positive experience ended. Following our usual laundry detergent test procedure, we loaded the two washers with test fabric swatches soiled with mud, blood, grass, chocolate, and the like. Instead of laundry detergent, pureWash and Wash It systems are supposed to get clothes clean by injecting ozone into the cold wash water. “Ozone is a powerful oxidant; it disinfects, deodorizes and sanitizes,” claims the Wash It web site. “Ozone kills micro-organisms found in soiled laundry (kills bacteria 3,000 times faster than bleach),” says pureWash.
Wash It laundry system

Test results
While we didn’t bust out the microscope, we did use a color-sensitive instrument called a colorimeter to assess how well each device cleaned our soiled fabric swatches. The results were not what you’d call sparkling. Indeed, both devices were only a bit better than plain water at tackling soils. Since their user manuals said that you could also add a small amount of detergent, we ran a second test using a dose of industry-standard laundry detergent. Again, we saw no ozone-induced boost in cleaning performance.

Given that ground-level ozone is an irritant that can worsen asthma and compromise the body’s ability to fight respiratory infections, we checked the ambient air in our test lab while the devices were in use and measured ozone levels well below the maximum limit set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Still, the apparent safety of the pureWash and Wash It systems doesn’t change the fact that they don’t really work better than most detergents. And that of course diminishes the money savings—which aren’t that great to begin with. For example, the $300 pureWash is supposed to last 10 years. Depending on how often you do the laundry, it would take anywhere from 8 to 11 years to use about $300 of one of our Best Buy detergents—and of course you’d have really clean clothes in the process.

Bottom line: We’re all for the idea of a detergent-less laundry system, which would save money and time for consumers and have less impact on the environment. Unfortunately, neither of these systems lives up to the potential.

—Daniel DiClerico