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Cleaning Power of Washing Balls No Better Than Plain Water - CHOICE # 421 (November 15, 2011)

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Washing balls are gaining popularity in recent years due to its green claims. However, a Consumer Council test revealed that the cleaning power of washing balls is no better than plain water.

The test samples included 13 powdered detergents, 10 liquid detergents, and 3 washing balls. Liquid detergents had the highest cost of washing, ranging from HK$0.37 to HK$5.75 per wash. Powdered detergent and washing ball ranged from HK$0.18 to HK$2.13 and HK$0.3 to HK$0.56 respectively.

The 3 washing ball samples were priced between HK$29 and HK$560. One sample recommended adding suitable amount of detergent for extremely dirty clothes, while the other two claimed to replace detergents and no washing powder is needed.

In the test, cotton cloths with 17 types of stains were washed with the powdered and liquid detergents, and with washing balls as well as with plain water for comparison. Results showed that washing balls did not perform any better than plain water in removing stains.

Consumers trying washing ball might find its cleaning power comparable initially to that of laundry detergents they normally used. It could be due to two reasons. Firstly, the clothes might be in fact cleaned by the washing agent left behind in the washing machine from previous washes. Secondly, even plain water only can perform acceptable washing if the clothes are not heavily stained.

The weight of two washing ball samples dropped significantly (12% and 40%) after 20 washes. The weight of one sample could not be measured after 60 washes due to damage. That particular sample labelled its active ingredient as nonionic surfactants, which might be the reason for its significant weight loss.

In general, there was no significant difference in washing performance between powdered and liquid detergents. Likewise, no difference in stain removal ability could be found between washing balls and plain water. Overall, powdered detergents performed better in keeping clothing bright but caused greater discoloration when compared with liquid detergents.

Sodium tripolyphosphate(STPP)and phosphonates (phosphorus-containing compounds) serve as additive to soften water in order to prevent the stain from re-depositing on the clothing. However, wastewater containing phosphorus released to the aquatic environment might threaten aquatic life.\

7 models of powdered and liquid detergents were found to contain phosphorus compounds with total phosphorus content ranging from 0.03% to 10.7%. Among the 7 models, 4 powdered detergents were found to contain STPP. 3 liquid detergents contained phosphonates, of which 2 claimed to be non-phosphate or phosphate free. Their total phosphorus content is still within the Mainland and Taiwan standard for phosphate free laundry detergents.

The Council urges manufacturers to lower the phosphorus content in laundry detergents to minimize the impact on aquatic ecosystem.\

The Council also pointed out that the current regulation does not require the laundry detergents listing out detailed ingredient information. It is found that some of the samples only listed out certain types of ingredient. Such labeling system does not offer help to consumers with sensitive skin in choosing the suitable laundry detergent.

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