Overrated/Underrated: Green Laundry

These alternative systems promise to cut down on power and detergent use.

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Overrated:
The Wonderwash

The Wonderwash is a plastic pill-form contraption that you fill with dirty clothes, hot water, and detergent—a washing machine sans electricity. It sits on a dolly and is crank-powered (that's where you come in). The nice thing about this appliance is that it costs only $50 and requires about five minutes of cranking (around 300 rotations). The bad thing is that the dirty water is drained out only at the end of the process. So dirt isn't really removed from clothes—it's just sloshed around. I used the Wonderwash for a few months because it was cheaper and smaller than any other laundry system, excluding a washboard. But it required multiple loads for a small amount of clothes and didn't have the right drainage technology. And by technology, I mean the spigot you open to release the brown water.

Underrated:
Eco-Steam

Most determined eco-friendly households reject anything that resembles a water-sucking, power-wasting washing machine. But LG has come up with the Eco-Steam, which looks like a typical washing machine but uses 35 percent less water and 21 percent less electricity. It even holds more clothes than a standard machine—up to about 20 pounds of dirty laundry. And the machine is supposed to keep your clothes lasting longer by employing a soft bumpy surface that won't add wear and tear to garments. SmartPlanet.com said in a review of the machine that "its use of steam power is a very cool way of sidestepping ironing duties and—however counterintuitive it may feel considering steam's involved—the specs for electricity and water consumption do beat its same-size rivals." The Eco-Steam sells for $600 to $800.

Fuhgeddaboutit:
Magnetic Miracle Balls

The problem with products like the LifeMiracle Magnetic Laundry System is not that they don't work—as its makers say, "on an atomic level, everything is affected by magnetics"—but that there is no clear explanation of exactly how they work. This system, used by dozens of other brands, consists of a magnetic ball that is said to alter the molecular makeup of the water, thus increasing its solvency and helping it clean clothes better than detergents that leave you walking "around in perfume-impregnated clothes." While ditching petroleum-based, unnatural detergents is appealing, Dave Gross's culture blog Sniggle.net says independent investigations found that the magnetic balls are "so benign as to be virtually inert." Maybe a simple smell test could help you decide whether magnetics gets your clothes clean.

TAGS:
environment