We get asked constantly about Ecoballs and Soapnuts and , all over the net, we see people saying that these things are great and they work brilliantly. Our opinion is totally the opposite and we will explain why that is.
Have you ever heard of the word "“placebo"? This is a term most often associated with a tablet given to you by a doctor to make you feel better even although it had no medical properties whatsoever, the funny thing is that in tests people believed that the pills given to them had actually cured their illnesses. The old term for this sort of product is "Snake Oil".
Ecoballs are, in our opinion, just that. A placebo. Snake oil.
They are designed to appeal to people that feel that traditional detergents, are harmful to our environment, that do not want to use chemicals for cleaning or play into fears over skin irritation and play up to "natural" solutions . But there's nothing in these things, just a lump of foaming additive encased in plastic. So they fizz and, well that's it really so far as we can ascertain.
Soapnuts have some cleaning ability, perhaps, maybe but not even anywhere remotely enough to launder your clothing with properly so you're clean and don't smell like stale body odour.
We wanted to find out if there was any substance at all to the claims so we wrote to the UK importers of Ecoballs asking for further data to support the claims that were being made about the product.
First email, no reply.
Second email, no reply.
Third email we finally got a response. They said that they had no evidence to support the claims being made.
Soapnuts, well we received no information at all, which says to me that there is no data to support the claims being made and we cannot see any evidence that they offer any cleaning properties. Again when laboratory tested, the results fall way behind the worst, cheapest and nastiest detergent you can buy.
Now we am fully aware that there are loads of people out there that think that these things are brilliant and that they will no doubt say that we are talking rubbish here, they really do work. Well we are sorry but there's absolutely no evidence to support that, not one scrap. There is however, lots of evidence to say that they don't work if you go looking.
Soapnuts On TV... No Tests!
In a 2007 episode of BBC2's Dragons' Den TV show, the show where entrepreneurs have a chance to pitch to five leading UK investors to get their business off the ground or take it forward. Penny Morgan appeared on the show in October 2007 and this is the result...
So the upshot of this is that there's been no stain testing, no testing on clothing wear, no skin or allergy testing and no testing to see how these things affect your washing machine.
Not exactly very clever, don't you think and little wonder the Dragons' didn't touch it with a bargepole as an investment.
This article was originally published in 2007, a number of years ago and, to date we have still seen not one shred of scientific evidence that these products work or do as they are claimed to do. If anyone wants to send us that, we'd happily look at it and eat humble pie if you can prove us wrong.
We think that tells you a lot.
The investors didn't put any money into soapnuts, we think you should follow their lead.
Comments like those you will find on the web saying these things are great, well that could be companies selling them, who knows?
Comments as you see below and as above, are completely without substance or evidence (despite claims there is) as so far as we can find, there is none whatsoever to support the claims that are made on soapnuts and ecoballs. But, lots of companies will take your money to supply you with snake oil.
Who knows, perhaps they will be lauging all the way to the bank.
The United States
In another guise or two these things have been on the US market for some time, obviously somebody thinks that we Brits are just as gullible as the Yanks are. But here's a taste of what has happened in the US:
"The department of Justice obtained the various products and had them tested by a qualified, independent laboratory. Results of the tests indicated that the water in the spheres had no special characteristics. The "globe products" essentially contain nothing more than water, blue dye and a foaming additive contained within an impermeable plastic shell."
In Oregon an attorney won back $190,000 dollars from two companies selling these products.
In a US based analysis of laundry balls we find this gem of wisdom:
When water contacts the activated ceramics, an abundance of OH ions is produced, reducing the surface tension of the water and greatly increasing its penetrating power. Ordinary detergents make use of this same principle, but do so by using harsh chemicals.
SDSAB: Possibly OH- ions, also known as hydroxide, could be created in this way, although not in large quantity. These would lower the water's pH. Substantially the same thing happens with lye soap and sodium hydroxide
Articles written on the likes of Grown Up Green such as this one do little, if anything, but to sow the same seeds of doubt as seen in the US here in the UK. In fact you will be hard pressed to find any articles from anyone of any authority on the subject that will say that these products are and, importantly, do what they say. Even journalists struggle to justify them.
Funnily enough though there are literally scores of websites selling these things, big names such as The Guardian and Lakeland even stocking them or a variation of the same thing.
So, little if any independent support for the claims at all. It's really not looking good for Ecoballs and Soapnuts.
No Chemicals Used
As you can see above the balls actually do seem to release some chemicals. This shouldn't really be a surprise as it's almost impossible to have a reaction, such as breaking up staining or dirt, without some form of chemical trickery as you have to encourage the dirt to break up somehow.
Sure you can do that with agitation and heat to an extent so people see some reaction to that, not the balls working. But our "Chemistry 101" always taught that to break up most dirt, especially grease based things, like oil etc. requires three elements and one of those is detergent to pull the grease apart.
If you use these things you totally forget another aspect, there's no bleach. Well there could be a little bit due to a reaction in the ball, but not enough to do much of anything.
So okay, we know that there's no bleach, so what's going to keep your machine clean? Well, nothing is the simple answer to that question so you need to either do very regular maintenance washes with normal detergent or you have to use add-on products like Affesh or something like that. Great for us, we sell that.
But there's also nothing there, not a single thing, that is going to help with limescale. Big problem if you happen to live in a hard water area.
You see, traditional detergents have a thing in them called "builders" and what these do is to remove the calcium from the water, hold it in suspension and out the waste pipe it goes. That means that it doesn't stick to the inside of your machine and fur up the heater etc. causing the need for a service visit.
But again, we're service guys so extra service calls to clean up the mess, no problem we're quite happy to do that. We'd far rather not take people's money for doing so, but if you use these types of products you will quite likely require our services sooner than many.
Or a new machine as you've trashed yours using these things.
So for Ecoballs and for Soap Nuts as well as other products like this you then have to add bleach and limescale remover and use additional stain removers and we are sure you get the point, it's ridiculous, you need the chemicals one way or another and that will be that. The point is that these products are nowhere near as economical to use or environmentally friendly as they make themselves out to be. Not even remotely close.
Washing Machine Damage
We've already seem examples in the field of these things causing damage. Bacteriological build up leading to marking or foul odours and limescale build ups leading to the obvious damage that causes are the main two.
Both these often require the services of a washing machine repairer to put right, both can affect the internals of the drum unit and both can be very expensive to repair. To the people that have come across these they now don't think that these "“miracle" products are very economical any more.
Worse still, if the washing machine is scrapped early there's a huge environmental impact as the old one goes to landfill, the new one comes from raw materials and there's all the packaging, transport of it and so on. Not exactly environmentally friendly is it?
Clothing Damage From Using Ecoballs And Soapnuts
In use we hear about people saying that clothes are "“greying" using these products. Well that's because there's no bleach, not a lot of cleaning going on and absolutely nothing to stop the dirt you were trying to wash out getting re-deposited on the clothes. In short, you can go out wearing the dirt you just tried to wash out, not a pleasant thought. And, it tends to smell which builds up over time and friends or family aren't likely to tell you that you stink!
But this also damages clothes.
Over time the dirt becomes so fixed to the clothing that it's nigh on impossible to remove it. So people, only naturally, think that the clothes are ruined or "“past their best" and so throw them away, often well before they actually should have been. Again, not exactly environmentally friendly is it?
Or to get them clean you use additives, the stain removers etc. which are, well, chemicals.
Yes we have been harsh here but largely as we hate to see people getting ripped off for stuff that simply doesn't work. And, these products do not.
We've been open, this article has been online for years and years yet, nobody has challenged it. Nobody has come up with any credible evidence at all to refute the fact that we say these things haven't been tested properly and do not work.
They conform to no legislation whatsoever that we can find. We don't even know if they're safe or safe to use.
Read into that what you will.
Conclusion On Ecoballs And Soapnuts
Our conclusions are pretty obvious, these things don't work and cause more harm than many people realise and so we will not recommend them at all.
We don't think that they are cheap as you need to use all the "extras" to make them supposedly work, so you may as well have bought the right thing in the first place and that they will, quite likely, incur further expense through extended use.
We don't think that they are environmentally friendly at all on balance, we don't think that they are good for your clothes and we don't think that they are good for the washing machines. In other words there are absolutely no redeeming factors.
It is a lovely notion though, that you can wash your clothes for next to nothing and not introduce any chemicals to the wash but, sadly, it just doesn't work. We feel that these companies are preying on people to a degree with claims being made that there is no evidence to support.
The only thing they are liable to clean is your conscience, but little else.
That said, if people insist on thinking that they're great, then carry on using them, we'll get a service call, possibly sell some additives to you or we might even sell you a new machine when your old one kicks the bucket.
We would far rather people were informed, educated and didn't fall for this rubbish but, we just see the end results.