Laundry, especially at hotels and restaurants, consumes massive quantities of water, but Xeros, a United Kingdom based start-up, says it has a disruptive technology that can change the way we wash our clothes. Now the company is close to rolling out its “virtually waterless” laundry cleaning technology to North America.
Such a move is important because laundry is a huge portion of consumers’ water footprint–not to mention the water required to wash linens, towels and uniforms on a commercial scale. Unilever, for example, claims that 38 percent of our individual water footprint comes from washing our clothes. Excessive clothes washing is not only bad for most garments in the long run, but leads to a massive waste of water. Xeros’ technology eliminates almost all of the water required to run a load of laundry and relies on a new polymer technology.
Xeros’ work started with the ongoing research of Stephen Burkinshaw, who has long conducted studies on how to embed dyes onto fabrics with polymers while minimizing water usage. After all, more companies, including Nike and Adidas, are adopting dye processes that eliminate water. Burkinshaw realized that dyes behave similarly to stains, and began to think about how polymers could clean and brighten clothes.
By combining little polymer beads with a small amount of detergent, the combination launches a molecular cleaning reaction that pulls stains out of clothes and into those beads. Xeros claims that its process is up to 30 percent cheaper than conventional laundry for several reasons. First, less water is used by a Xeros machine. Shorter laundry cycles requires less energy–and the need for electric or gas-powered dryers is also eliminated. Even less detergent is required. While the beads are a significant upfront cost, Xeros insists that the beads’ price is cancelled out by increased output since its machines run on a shorter cycle. The payback from investing in one machine, according to a company executive, is only one year. The beads can be used up to 500 times and can then be recycled.
The environmental benefits could also be significant. The U.S. alone uses the equivalent of almost 19 million swimming pools full of water for its domestic laundry needs. With “almost” waterless technologies like that of Xeros using only 10 percent of the water needed for conventional washing machines, the potential to save 1.2 billion tons of water annually opens a huge potential market for the company. The reduced amount of energy needed to run Xeros’ machines translates into a carbon footprint reduction of almost 40 percent.
For now, the largest Xeros installation is in Manchester at a commercial linen service, and the company is close to signing up with a large dry cleaning chain in the United States. A machine for household use is on the drawing board for 2014.
Leon Kaye, based in Fresno, California, is a sustainability consultant and the editor of GreenGoPost.com. He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business and covers sustainable architecture and design for Inhabitat. You can follow him on Twitter.
Photo courtesy Xeros.