Doing Laundry With Polymer Beads Saves Water And Environment

Xeros washing machines use beads to wash laundry with 90% less water.
Nylon beads, similar to these, are key to a process that washes laundry with 90% less water.

Need to do laundry? How about using polymer beads instead of water? You’d need a different washing machine, one made by Xeros Ltd.

The Leeds University spin-off company Xeros Ltd., founded in 2007, developed polymer-based cleaning systems to reduce cost and environmental impact. The cleaning concept is based on years of research by Professor Stephen Burkinshaw of the School of Design at the University of Leeds, U.K. Here is how the University’s publication, Virtually waterless washing machine, explains it:

The Xeros system saves up to 90% of water usage compared to front-loading laundry systems and gives the same performance as conventional washing. The patented process uses reusable plastic beads — alongside a fraction of the detergent — to absorb and remove dirt, potentially providing significant benefits in energy use, water efficiency and lower effluent.

The beads are made of nylon, an aliphatic polyamide polymer, used to make products as common as toothbrush bristles or as uncommon as 3D-printed orthopedic casts. Under humid conditions, nylon attracts and binds stains. Beads are tumbled with a laundry load using a little water and detergent in a perforated drum. During the wash cycle, the beads are constantly recirculated, escaping through the holes in the drum and returning to the drum by way of a bead pump. During the rinse cycle, the beads that escape through the holes are collected to be reused in the next load. The beads can be used for 100 washes and then recycled.

An independent life cycle assessment was carried out in 2009 to estimate possible environmental advantages. According to Professor Stephen Burkinshaw (University of Leeds) and Bill Westwater (CEO, Xeros Ltd):

Sustainability is fundamental to the Xeros development. Converting from conventional laundry systems will save up to 90% of the water associated with washing, and reduces carbon footprint — by up to 25% — as far less electricity and detergent are required, equivalent to taking 3 million cars off American roads.

The Xeros washing machine took second place in TIME magazine‘s “The 50 Best Inventions of 2010,” and was named “Best Technological Breakthrough” at the Climate Week Awards in 2011. In 2013 Xeros joined the Sustainable Apparel Coalition and opened its North American headquarters in Manchester, NH. The innovative washing technology is already used in hospitality industry. Xeros’ U.S. customers include the Hyatt Regency Reston in Reston, Va.; Crest Cleaners in Clifton, Va.; and Sterling Linen Services in Manchester, N.H. Domestic laundry machines are being developed.

The cost savings of using Xeros laundry technology are 72% for water, 47% for heat and 50% for detergent. Keeping in mind that the global laundry industry is worth around $100 billion per year, is sounds like a big deal!

Source: Virtually Waterless Washing Machine, Xeros Ltd, University of Leeds,
Source: Company that cleans laundry with plastic beads joins sustainability group,, Dec. 11, 2013
Source: The 50 Best Inventions of 2010: The (Almost) Waterless Washing Mashine,, Nov. 11, 2010
Source: 10 Ways to a More Sustainable World: Virtually Waterless’ Laundry cleaning, University of Leeds,
Image by Samy St Clair
Video: Xeros’ Washing Machine of the Future Needs No Water by Bloomberg, youtube