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Laundry balls

Washing with laundry balls and soap nuts isn’t new but these detergent-free methods continue to have a loyal following so we decided to take a closer look at how well these products perform. We put 4 laundry balls and soap nuts to the test against 10 common stains.

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Our test

For our test we used a front loader on a cold wash cycle. We followed each manufacturer’s recommendations for the number of laundry balls and amount of soap nuts for our 3.5kg test load. We also ran a wash cycle using only water and another using the recommended dose of Persil front-loader powder – one of the top performers in our laundry detergents test.

The results

The results disappointed. None of the four laundry balls or the soap nuts came close to matching Persil’s performance (see our results table). Overall, most were equal to washing with plain water. Two laundry balls – Ecozone EcoBalls and Live Simply Laundry Balls – achieved marginally higher overall scores than washing with water only, but not high enough to make them worth using as any differences weren’t visible to the naked eye.

If you prefer not using regular laundry detergents we suggest washing with water only. You achieve similar results to using laundry balls or soap nuts but it won’t cost you a cent.

Wacky claims

One of the laundry balls in our test – the Miracle II Laundry Ball – is filled with “Miracle II soap and neutraliser” rather than pellets.

Miracle II Laundry Ball
Miracle II Laundry Ball

The small rubber ball with “209 rounded spikes” is sealed so none of the soap or neutraliser is released during a wash cycle, but its manufacturer claims it “emits a strong negative-ion field and breaks up water molecules so they can reach further into fabric and clean better”.

The manufacturer also suggests soiled or stained clothes may require pre-treatment and the addition of extra “Miracle II soap”. We only used the laundry ball in our test.

If the Miracle II’s claims don’t ring alarm bells, its price should. At $119 for a single ball, you’d expect it to work miracles but our test found it didn’t have any special dirt-removal powers. The manufacturer also claims it’s a “massage ball” that can be rolled under feet and over sore muscles. Chances are it’s better at massaging your feet than washing your clothes.

What are they?

Soap nuts and a laundry ball
Soap nuts and a laundry ball

Laundry balls are plastic or rubber balls (usually containing mineral pellets) that you throw in with your wash. The pellets don’t disappear but need to be replaced after a certain number of washes. It’s claimed the mineral pellets change the pH level of the water and soften it so it’s better able to remove dirt.

Soap nuts are a tree nut containing saponin, a natural surfactant. Surfactants lower the surface tension of water. This lets water penetrate cloth more easily, helping it remove oil and grease. It’s the soap nut shells, rather than the seeds, that are used as an alternative to laundry detergent – you place a small handful of shells into a small cotton bag, secure the top and throw the bag in with your clothes. Soap nuts can be used for several washes before being replaced.

Results table

Product[width=13%]Price ($)[width=6%]Pack size[width=6%]Washes[width=6%]Cost per wash ($)[width=6%]Overall score[width=6%]Grime[width=5%]Collar & cuff[width=6%]Grass & mud[width=6%]Olive oil[width=5%]Tomato[width=6%]Make-up[width=6%]Choc ice-cream[width=6%]Baby food[width=5%]Motor oil[width=6%]Blood[width=6%]
Laundry balls & soap nuts
Ecozone Ecoballs 45.0021500.30464.74.63.63.96.67.24.54.94.24.6
Live Simply Laundry Ball 50.002 A1500.33454.64.53.44.06.57.25.04.94.14.3
Miracle II Laundry Ball119.00110590.11424.14.23.43.86.26.45.55.34.23.0
Share Wellness Eco Laundry Ball45.00110000.05424.14.43.33.86.16.65.44.84.03.1
Soap nuts 45.001kg5000.09424.24.13.33.86.46.55.35.54.32.9
Other
Persil front loader powder7.501kg220.34767.96.78.36.78.08.08.59.46.54.8
Watern/an/an/an/a434.24.33.43.96.26.65.45.14.43.1

Guide to the table
Price taken from online retailers in August 2015. Cost per wash is calculated using the manufacturer’s recommended dose or number of washes per ball.

  • A = we bought two single laundry balls (this is the manufacturer’s recommended dose).

Overall score is a percentage. Stain removal scores are out of 10.

About our test

We washed specially stained swatches attached to a load of bath towels and pillowcases. The swatches we use for measuring “everyday grime” are stained with nut oil, milk and a colour pigment. Other swatches test the detergents’ enzyme action on 9 common stains: collar and cuff grime, grass/mud, olive oil, tomato, make-up, chocolate ice-cream, baby food, motor oil and blood.

We used the recommended number of laundry balls or soap nuts to wash the test loads at a temperature of 20°C. We also ran test loads using water only and a top-performing laundry powder.

After washing, we measured how much dirt was removed from each swatch. We did this with a spectrophotometer (which measures how much light reflects off the swatches). It’s more accurate than the human eye.