When we first heard about Crystal Wash, we immediately thought of all those "laundry balls" that appeared on home shopping channels in the 1990s. The majority of these were determined not to work, and it turned out a lot of the companies that made them were actually multilevel marketing scams.
However, in recent years, the demand for eco-friendly laundry solutions has increased. So we decided to put the Crystal Wash to the test. Specifically, we were interested in looking into the claims that these plastic and ceramic balls could deal with tough stains anywhere near as well as traditional laundry detergents.
On its website, Crystal Wash claims that its laundry balls are filled with bioceramics—the same materials that some hip replacements are made of.
The company states that its bioceramics increase the pH of water by 0.6 after only 15 minutes of exposure. This is important because it has been well documented that most bacteria thrive between a pH of 6.5 and 7. So by increasing the pH, Crystal Wash hopes soils will more easily wash away and that your laundry will be disinfected.
At the end of the day, the biggest claim Crystal Wash makes is that the laundry ball will clean your clothes as well as traditional detergents for up to 1,000 washes.
This sounded a little far-fetched to us, but we decided to keep an open mind. If it works, Crystal Wash could revolutionize the laundry industry. After all, anyone who's bought detergent lately has seen that the price just keeps going up. Enough, already!
In order to really zero in on Crystal Wash's capabilities, we decided to test it in our state-of-the-art labs. The controlled environment accounted for humidity, air temperature, and water temperature. With the extraneous factors out of the way, we decided to pit the Crystal Wash against the most popular brand of store-bought detergent, as well as plain old hot water.
Stain removal depends on three things: Agitation, water, and chemistry. Anyone who ever blotted out a food stain from a shirt in a restaurant bathroom knows that different stains require different methods of removal. That's why we used stain strips to quantify how each cleaning agent performed.
These strips are mechanically coated with common household substances like cocoa and red wine, and the three tests were performed with the Kenmore 25132, a top-loader very similar to what's found in a lot of U.S. homes. We set the Kenmore to its highest temperature setting and used the Normal cycle.
After each test cycle, we analyzed the stain strips with a photospectrometer to determine how much of the stain had been lifted. Since we know what the color of the cloth is underneath all the stains, we calculated how close the cleaning agents came in restoring the test strips to their native state.
We came to a solid conclusion: When it comes to stain removal, Crystal Wash does not work any better than hot water. And, when it comes to some important stains, Crystal Wash often works far worse than laundry detergent.
The hard numbers show that the store-bought detergent did 4 percent better across the board at stain removal than Crystal Wash. Crystal Wash performed about the same as hot water, and from these results, we can conclude that Crystal Wash had a negligible effect on stain removal.
However, when we delve into the individual stains themselves, the story gets a bit more interesting. Crystal Wash, water, and detergent all did about the same when it came to removing carbon, blood, and cocoa—meaning that hot water and agitation did most of the heavy lifting.
But on sweat stains, detergent did a whopping 14 percent better at cleaning than Crystal Wash or water. This is, in our opinion, Crystal Wash's greatest failing: Since clothes are worn by people, they almost always get sweat stains. Unless you're alright with wearing dingy shirts with yellowed armpits, you should stick with detergent.
It's understandable that there's a demand for laundry cleaner that doesn't use as many harsh chemicals as detergent. However, each of those chemicals serves a specific purpose in removing stains—especially when it comes to stains like sweat. And although Crystal Wash has none of the chemicals of regular detergent, it has none of the efficacy either. There were high hopes for Crystal Wash as it raised over $250,000 on its Kickstarter, so it's a bit of a bummer that it fails at one of the basic tasks of doing laundry.
To those who paid the $50 for a set: You should return it.
This article—including an accompanying chart—originally compared wash performance to an industry standard, rather than one test case to another. We have also updated the article to reflect the differences between individual stains instead of overall performance.
May 13, 2015