As you can imagine, the ad caught my eye. “Earth Smart Laundry CD works on the principles of quantum physics, not chemistry.” I had to have it. So I sent in my sixty dollars and waited. A couple of weeks later a translucent plastic disk full of a blue liquid appeared. It was also full of promises. Never again would I have to use detergents! All I had to do was drop the disk into the washing machine, and through the miracle of “Structured Water Technology,” it would “activate the laundry water to mimic the cleaning effect of detergent.” There was no mention of what this technology was, or how it involved quantum physics.
I was intrigued. After all, various companies had spent decades working on the chemistry of detergents, concluding that these molecules had to serve a dual purpose. First, they had to alter the surface tension of the water, allowing it to flow more readily and consequently penetrate fabrics with greater ease. Second, the molecules had to form some sort of linkage between water and dirt, allowing the dirt to be rinsed away. This required long molecules, one end of which was water soluble and the other oil soluble. Furthermore, the specific molecular structure was important to ensure that detergents would be biodegradable. Then there was the problem of minerals in the water interfering with the action of the detergent, which required the inclusion of “builders” to tie up these minerals. Phosphates were ideal for this job, but presented environmental problems, triggering a search for replacements. All of this is to say that there is some pretty sophisticated chemistry going on in our washing machines. Could a plastic disk with a blue liquid sealed inside it do the same job as the products that had taken PhD chemists decades to develop?
Since the pamphlet that accompanied the disk was not very informative, I decided to call the distributor to ask about the technology involved. After being passed from person to person, eventually I spoke to someone who gurgled something about altering the surface tension of the water. When I queried how a liquid sealed in plastic could do this, and what this had to do with quantum physics, he muttered something about the quantum energy stored in the liquid causing water molecule clusters to dissociate allowing small water molecules to penetrate the fabric. I guess “quantum” is baffling enough to have it mean whatever you want it to mean. Silly stuff, of course. Still, as they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. So I took a few white t-shirts, rubbed in some backyard dirt, added a few grease stains and headed for the washing machine. No contest. The disk did exactly what I thought it would do. Nothing.
That little experiment took place in the 1990s. While it failed, it served at least one purpose. It tuned me in to the existence of such laundry products and stimulated me to collect a few more of these marvels. One type featured magnets and offered the following curious explanation: “When water, or any stream of atoms, enters a powerful magnetic field, it physically changes in the same way atoms change when run through particle accelerators used by physicists. Negatively changed oxygen ions are stripped from stable water molecules and are freed to perform a number of tasks.” Gulp! When put to a test, the magnetic disks proved to be unattractive. They performed in the same fashion as the blue liquid-filled ones.
My next encounter was with “Geo-Wash” which consisted of three perforated, multi-colored plastic balls with some sort of ceramic squares inside. The “scientific” rationale was that “the kinetic energy of these special ceramics with electrical activity creates a process that assists water to clean clothes.” Well, it didn’t clean my clothes very well, but it did clean me out of fifty bucks. Next came the “Magik Ball” which was said to emit infrared rays which “partition the hydrogenous combinations of water molecules and reinforce the penetration into fabrics.” Meaningless mumbo-jumbo. It also “eliminates the water’s chloric component.” Absurd. Like the Geo-Wash, the Magik Ball contains bits of ceramic, this time in the form of beads which “maintain the pH spectrum at the level of a normal chemical detergent.” Incongruous twaddle. But not all the claims are nonsense. I’ll buy that the Magik Ball leaves no soap residue and presents no risk of allergy. As far as cleaning goes, it did about as well as plain water. And plain water does a pretty good job, which is why these products can muster testimonials. The only thing the balls add is a little rubbing action.
Think you’ve heard enough folly? Well, hang on. The “Miracle II Laundry Balls” are simply divine. Literally. Clayton Tedeton, an American inventor, claims to have put Godliness into cleanliness. Why Miracle II? Because Miracle I was Tedeton being healed of his injuries suffered in an automobile accident by a tele-evangelist. And apparently God had a reason for healing Tedeton. He was to become his cleanliness disciple and save the world from toxic cleaning agents by replacing them with spiritually inspired safe ones. As Tedeton relates, one day the formulation for these wonder products was miraculously flashed on his bedroom wall.
It seems, though, that heavenly chemistry classes leave something to be desired. Part of the miraculous formula calls for “electrically engineered eloptic energized stabilized oxygenated water.” This, along with mysterious ingredients such as “ash of dedecyl solution” is to be used for impregnating the Miracle II Laundry Balls. Apparently these divinely inspired components can also neutralize cobra venom. Not having a cobra in the house, I couldn’t test that claim. But as far as cleaning goes, wouldn’t you think that God has more important issues to worry about than laundry products? Like the frightening extent of scientific illiteracy? Witness the ABI Laundry Ball. It claims to “manipulate the electric fields associated with hydrogen and oxygen atoms and form crystals in the shape of electrical keys. These keys fit into locks and bonds of other compounds to dissolve away dirt much like the action of enzymes in the human digestive system.” Gives me indigestion.