Clean laundry - no soap

by Kari Gray
here's your laundry powder?" My sister-in-law was visiting from Scotland and needed to wash some clothes. Seven-month-old nieces wear three or four outfits a day and get all of them dirty.
"We use these," I handed her three plastic disks, covered with a band of sea-green foam and filled with pebbles.
"I could run out and buy some if you're out," Ann offered.
"No, we really do use these," I insisted.
Ann wasn't skeptical about the idea of using laundry disks; Americans are full of strange ideas. She was skeptical about their ability to wash out baby food stains. To be honest, so was I.
The laundry disks had arrived in the mail. Only $59.95 and I would never have to buy laundry detergent again. I'll admit that my motivation was financial rather than environmental. There is also the "hassle" factor: imagine never running out of laundry detergent. Never having to coax one last dribble out of the detergent bottle. Never having to run to the store between loads to buy more.
There are, of course, environmental advantages to using a reusable laundry cleaning device, but the ads for the laundry disks explain those advantages more completely than I could. To me, the main environmental advantage would be that I wouldn't have to cram a plastic laundry detergent bottle into my tiny trash can and, therefore, wouldn't have to empty the trash as often.
After a few weeks of using the laundry disks, I noticed that I was buying less detergent and I was throwing away fewer laundry detergent bottles. But how clean are my clothes? At one time or another, all our clothes have been washed with the laundry disks - work clothes, workout clothes, towels, sheets and socks. Do the laundry disks clean even the toughest stains? The smelliest socks?
Well, my clothes are neither more nor less clean than when I use detergent. Because the laundry disks work naturally, clothes don't smell like detergent. So if you need olfactory verification of cleanliness, the disks don't deliver. I still have to pre-treat stains, though, and use hot water on whites.
But to all appearances - mine and the rest of the world - my clothes are clean. Clean, and free of any detergent residue that might irritate a seven-month-old baby's sensitive skin. That's what finally convinced my sister-in-law: when you use laundry disks, you aren't using detergent. You don't have to find the American equivalent of a gentle detergent and wonder how it will affect sensitive skin.

Kari Gray is a staff member and event producer for San Diego Earth Day.