Researchers at the University of Leeds have developed a new way of cleaning clothes using less than 2% of the water and energy of a conventional washing machine. The revolutionary technology will provide alternatives to both domestic washing and dry cleaning, heralding the world’s first “virtually waterless” washing system.
Xeros, a University of Leeds spin-out, is commercialising the technology with some of the biggest names in the washing and dry-cleaning industries.
The process is based on the use of plastic granules (or chips) which are tumbled with the clothes to remove stains. A range of tests, carried out according to worldwide industry protocols to prove the technology performs to the high standards expected in the cleaning industry, show the process can remove virtually all types of everyday stains as effectively as existing processes whilst leaving clothes as fresh as normal washing. In addition, the clothes emerge from the process almost dry, reducing the need for tumble-dryers.
Xeros' technology uses as little as a cup of water in each wash cycle and could also bring benefits to other industrial processes such as wastewater treatment and metal degreasing.
According to Waterwise, a UK NGO focused on decreasing water wastage in the UK, washing machine use has risen by 23% in the past 15 years, up from 3 times a week in 1990 to an average of 4 times a week per household today. The average UK household uses almost 21 litres of water each day on clothes washing - 13% of daily household water consumption. This accounts for approximately 455 million litres of water daily, enough water to fill 145 Olympic size swimming pools.
Tests are currently underway in the dry-cleaning market with a view to replacing certain solvents that are currently used in dry-cleaning. Some of these solvents are potentially harmful, having been linked with certain types of cancer and some are now facing a ban in various states in the USA. The company believes that its new proprietary technology would eradicate the need for these solvents from dry-cleaning providing safety and monetary incentives for the dry cleaning industry.
The new technology could be on the UK market as early as 2009. Xeros has recently received funding of £500,000 from the University’s commercialisation partner, IP Group, subject to certain milestones being met.
Xeros was established in February 2007 to exploit a new patented washing method invented and developed in the School of Design at the University of Leeds. Company founder, Professor Stephen Burkinshaw, is an internationally-recognised expert in the science of textiles and dyeing.
Professor Burkinshaw, Professor of Textile Chemistry and director of Xeros, said: “The performance of the Xeros process in cleaning clothes has been quite astonishing. We’ve shown that it can remove all sorts of everyday stains including coffee and lipstick whilst using a tiny fraction of the water used by conventional washing machines. The investment from IP Group will help us to accelerate the commercialisation of the technology and I look forward to seeing new washing and dry-cleaning machines that use the Xeros technology.”
A typical washing machine uses about 35kg of water for every kg of clothes that are washed - as well as large amounts of energy to heat the water and to dry the clothes afterwards. With environmental concerns becoming increasingly urgent and water becoming an increasingly scarce resource, there is an urgent need to reduce the amount of water and energy used for washing clothes.
Dr Rob Rule, Managing Director of Techtran Ltd, IP Group’s Leeds business, and a director of Xeros, said: “This is one of the most surprising and remarkable technologies I've encountered in recent years. Xeros has the ability to save billions of litres of water per year and, we believe, the potential to revolutionise the global laundry market. ”
The potential revenues for machines based on the Xeros technology are considerable. There are more than two million washing machines sold in the UK annually, valuing the UK market alone at around £1bn.