CAPE TOWN - Cold water or hot water? What powder, which cycle?
Laundry blues is a reality in most households, and when you add stains to the equation then what was supposed to be part of your weekly household routine becomes frustrating and time consuming.
But new research by the University of the Free State (UFS) has confirmed that a new generation of washing machines that work effectively without any form of detergent – just beginning to enter the market – do indeed have the capacity to clean clothes with no chemicals.
Dr Jana Vermaas and her research colleagues at the university are conducting studies that are putting a whole new environmentally friendly spin on laundry day.
Vermaas, a lecturer in the Department of Sustainable Food Systems and Development at UFS, is passionate about textiles and sustainability. Almost a decade ago she conducted a study on the efficacy of anolyte as a disinfectant for textiles.
According to Vermaas, the amount of water and chemicals used to clean textile articles is massive.
“Chemicals used to disinfect a wash at home or in hospital laundry are hazardous. Not all laundries have a closed-loop system or try to remove the chemicals before the wastewater is discarded.
“Different amounts of detergents have various effects on our fauna and flora. Due to their low biodegradability, toxicity and high absorbance of particles, detergents can reduce the natural water quality, cause pH changes in soil and water, lead to eutrophication (too many nutrients), reduce light transmission and increase salinity in water sources.”
But washing machines which use no detergent are now available, at a cost.
If, like Vermaas, you also feel strongly about protecting the environment and want to obtain one of these machines that leaves your washing clean and fresh without the use of any detergents, you will be able to find such an appliance. However, it does not come cheap. “It is a bit costly for residential use, but might be more accessible in the future.”
She described the process: “During electrochemical activation, a weak salt solution passes through a electrolytic cell where the anodic and cathodic chambers are separated. Two separate streams of activated water are produced. Catholyte has detergent capabilities, while anolyte has an antimicrobial effect.”
“But with the catholyte and anolyte process, water returns to its original status, within 48 hours. Thus, no chemicals are left in the wastewater. The water can therefore be recycled, not as potable water but, for example, to flush toilets or to water plants. We should do what we can to save water,” she said.
“Machines using this technology are starting to be available. We procured a machine from the manufacturer Hoshizaki. We experimented and tested the ECA water to establish its effectiveness as detergent and disinfectant on textiles. It is not a laundry or washing machine but a machine that produces the ECA water and might be connected to or used in conjunction with a washing machine.”
“A Master’s student in the department, Ketshepileone Matlhoko, will be submitting her dissertation at the end of November on the possibility of using the catholyte as a scouring agent to clean raw wool,” said Vermaas.
The department is also conducting studies to investigate the influence of both catholyte and anolyte on colour fastness.