Green Washing or Greenwashing?

Before becoming green became a PR requirement and everybody from Exxon to Dick Cheney was claiming enviro-cred because, after all, they hadn't pushed any species to the brink of extinction or destroyed any ecosystems (yet), most people didn't think too much about what their laundry was doing to the planet. But let's face it, if you're not beating your stuff clean on rocks down by the river, you're doing some kind of harm (and possibly even then, depending on how noxious your tighty-whities are.). So can you really make your laundry, uh, greener?

The Samsung Silvercare was launched in North America last year with some controversy. The innovation here is that the Silvercare cleans with nano-particles (smaller than 100 billionths of a metre) of silver, getting rid of dirt without detergent. As a result, it claims to be able to sanitize clothes in cold water, reducing both power consumption and soapy waste leeching into your water table. However, the ecological impact of escaped nano-silver in the wild is unclear, and in fact, the Silvercare's unique properties have led the EPA to regulate the machine as a pesticide. Besides that, there are the unhappy environmental aspects of silver mining to factor into the equation. For a washer it's one sexy-looking beast, though.

From New Zealand comes the Fisher & Paykel Intuitive Eco Washer, the washing machine that's smarter than you are. The Eco Washer uses an advanced electronic brain to launder your clothes with maximum efficiency. The washing action and water level self-adjust to the size of the load in the machine, so neither water or electricity are wasted, and because the sensors allow for a more precise and thorough washing of all types of fabric, less detergent is required.

Now if you've laid out a boatload of cash for one of these babies, you don't want to undo all that good work with chemical detergents and fabric softeners. That's why Ecozone in the UK has come up with Ecoballs (not a medical condition).

These are small plastic balls full of ceramic pellets, which apparently clean clothes by charging ions in the water. This Jetson-esque technology doesn't need soap or hot water, and also eliminates the need for fabric softener. As if that weren't enough, Ecoballs are anti-bacterial so you won't get sick from your clothes, in case that was something you were worried about.

Do they work? The testimonials on the site reflect the kind of breathless enthusiasm usually associated with late night infomercials, but I found more objective websites which seemed to agree that the things did what they claimed. If you've tried 'em, let me know what you think.