If you stayed at a Hilton, Hyatt, or Hampton Inn in the last few years, there may have been a little something extra in the machine washing your towels: polymer beads. Using special washers, a bit of detergent, and less water than a traditional appliance, the beads get clothes (and communal towels) clean using less energy. The company behind the technology, Xeros, announced it’s planning on bringing the beads into homes at this week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
At CES 2018, Xeros had three facets to show off: The polymer beads (what it calls XOrb), the machine’s drum (XDrum), and a filtration system (XFiltra). The U.K.-based company has been trying to make a solution that would fit in homes for a few years now. (We first reported on Xeros in 2014.) Instead of shrinking its 55-pound and 35-pound commercial machines, it wants appliance manufacturers to incorporate the drum and filter into their machines.
The beads work on stains in three ways. The first is mechanical; they’re made out of nylon and will help lift stains as they move about the drum. Because they’re polarized, the beads’ negative and positive charges attract stains. Finally, the nature of the nylon material is that it becomes more porous at a lower temperature when wet, so it helps absorb the stain molecules and carries them away from the clothes without the need for very hot water.
What makes the polymer beads so attractive to hotels and other retailers that do a lot of laundry is that the Xeros system uses 80 percent less water than regular machines. In order to do that and still deliver pristine-looking sheets, the washer works differently. The main reason is that you don’t want the beads whisked away with the water and dirt. Instead, they’re stored in a special sump that pumps them into the drum during the cycle; they then flow back to the storage housing through an opening in the drum. Essentially, you shouldn’t have to come in contact with the beads yourself.
Even if manufacturers don’t want to incorporate the drum and beads, Xeros is hoping they will embrace the XFiltra. It’s designed to help capture the synthetic fibers from fleece and other clothing that are making their way from the wash into oceans. Appliance makers would still have to design around the pump and filter.
While the beads are recyclable and last for hundreds of washes, hotels currently have service arrangements with Xeros. The company provides the special detergent and sends technicians to pick up and recycle the beads when their life span is over. It’s not clear if homeowners would need to make a similar arrangement with the company. We likely won’t have an answer for a while, as Xeros doesn’t expect an at-home version of its machine to hit the market for at least two years.