Toss This Metal Ball in the Hamper, and Kiss Your Washing Machine Good-Bye

The Luna sphere uses electrostatically charged steam to get clothes clean.

(Photo courtesy Luna Electrolux)

May 15, 2014· 2 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

Ready to get some laundry done? It’s no one’s favorite chore, but you know the drill. First you have to sort your clothes according to light and dark colors. Next you have to drag everything to your water- and electricity-sucking washer, put it all in the machine (along with some polluting detergent), wait for the spin cycle to end, and stick your socks and shirts in the dryer. Then comes the bane of every busy person’s existence: folding and hanging everything up. If that’s not a process that’s ripe for disruption, we don’t know what is.

Juan Camilo Restrepo Villamizar, a savvy Colombia Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana design student, might have invented the answer to our laundry prayers. He’s created the Luna, a cantaloupe-size electrostatic ball that takes the washer entirely out of the clean-clothes equation. With the Luna, doing your laundry becomes as easy as pouring a small amount of water into the sphere and then tossing the device into your laundry basket or hamper.

The washing sphere is one of 1,700 futuristic student ideas entered in the annual Electrolux Design Lab competition. This year, it encouraged college students to come up with sustainable concepts that will enable people to live eco-friendly, healthy lifestyles in their homes. After seeing the ball in action, the competition’s judges were so impressed with its water- and energy-conserving and dirt-sucking capabilities that they selected it as one of 100 finalists.

According to the project’s competition page, after you stick the spherical washing machine in with your dry clothes, it creates electrostatically charged steam that comes out through tiny holes in the device’s surface. As the fine steam particles penetrate the textiles, the Luna vibrates and pulses its way around your laundry basket or hamper. It even has sensors that can detect where clothes are dirtiest—like where you spilled ketchup all over your pants—so the ball spends more time in those areas.

Where does the dirt go? The sphere’s metal surface also serves as a magnet and draws the particles of dirt back inside it. At the same time, it evaporates any moisture and blows hot air on your clothes, so there’s no need for a dryer.

Although it’s not clear from the project page how much water the Luna uses, given its small size—it’s 220 millimeters in diameter (about 8.7 inches)—it can’t use more than a few cups. That’s far less than the average top-loading washing machine, which consumes about 40 gallons of water. Energy-efficient front-loading washers use anywhere from 15 to 30 gallons of water per load. If you have several loads of laundry to do every week, the amount of liquid used can really add up, and at a time when we’re facing a global water crisis, we need to conserve as much of the resource as possible. The eco-friendly Luna also bypasses laundry detergent and takes both washer and dryer electricity out of the mix.

The Luna may sound a bit pie-in-the-sky—whether this idea moves beyond the prototype stage remains to be seen—but keep in mind that 15 years ago, your smartphone seemed equally implausible. The projects in the competition are now up for public vote. The top prize recipient gets $5,000 Euros (about $7,000) and a six-month internship at Electrolux to bring the idea to life. The Luna can’t fold or hang your clothes for you, but given its water- and energy-saving capabilities, it sounds like a winner.