Weekly Wire
Nashville Scene Got Balls?

By Walter Jowers

DECEMBER 8, 1997:  Launderers, listen up: You can do laundry for the rest of your life, without using any costly, environment-wrecking soap or bleach. All you need is Natural Wash Plus Laundry Balls. One ball is enough for most jobs, but if you're running a particularly big or dirty load, you'll probably need two. The balls cost 75 bucks apiece. This sounds expensive, I know. But it's dang cheap when you compare it to the cost of a lifetime supply of soap and bleach.

The balls are about 2 inches in diameter, and they're made out of plastic. There's a blue liquid inside, which apparently activates the balls. According to the Natural Wash Plus people, "absolutely no chemicals are contained in the Laundry Balls." Now, that impresses me, because if I remember my high-school chemistry right, anything more complicated than an element is some kind of chemical. Water is hydrogen hydroxide. Salt is sodium chloride. Those are chemicals. So are lemonade and French dressing. Maybe when the Natural Wash Plus folks say no chemicals, what they mean is, no LSD or angel dust or anything like that.

But I quibble. Let's get down to how these things work. "The activated ceramics discharge electrons and change the molecular structure of water, just as laundry detergents do, but without chemicals. The Laundry Balls are also anti-bacterial and will sanitize your laundry!!" So say the folks at Natural Wash Plus.

I'm here to tell you: Changing the molecular structure of water is an impressive thing. I grew up near a nuke plant, where whole buildings are dedicated to making heavy water, which is just regular water with deuterium stuck in where the hydrogen ought to be. We're talking just two extra atoms here. Shoot, it's no wonder laundry balls cost 75 bucks apiece. The laundry ballers must have a serious investment in technology. Once you start messing around with things at the molecular level, you're getting pretty close to a real enough Star Trek transporter beam.

Laundry balls aren't just a breakthrough in environmentally safe laundering, they're a boon for entrepreneurs. From what I can tell, just about everybody who buys laundry balls also sells 'em. Some of the ball pushers have made some pretty good dough. I've heard that there are at least $200,000 worth of laundry balls in circulation.

But don't you know, there's a downside. Just last week, I saw a group of folks from Utah on Good Morning America. It seems they put thousands of their hard-earned dollars into the laundry ball biz, and then some bunch of busybodies came along and tested the balls. It turns out they were just little plastic globes filled with tinted water.

The Utahans were angry. They were duped, misled, lied to, and abused, they said. They were demanding government action. I agree--the government should do something. There ought to be federal a law that says: If a person pays 75 dollars for a plastic ball full of blue water, then tries to peddle more balls to his friends and neighbors because the balls make molecular changes to laundry water, then he ought to repeat seventh-grade general science. And if a person goes on TV to claim victim status for his own dumbassitude, well then, I say he ought to do hard time.

The Lesson of the Laundry Balls has many parts. First, we now know that you can get clothes pretty clean with nothing but hot swirling water. Second, perception is reality. When a person pays 75 bucks for a laundry ball, he's going to believe that his clothes are getting clean. If he buys two laundry balls, he'll believe that his clothes are clean and minty-fresh.

But the main thing is: The home improvement biz is full of laundry ball equivalents. Don't fall for goofy replacement products. Laundry soap is good, simple stuff, and there won't be a good replacement anytime soon.

Same thing with "maintenance-free" products. Everything needs maintenance. Shoot, the original siding has fallen off the pyramids. So don't put fake siding on your house because you don't want to paint anymore. Wood lasts way longer than fake siding, and the cost of the siding job would cover painting for a lifetime. Don't rip out all your old windows and put in plastic-covered ones. You'll save money, and your house will look better if you fix your existing windows.

Finally, as a general rule, avoid products that come in ball form.

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