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(Almost) waterless washing machine on its way

Next year you might see your local cleaner adding just one cup of water in the washing machine. Small nylon beads do the dirty job in a laundry technology now coming to market.

Just a cup of water and a bit of detergent. That's all that needs to be added to a virtually waterless washing machine from British company Xeros that's poised to hit the North American market.

The dirty job is done by small nylon beads that pull stains off garments and lock them into the nylon's molecular structure. The beads don't even seem to suffocate easily--they can continue to absorb dirt over hundreds of washes.

Nathan Wrench, program manager at Cambridge Consultants, holds the nylon beads used in Xeros' washing process. Xeros

The technology builds on research out of the U.K.'s University of Leeds and has been applied in a concept washing machine with the help of Cambridge Consultants.

Now, after three years of testing, Xeros, a University of Leeds spinout (forgive the pun), has struck a deal with Kansas City-based GreenEarth Cleaning. It aims to start reselling Xeros washing machines throughout North America next year. (The concept device is being demonstrated Thursday at the Clean Show in New Orleans.)

But you won't be able to save water at home with the Xeros machines yet--the target market consists of commercial dry cleaning and laundry operations.

GreenEarth Cleaning will add the nylon bead technology to its proprietary dry cleaning method based on liquid silicone, or decamethylpentacyclosiloxane if you prefer the scientific name. Commercially, it's simply called D5.

Liquid silicone is a dry cleaning alternative to good old perchloroethylene, which is thought to produce toxic waste and is also classified as a probable human carcinogen.

Another recent alternative is washing with carbon dioxide under such high pressure that it becomes liquid--and no, it doesn't add greenhouse gases to the atmosphere as existing CO2 is used, but the downside is the high expense of the machines.

The upside with both CO2 washing and the British nylon beads is that garments are virtually dry immediately after being washed.

It's easy to think these almost-dry-cleaning processes would wear and tear the garments more than traditional laundry, but GreenEarth Cleaning insists there's no difference.

"The testing completed to date has indicated no appreciable difference in wear between garments processed in the Xeros technology versus the traditional laundry process," Tim Maxwell, president of GreenEarth Cleaning, told CNET News. "Extensive testing with silks, embroidered garments, and other delicate items have shown no ill effects."