Scientists say the plastic ball can't do the work of laundry detergent.
It's blue, costs a bit of green and has many people seeing red.
Distributors say The Laundry Solution, a hard plastic ball filled with a blue fluid, has special physical properties and eliminates the need for laundry detergent.
But scientists and the Oregon Attorney General's Office say the product doesn't appear to fulfill claims and may be part of an elaborate multi-level marketing scam.
Oregon is one of a handful of states investigating the balls, which sell for $75, said Jan Margosian, consumer advocate with the state attorney general's office. The state launched an investigation in February. "We don't want Oregonians out there selling a bogus product to other Oregonians," she said. "If there's a product that sounds too good to be true, it's the blue ball." The state probably will take some action in the next two weeks, which could range in severity from a voluntary agreement to cease fraudulent activity to a lawsuit.
The ball is solid and does not release any fluid into laundry water. Instead, manufacturers say, the blue water inside helps reduce the surface tension of the water outside. Yet, despite the swirling controversy about The Laundry Solution, a number of people remain convinced the product actually works - or can be made more effective. That includes Caroline Lenard of Salem, a distributor who said she was skeptical about the tennis ball-sized gadgets at first, but has become a convert. Since August, she's sold "hundreds" of the items and had just one returned, she said. "There's more people dissatisfied with a jug of milk," she said. Even if the state takes some kind of action, Lenard thinks those who use the blue balls won't quit. "The people that I know love it, and they aren't going to stop using it." Part of the product's allure, she said, is it doesn't have the toxic chemicals that most detergents contain. There are no plans to sell the balls in stores, but that hasn't been a liability so far, said Tom Cummins, executive director of Top Marketing Inc. in Dunedin, Fla. More than a quarter-million of the balls have been sold since they went on the market last year. Top Marketing distributes the balls for TradeNet Marketing Inc., the Florida firm that manufactures them. However, some of the state scrutiny comes because the balls are sold by individuals who also recruit more sellers. Margosian said The Laundry Solution could be an illegal pyramid scheme if sellers are more interested in finding new salesmen than they are in selling product.
Cummins said he doesn't understand why the product is being investigated. "We're not making any claims of the second coming or anything," he said. "What type of witch hunt is going on here?" But researchers at Portland State University and in California say The Laundry Solution does not perform as well as promoters say. "It does work better than water, but to expect it to work as well as detergent is ludicrous," said John Collins, chief executive of American Technologies Group Inc. in Pasadena, a research and development firm hired by TradeNet to replace the existing solution in laundry balls. The solution is water with blue dye, he said. "As far as we are concerned, the claims are absolute garbage," Collins said. "It's an absolute scam, and it's a shame people use ignorance to sell a product that's not scientifically accredited." Collins said the inventor of the ball provided no scientific background and would show no evidence that the product actually works. Dennis Barnum, a professor of chemistry at Portland State, agreed the company was selling colored water. "I took one look at it and laughed." he said. "It's nonsense." Efforts to contact the inventor on Friday weren't successful. However, the ball notion still may work if an enzyme-based cleaner is added to laundry water and used along with the ball, Collins said. American Technologies Group is developing such an additive, he said. A prototype is being tested and, unlike the laundry balls now available, wouldn't be released without scientific peer review, he said. The enzyme solution would replace traditional detergents.