Threatened with legal action by the biowashball distributor

12/3/2009 UPDATE – They have sent a response to the email below.

A comment I made in the Ethical Co-op newsletter last Thursday attracted some attention.

When introducing a new product, laundry soap nuts, I mentioned my unhappiness with another product, a laundry ball, which in their marketing material had slammed soap nuts, and had also made some highly dubious claims. I was particularly unhappy that the Ethical Co-op had sold some of these balls, as part of the Ethical Co-op’s way of operating is to make the most ethical choices it can. If the Co-op sells a product, I consider it endorsed, and that it’s of the best of its kind available.

Selling a laundry ball that makes what I believe to be highly misleading marketing claims doesn’t fit the bill.

Read the newsletter containing the comments here.

I contacted the washball company in November with my concerns in November, but never got a response. They then updated their marketing material last week, removing any mention of soap nuts, but still making the same highly dubious claims.

Their marketing material states:

Using Biowashball can eliminate the use of detergents. You therefore avoid risks of allergic reactions due to detergent residues on clothing or linen. It safeguards your linen from bleaching, oxidation, caused by chlorine diluted in water. Fabrics remain elastic. It is the powerful remote infrared rays emitted by the Biowashball which break the hydrogen molecules of water to increase molecular movement. This gives water a high penetration capacity and improves its washing properties.

The Biowashball emits negative ions which weaken the adherence of dirt on fabric so that it is easily removed without the use of detergent. The Biowashball has a pH of about 10 which is equivalent to that of an ordinary chemical detergent. This treats grease, organic or chemical stains efficiently. The Biowashball eliminates chlorine compounds in water and decreases its superficial pressure, increasing therefore its washing power. Finally, the Biowashball eliminates pathogen germs in the water of your washing machine, giving clean and healthy linen. Biowashball has an antibacterial effect and eliminates bad odours.

Let’s look at the claims in detail:

  • Using Biowashball can eliminate the use of detergents.
    Self-evidently true.
  • You therefore avoid risks of allergic reactions due to detergent residues on clothing or linen.
    Again, self-evidently true.
  • It is the powerful remote infrared rays emitted by the Biowashball which break the hydrogen molecules of water to increase molecular movement. This gives water a high penetration capacity and improves its washing properties.
    Here’s where things start to go wrong. Remote infra-red rays are commonly, if not entirely accurately, known as heat. And everything you see around you emits heat. Unfortunately, such a minimal amount of heat has no effect on the cleaning action – the heat of the water will be far more important. This to me is a pseudoscience claim that, while perhaps strictly speaking true, is misleading in that it neglects to inform us that anything else would also do the same.
  • The Biowashball emits negative ions which weaken the adherence of dirt on fabric so that it is easily removed without the use of detergent.
    Again, there’s a possibility that negative ions are released, but the quantity and effect will be minimal.
  • Biowashball has a pH of about 10 which is equivalent to that of an ordinary chemical detergent
    Has this been demonstrated anywhere?
  • The Biowashball eliminates chlorine compounds in water and decreases its superficial pressure, increasing therefore its washing power.
    Really? There’s so little chlorine in water, so what relevance does this have on cleaning? So if reducing superficial pressure is related to the chlorine, this will have little to no effect.

After getting no feedback in November, our buyer received an update last week, with new marketing material. All references to soapnuts were removed, apparently after they were contacted by the soap nut manufacturer, but their other claims remain.

After my newsletter, I was contacted by the biowashball distributor, threatening legal action. Their email reads:

I refer to your customer letter of the month of March, which was brought to my attention on the morning, 2nd March 2009, by one of my agents in Noordhoek and who also happens to be a client of yours. I wish to comment to certain statements you have made in this newsletter which you will find further below in the body of your newsletter. I am writing to you as it concerns me deeply that a supposedly unbiased organisation like yourselves and based on no solid evidence make these sort of derogative statements which obviously have a negative impact on ones business as well as product. You hold yourselves up as ethical, and as leaders in the field of natural, organic and an eco friendly environment. An environment which us humans are part of and influences us not only on a physical but also spiritual level. I therefore find it quite startling and unsettling that an organisation that links itself inextricably to support the sustainability of this earth and to look out for his or her human counterpart would lash out at a fellow company/business in such an unjustly manner. Your news letter has damaged the reputation of our company and its product, but much worse it will also negatively impact on those people for whom we have created an opportunity to provide for and sustain themselves and their families. In light of this we therefore demand that you publicly apologise for these statements and in failing to do so will result in us instructing our attorneys to act against you.

Yours truly,

Marietjie Lacomme

Health Technology Products
+27 (0)21 976 0728
+27 (0)83 414 5566

NB!! Please find below my comments regarding your newsletter.

“Soap Nuts
>> ———
>> A colleague recently told me that when he first got involved in the
>> organic industry everyone would be looking out for each other, working
>> together for the greater good.

>> Unfortunately that’s not the case, and
>> greed, ego and misinformation and are as prevalent as elsewhere.
>> Soap nuts have recently been getting bad press from a particular so-called ‘green washing product’, recently-launched in South Africa, and which
>> unfortunately, in good faith, we also offered for a short while.
This was on your request to us to promote our product of which you have sold quite a few units and from which you have earned income.

>> This
>> product claims in their marketing literature that soap nuts cause “massive
>> deforestation” in Nepal and India. This is not true, as no reference where made to ”Soap Nuts” but only to ”deforestation” in general.
>> Luckily this is not the case, and the soappod tree, from which the soap
>> nut comes, lives up to 90 years, and is widely and sustainably grown in
>> Asia. They also, unlike some other products, actually enhance the washing
>> effects of water and movement, as they contain saponin, a natural
>> detergent.
>> We still get requests for the other product, and it seems to be selling
>> well and in demand, but our goal is to offer the most ethical products we
>> can find.
If you are an ethical company you would have checked your facts with us and or asked us for our comments. This is fair practice when articles are placed in front of the public. It would also have been an unbiased approach as well as fair reporting to the public, unless of course you are gaining in whatever manner by making these derogative statements!.

> > One that badmouths (rivals and claims to clean laundry by
>> ’emitting powerful infrared rays’, in other words heat, the same as a
>> plastic coathanger, is not it.
This is an untrue claim based on your lack of information and facts. Our product is a highly developed product (with 17 + patents), being registered worldwide which carries the CE CERTIFICATION. FYI see doc attached.

Herewith also see the response from Europe on deforestation. I would think that the rest of the world is far more advanced concerning sustainability and that Africa is indeed seen as the dustbin of the world!

“In India, companies still manage to obtain tree felling permits under the pretext of cutting old Sapindus and replanting new ones…the problem is that once the permit is obtained they cut down the trees and never replace/replant them…also, as there are no controls whatsoever, they sometimes try to replant them on different locations where the climate and the soil conditions are not favourable to Sapindus. Furthermore many of these companies prefer to cut down the trees in order to be able to mechanically harvest the nuts, instead of doing it manually on healthy trees standing up!

Many associations have been created in Europe, France & Germany in order to create awareness, fight the problem and stop the thousands of hectares of deforestation taking place each year.

Only very few importers of the product do care and verify the ethical origin/harvesting of the nuts.”

They also attached a document making further claims, as below:

1. What is Bio-Ceramic?
Bio-Ceramic is the product which is made from of various kind of ceramic mixed with mineral oxides likes Silica Oxide (SiO2), Aluminum Oxide (AI202) and etc. The mixture of these materials will emit FIR (far-infrared rays)
2. How is Bio-Ceramic made?
Bio-ceramic is made from 26 kind of ceramic with various mineral oxides and heated together at 1600 degrees centigrade and left to cool down. After it has cooled down, this bio-ceramic will be capable emitting FIR (far-infrared rays)
3. What is Far-infrared Rays?
Far-infrared rays is part of the sunlight spectrum which is invisible to the naked eye. It also known as Biogenetic rays (between 6 to 14 microns). Biogenetics rays has been proven by scientists to promote the growth and health of living cells especially in plants, animals and human beings.
4. What is the effect of Far-infrared rays?
FIR cause resonance with water molecules. It ionize and activates water molecules in our cells and blood thus improving our blood circulation and health condition. The human body contains more than 70% water (H2O) by weight.
5. What is the effect of Far-infra-red rays on our human body?

  • Activates water molecules in our body
  • Improve oxygen level in our body
  • Warming and eliminating fats, chemicals and toxins from our blood and thus smoothening the flow of blood.
  • Elimination of other waste from the body 
  • Reducing the acidic level in our body 
  • Improve nervous system

Other usefulness;

  • Improve perspiration system
  • Prevention of bacteria growth
  • Softening of hard water
  • Relieving of pain
  • Purification of water
  • Eliminates bad odour
  • Maintain warmth and better sleep
  • Enhance and maintain freshness
  • Purification of air h) Beauty care
  • Improve strength and health
  • Speed up repair of body cells
  • Balance of the acid level in our body
  • Normalization of blood cholesterol
  • Prevent mould
  • Help plants to grow better

These new claims are as convincing as their earlier ones.

I am very happy to apologise if I find the product lives up to its claims and is effective, but need some more convincing. I responded to the threat of legal action with the following email.

Hi Marietjie

Shortly after receiving your email, I received another email from the Harmonious Living Newsletter. One of the articles was titled The Power of Absolute Honesty in Spiritual Growth.

Part of the power of honesty is facing up to truths which may not always be pleasant.

You mention that the “environment […] influences us not only on a physical but also spiritual level” and I agree wholeheartedly. This is why it’s important to be informed and aware in the actions we take. Sometimes we may take actions which we believe are for the greater good, but actually aren’t.

I believe the biowashballs to be one such example. I am quite happy to apologise if I’m wrong, but would need to see some convincing evidence.

The product I believe has some effect, but my main concern is that the marketing material being used to promote them is both scientific nonsense, and slams (slammed) another product. This to me is unethical, which is why I was so unhappy at the Ethical Co-op being associated with them and having actually sold some.

You state that no mention was made of soapnuts. However quoting from your marketing material, Biowashball, environmentally friendly, replaces the soapnut used in India (fruit of the *Sapindus Mukorossis*) which has caused massive deforestation due to intensive use of the nut in India and Nepal.

Your new marketing material has done away with this claim, apparently after you were contacted by the soapnuts distributor.

Furthermore, your marketing material makes claims that are, to say the least, dubious. I would welcome a point-by-point analysis of the claims, and again, am happy to apologise if the claims turn out to be true.

To be more specific:
– “It is the powerful remote infrared rays emitted by the Biowashball which break the hydrogen molecules of water to increase molecular movement.” Well everything emits “powerful infrared rays”, commonly known as heat, and the biowashball would emit as much as my coathanger. This has little effect on the washing quality, completely overridden by the temperature of the water.

– The negative ions claim has some factual basis, but has little impact on anything. The hardness of the water used has much more impact.

– The anti-chlorine claims seem to have no basis at all, especially combined with their anti-bacterial claims.

– Also, the price seems exhorbitant, when similar laundry balls are available for $3.60 in Hong Kong.

Laundry Balls have a notorious history, having been associated in the past with a Scientology scam, and multi-level marketing schemes such as Amway. In the past they have had magnets inside, ‘crystals’ (consisting of anything from real crystals to pieces of metal), and dyed water, and now ‘bio-ceramics’. Each time the claims are disproved, they reappear with some new ‘science’ and a new name.

Until you can convincingly demonstrate that the products are ethical, which implies that they work and the claims made about them are genuine, I will continue to believe that the product you’re selling has been carefully-designed to mislead well-meaning people, perhaps such as yourselves, into both buying and distributing it, and that it is important to expose this untruth so that people can make choices based on openness and integrity.

In the meantime I’ve started looking at patents, and one I could find was for the way a plastic ball fits together, and has nothing to do with cleaning effectiveness.

I considered whether to make this public or not, but since it’s already partly out in the open, I think that it’s in everyone’s best interests to do so. Either their claims are correct, in which case I eat humble pie, apologise, and am happy to have discovered a great new product. Or the claims become known to be dubious, and others are protected. Either way, the outcome can only be good.


  1. It seems that a lot of time and energy have now been expended on biowashball, to the extent that a detailed article on the topic has appeared on your blog. Engagement of energy in this direction may add further impetus to the product. I suggest you wash your hands (if I may indulge in an apposite metaphor)of biowashball before it spins a further vortex of nebulous infra red rays.
    yours in disengagement

  2. dear sir,
    well done, biowash ball lady has had no competition in the last few years,now she has lots,she cant cope with that fact,besides being a nasty person ,lots of her reps and clients dont want to deal with her any more. i`ve had several run ins with her,claiming all the balls made in china are fakes.biowash ball is also now made in china.

  3. My goodness all this hype over washing, let me put my 5c worth in. If you look at the claims of how it works there is some merit in the science of it, like the emitting of anions most laundry detergents are made up form anionic surfactants that is the part that makes them work the process that makes the biowash ball work in theory is a similar process. As for killing bacteria if the process is working as they say then the OH+ that is made from H2O and anions will take care of any bacteria.

    But looking at all the remarks going on previously everyone has points that are valid my comment on all of that is you don’t need to understand something for it to work and there will always be someone to steal ideas and products and bad mouth products take it as a complement that they have taken the time too.

    Lastly I do think they work and have used them but there are limitations my only issue is I have looked into the patents and all I can find with the published patent numbers are products that are completely unrelated.

  4. I bought 2 biowashballs at the recent HOSTEX exhibition in Cape Town. I read the blurb, listened to the sales lady and remain sceptical about the claims and the way the balls are supposed to aid the washing process, but willing to give it try in the interest of a greener tomorrow and my grey water sprinkler system.

    After having cleaned the washing machine as instructed, we have used the balls for 2 days and the washing seems clean. But I am still not a convert and would like to see the product and its claims be submitted to the SABS for evaluation and endorsement.

    Tomorrow I am going to wash one lot of identical bed linnen with my balls … and one with out my balls. Who knows, perhaps it is just the wonderworking power of litres of liquid containing real hydrogen in a perfectly balanced suspended format that combines with oxygen molecules at a molecular level, the way Nature intended, that will relax the fibres and allow the residue of perspiration and snoring dribble to disolve and float away.

    To instill a bit of competition, my wife and I will each take charge of one wash. So, who will win? – he who hath Balls – or she who hath no Balls.

    I will post the results here.

  5. Hi Ackman, I’m very curious to know the outcome of your experiment. Went on the website to order myself some balls (sic) but then came upon these comments! Please advise!

  6. Petro we have been using these balls since my last posting. We run a guesthouse with tons of washing. Heavy soiled items are pre-soaked in cleaning agents but the majority of stuff are just washed with the balls and the washing is clean and soft – but remember we stay in Cape Town and don’t have hard water. My wife is happy because 100% ‘clean’ water is being pumped into the garden via our grey-water system. Our housekeeper is happy, but I cant think of reason why she should be.

    I will grudgingly admit that I am happy but will hasten to add that I remain unconvinced about the claims made by the manufacturer and will remain unconvinced until such time that the product is submitted for evaluation and endorsement by the SABS.

    My recommendation – if you can afford it buy the balls and use them. It makes for a good trivial conversation topic and you will be saving money by not buying detergent. But I still think that it is just the water that is cleaning the washing.

  7. I work with Biowash USA and I find this all very disappointing. I do not know this lady or who she represents but I can assure all of you that we at BiowashUSA do not act in this manner.

    I also will say that I have used our product for 10 months without issue. It is not a stain remover, but it does replace detergent. Im not trying to sell you. I am just speaking my mind honestly.

    Yes, you can accuse me of working for the company and having a one sided view. That is your choice. But the fact remains I use it and it does work. That is not disputable.

    I sincerely apologize for this above woman’s conduct and will be taking steps to find out who and how this happened. Thank you Ackman for making this know to us, so we can ensure this sort of thing does not happen again.

  8. I’ve been using a Biowash Ball since March, and am very happy with it. We farm, and with two chidren 3yrs and 5yrs, I have tons of really dirty washing. I do not soak or pre-treat, so if anything comes out of the wash less-than-clean, I rub it with a Boereseep,and throw it in the next wash. (This happens if I use “normal washing powder”, as well). The only limitations I have are a) it only washes up to 4kg – so I’m going to buy another ball! and b) because there’s no fragrance, wet clothes forgotten in a closed machine start to smell a bit miffy. Also, not the ball’s fault! c)I don’t use it with really delicate fabrics, I worry the hard plastic ball would physically damage them. Of course, we don’t generally farm in delicate fabrics. The only clothes I haven’t tried to wash with it are grease & oil “mechanic” clothes, and that only because I wouldn’t then want to use the same ball with my whites!

  9. Has anyone tried the Magnetic Laundry System?


    Both the washballs and magnetic balls are a lot of money to test (though not if they actually work) so I am doing a bit of research on the topic. The magnetic washballs have a lifetime warranty, money back guarantee, independent lab tests etc. So I think they might be a better option though the Americans can be prone to hyperbole so would love to hear from someone who has actually tried them!

    I often wash with a quarter cup of vinegar and it does the trick too 🙂

  10. Look, the real question is does it work or not.

    Did the writer of this article even bought one and tested it?

    I myself did not use one but looking at the response they seem to work. And that is the important thing.

    Sending it to the SABS? What? Is it that difficult to see that the washing is clean?

    If it works why are you skeptic – it works! Are you also skeptic about, lets say, LED TV’s because you do not know how it works, not taking note that it does work?

    Common on now, if it works it is one of those great things that save money and the environment and that is very much all that is important.

  11. Ok so I have looked into bio wash a little more and although the neg ions do assist in the cleaning process the major effect of the bio wash ball is the increase of the mechanical action on the clothing.The down side is an increase in mechanical action causes an increase in wear factor to the tune of 30%. So yes the system works and well and if you dont mind buying new clothes more often then go for it.

  12. I don’t think the product is validated simply because it works. The fact is it is made from plastic, a material that we should be decreasing our dependence on, not increasing.

    Perhaps for the time being it is the lesser of two evils when comparing with conventional laundry powder (apologies for using the word ‘evil’ but the term sums up what I’m trying to say), as long as one never sends it to the landfill.

    I do not feel a commitment to moving past our plastic dependent lives is beyond us – there are always alternatives. Maybe for a while I’m not happy to give up my keyboard and lap top for example, but I certainly don;t need to be adding more plastic to my life.

    Having said all that, I’m not sure if its been mentioned that one reason why the balls might work is that the former detergent used is trapped in the fibres of the clothing or sheets or whatever, and so with a warm wash can get reactivated each time. I heard this from someone that doesn’t use anything but a warm plain water wash for his clothes…

    Anyhoo – lets keep up the clean debates at least. Credence to Ian for not rising to the (intentional or not) baiting, yet still expressing the concerns clearly and resolutely. There is no perspective that should ruffle any one of us, whether its directed at the way we make our money or whatever. This is all part of creating genuine harmony on this planet…

  13. We have been using soap nuts for over three years now, and will never go back to any other detergent. We were so impressed with them that we started a business with them and have educated many people on the benefits of them. It has been great to have the opportunity to help the environment and make a little bit of money at the same time.

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