Recently, while browsing for eCards to send on care2.com, I was presented with an ad for nomoredetergent.com, a Web site which claims to sell a “Breakthrough Invention Which Washes Your Clothes For Free Without Toxic Chemicals, Saves Your Family’s Skin Health, and Your Money!”
The “invention” they sell is two magnets encased in rubbery plastic, which you’re supposed to put into your washing machine instead of detergent. The Web site claims, “Research by Physicist Dr. Hendrick Lorentz shows that with the right magnetic fields, water molecules (H2O) [sic] are made to have similar effects that detergent chemicals do… in other words, they stick to other tiny particles like dirt, and carry them off!”
I was dubious, as you probably are as well. But Care2 is a pretty reputable site, and the upside of never needing to pay for or use laundry detergent again is pretty high. Furthermore, I figured that if it was a scam, then I’d have fun performing an experiment to prove it. So I went ahead and ordered a set of the magnets.
So, what do you think… Is it a scam or isn’t it? Read on to find out.
Before I tell you the results of my experiment, let me point out some other good reasons to be suspicious:
- There is no independent scientific research on the Web site pertaining to the efficacy of the product. Under the heading “Clinical Research” on the Web page is not proof that the magnets work, but rather quotes from a 2005 Sierra Club press release about supposedly dangerous chemicals in laundry detergents. The pamphlet that comes with the product says that it has been “independently proven,” but there is no evidence of this.
- The endorsement logos on the home page (none of which are linked to anything) are:
- “As Seen On TV” — in other words, “we ran some ads / infomercials”
- “Mothering Magazine” — but a search of the site turns up no articles about the product, so this certainly also means “we ran some ads on this site”
- “PRWeb” — anyone can pay to put up a press release on PRWeb, so this means “we paid for a press release”
- “Care2″ — again, “we ran some ads on this site”
- “CNN” — there are no search results indicating that CNN ever did a news story about this product, so, once again, “we ran some ads on this site”
- “LifeScript” — ditto
- The “risk free trial” offered by the site promises that “You’ll have 21 days from today to use the Magnetic Laundry System and experience the results for yourself.” The company charged my credit card $5.95 for shipping and handling on December 1; they shipped the product to me on December 23; it arrived on December 26; and the company charged my credit card $49.95 on December 27. Yes, that’s right, my “21 day free trial” involved having the product in my possession for less than one day.
- The research of Dr. Hendrick Lorentz didn’t have anything to do with laundry detergent chemicals.
- Finally, the idea that magnets can substitute for laundry detergent has been thoroughly debunked.
A little digging on the Web reveals that the company which manufactures this product did publish an “independent lab test result,” which you can view here. You can also view an “As Seen On TV” video evaluation of the product here. [UPDATE 2010-06-22: The "As Seen on TV" video is no longer available. Perhaps Life Miracle stopped paying the advertising fee for it so they took it off the site?] Here are some problems I found with these:
- The lab report claims, “As is standard for this type of testing, a water control was also run to provide baseline/control data.” However, the published results include only before/after data for the load run with the magnets, i.e., they do not show how washing laundry with the magnets compares to washing with just water.
- The lab results show only the results of washing in hot water, and the literature that comes with the magnets also says that they work best in hot water. Of course, some clothing is too delicate to be washed in hot water, and therefore it is important to know how well any laundry product will work in warm or cold water, but we are told nothing about that. (A worthwhile aside: This product claims to be good for the environment because it reduces the need for detergents containing toxic chemicals, but washing all of your laundry in hot water is hardly good for the environment.)
- The video claims that the magnets were more effective on dirt that traditional detergent, but (a) they don’t say what kind of detergent was used, and if I had to guess I’d guess that they used a particularly bad one, and (b) dirt is only one of many kinds of stains that detergents are designed to clean.
- If you watch the video carefully, you will see that the tags on the two shirts they used were different, and therefore that the shirts themselves were different, thus invalidating the entire test. Also, it’s impossible to tell from the video whether the two shirts were equally dirty to begin with (for some reason, they only give you a good look at one of the two shirts after soiling them).
- In the video, they washed only the shirts in the washing machine. This means that the magnets were free to move around the drum and bang against the shirt, thus helping to get it clean. You could accomplish the same thing with a couple of rocks. They didn’t test for that, nor did they compare washing with the magnets to washing with just water.
Now, here is the experiment I performed:
- Start with three identical, clean, white, cotton undershirts.
- Stain each of them with measured, equal amounts of four different contaminants: ketchup, peanut oil, soy sauce, and dirt.
- Allow the stains to dry overnight.
- Wash each undershirt in a separate load, in hot water, with no extra rinse, in a front-loading washing machine, with four clean towels (to balance the machine and simulate a full load of laundry) of similar size and thickness:
- Load #1: the two laundry magnets positions on opposite sides of the washing machine drum (vertical axis)
- Load #2: just water
- Load #3: 1/3 of a detergent measuring cup of All Free Clear laundry detergent
Here are the results of the experiment:
- All three methods left an extremely obvious ketchup stain.
- All three methods removed most of the soy sauce; it’s hard to say whether any was left on any of the shirts.
- All three methods removed most of the dirt but left some visible smudges.
- The detergent removed the peanut oil completely; there was visible peanut oil left on the shirts washed with the magnets and with just water.
- There was no visible difference in cleanliness between the shirt washed with the magnets and the shirt washed with just water.
- The shirt washed with detergent was visibly cleaner than the shirts washed with the magnets and with just water.
Here are my conclusions:
- The laundry magnets are useless.
- Hot water combined with agitation do a pretty good job all by themselves of removing dirt etc.
- People are using detergent even when they think they aren’t:
- Washing machines leave some detergent on clothes even after they are rinsed. These leftover detergents aid in cleaning the clothes the next time they are washed, even if no new detergent is used.
- Most people use too much detergent, because (a) most people are careless about measuring the detergent and (b) the detergent manufacturers tell people to use more than they actually need to get the clothes clean.
- The more detergent is used, the more is left behind after the clothes are rinsed.
- People who buy these magnets and think that their clothes are being cleaned by them are actually taking advantage of the detergents left behind on the clothes from before they switched to the magnets.
- The company selling these magnets is counting on the fact that by the time the detergents are completely washed out (it takes several wash cycles) and it becomes obvious that the magnets are useless, the 90-day money-back guarantee will have expired, and most people will be too lazy to fight with the company to get their money back.
- The bait-and-switch with the nonexistent “21 day risk free trial” is a conscious, intentional effort by the company selling these magnets to capitalize on the fact that most people are too lazy to complain and and get their money back.
In short, this is a scam, and I plan on doing the following about it:
- Complain to Care2 about allowing this product to be advertised on their Web site. [done]
- Complain to asotv.info about the fact that their test was bogus and their claim that the product works as advertised is false. [done]
- Complain to Shuster Laboratories about the fact that their laboratory evaluation reports published about this product do not actually prove that it works. [done]
- Demand from the company that they refund not only the $49.95, but also the original $5.95 shipping fee and the cost of shipping the magnets back to them if they want them back. [done]
- If they refuse, then file disputes with my credit-card company for both the original shipping charge and the subsequent $49.95 charge. [not needed -- the seller reimbursed both the shipping charge and the charge for the magnets]
- Contact topclassactions.com and others with the suggestion that it might be profitable for an attorney somewhere to pursue a class-action lawsuit against the companies manufacturing and selling this fraudulent product. [done]
- File complaints about deceptive and fraudulent advertising practices with the attorney generals of Massachusetts (where I am located), Pennsylvania (where the company manufacturing the product is located), and Utah (where the company that sold it to me is located). [done]
UPDATE: My response to the comment below from Life Miracle can be found here.
UPDATE: There’s an excellent description here of why the alleged science behind the Magnetic Laundry System is bunk. It’s excellent because it’s both extremely clear and extremely succinct. Money quote: “This is just crazy gobbledegook made to sound impressive so people who don’t have any chemistry education will be impressed.” Follow the link for more.