The system developed by Xeros, a spin-off from the University of Leeds, in England, uses thousands of tiny nylon beads each measuring a few millimetres across. These are placed inside the smaller of two concentric drums along with the dirty laundry, a squirt of detergent and a little water. As the drums rotate, the water wets the clothes and the detergent gets to work loosening the dirt. Then the nylon beads mop it up.
The crystalline structure of the beads endows the surface of each with an electrical charge that attracts dirt. When the beads are heated in humid conditions to the temperature at which they switch from a crystalline to an amorphous structure, the dirt is drawn into the core of the bead, where it remains locked in place.