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Extra laundry detergent has little effect on sewers

We appreciate the local focus of your new owner. Have you thought about adding a consumer information column? One item I've wondered about is the waste of laundry detergent and its effect on our rivers. Each box or bottle says to fill the soap up to a mark on their scoop or cap, but then the mark is hard to see and is just a quarter of the cup. My guess is that people are wasting their detergent.

While we're at it, can you explain how a couple special plastic balls are supposed to eliminate the need for fabric softener sheets?

— Chuck R., via email

New ideas are most welcome now that our bosses have their own boss in the building, but as of this writing, we've only got one consumer question in our stack — yours. For now, keep those questions coming to the SYA desk and we'll try to knock 'em down.

We couldn't find much in the way of statistics or studies pointing to detergent overuse, well aside from a 2010 Wall Street Journal story with a web headline "Americans Use too Much Detergent." 

The story had just the observations from Method Products, then just entering the laundry market and differentiating themselves with more straightforward dosage caps and pumps to avoid overuse. Method research determined that 53 percent of people didn't use the recommended amount of detergent, according to the story, but didn't say anything about the survey or its sample size before moving onto major detergent makers' denials that their caps are intentionally misleading.

No matter how much detergent locals' wash water may have in it, water down the drain heads into the sewer and away from our streams and waterways, according to Medford Public Works Director Cory Crebbin, who oversees the regional water reclamation facility that also serves parts of Central Point, Jacksonville, Phoenix, Talent, Eagle Point, White City and other unincorporated areas. Crebbin said residential laundry is a "small component" of the 16 million gallons of water treated daily at the facility, and has no impact on the effectiveness of sewage treatment.

The treatment plant goes through numerous steps before sending dried and processed sewage sludge to landfills, where the material is used to help landfill garbage decompose, and sending clarified, disinfected and dechlorinated water back into the Rogue River.  Methane gas captured at the facility helps power generators to reduce utility costs.

Moving along to those dryer balls, advertised on TV and the Amazon marketplace as a chemical-free alternative to dryer sheets. Popular Mechanics magazine tested loads with and without the spindly rubberized plastic balls in 2009 saying "Difficult to detect a noticeable difference — other than increased noise — when drying with the Balls."

In theory, the balls could possibly help break up bulky loads that bunch up and stay damp in the center. In the review, an expert from the Good Housekeeping Institute said bulky loads such as down comforters benefit from a "foreign object" in the dryer to fluff it up and prevent it from getting clumpy, but the expert said a clean sneaker does the trick just as easily.

— Send questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@mailtribune.com. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.