These laundry beads definitely add a long-lasting scent to your clothes, but they're an expensive addition to your laundry routine (potentially adding hundreds of dollars a year to your household bills) and will increase your carbon footprint. At a time when many of us are trying to save money and reduce the amount of chemicals in our homes, we think this is a product you can easily leave off your shopping list.
Everyone loves the fresh scent of clean laundry, and some of us go to extra lengths to get it, adding any number of add-ons to our wash or dry cycle, from perfumed laundry liquids to fabric softeners and dryer sheets.
The latest product to pop up in Australia that promises to take our laundry game to the next level is scented laundry beads. After becoming a bit of a cult laundry product overseas, they're now making their way onto our supermarket shelves.
What are laundry beads?
Also known as in-wash scent boosters, these small soluble beads (about the size of a lentil) are added to the barrel of your washing machine (along with any other products you may use, such as detergents or fabric softeners). They don't clean anything, but they will dissolve in the wash and promise to add an extended perfumed fragrance to your clothes, sheets and towels for up to about 12 weeks.
Cleaning up, financially
The popularity of this type of product has exploded, with huge sales worldwide (in 2021, the global laundry scent booster market was estimated to be worth more than US$497 million) and countless fans on social media.
Instagram and TikTok are teeming with 'cleanfluencers' who hail the 'genius' of scented laundry beads, not only for making their washing smell nice, but also for being useful for multiple purposes around the home.
In 2021, the global laundry scent booster market was estimated to be worth more than US$497m
Views of TikTok videos tagged with #laundrybeads have reached more than 11 million, with people doing everything from melting them on the stovetop to infuse their home with scent, to adding them to their rubbish bin to eliminate odours.
Just more chemicals?
But do laundry beads actually work? And with many Australians currently trying to reduce waste from packaging, limit unnecessary chemicals in the homes and save money, is this product yet another that should be avoided?
You may already know how we feel about fabric softeners (unnecessary, expensive and bad for the environment), so let's look at how laundry beads stack up.
Laundry beads come to Australia
One of the first laundry bead products to launch in Australia is Comfort In-Wash Scent Booster. We tried it out to give our verdict on whether it's worth adding to your shopping basket.
We bought the Comfort In-Wash Scent Booster in Luxury Perfume. It's available for $12/200g from Woolworths ($6 per 100g) and $14/200g from Coles ($7 per 100g). From the outset, no matter how aromatic it may or may not make your towels, this is an expensive addition to your laundry routine.
The recommended dosage is ⅔ cup (30g) per wash of 6–13 items of 'thin' fabric or 4–8 items of 'thick' fabric. It also has a note to 'Add more or less depending on your desired fragrance intensity and number of clothes.'
It all adds up
According to CHOICE laundry expert Ashley Iredale, people drastically underestimate the amount of clothes they can effectively wash in one load in a washing machine. He says you can stuff it so full that you can barely shut the door – and you'll still get clean laundry.
So, if you add more than 4–13 items (thin or thick) to your washing machine, you may well be using more than 30g of laundry beads each time you use it, adding further to the cost.
If you do about four of these (very) small loads per week using the recommended dosage, the cost this product is adding to your shopping bill over the course of a year is $372.32
Of course, given that the product says it lasts up to 12 weeks, you may not want to add it to every wash: it depends on how many clothes you wash and how often you wash them, as well as how intense you want the fragrance to be.
But even if you run small washes and do in fact only use 30g of laundry beads each time, you will still get just 6.7 washes out of each bottle. That's $1.79 per wash on top of what you're already paying for detergent (based on the cheaper $12/200g price).
Yearly cost of adding laundry beads to your shopping
If you do about four of these (very) small loads a week using the recommended dosage, the cost this product is adding to your shopping bill over the course of a year is $372.32. That's a lot just to make your clothes smell nice.
Do laundry beads actually work?
The short answer is – yes, definitely. So if you're willing to spend the dollars in the quest for scents, the cash outlay may be worth it for you.
There are two fragrances available in the new Comfort product: Luxury Perfume and Classic Fresh. I tried Luxury Perfume and the fragrance of the product, even while it's still in the bottle, is very powerful.
Whether you love the scent or not is of course subjective. At first I found it too strong, too floral and slightly sickly, but it did grow on me
Whether you love the scent or not is of course subjective. At first I found it too strong, too floral and slightly sickly, but it did grow on me. After adding it to my washing based on the recommended dosage, the product does deliver what it says, at least for now – a pleasant smell is definitely still discernible on my clothes a few weeks and a few washes later.
I also tried out one of the TikTok hacks to add laundry beads to our (stinky) garbage bin, and yep, it certainly helps to mask some of those questionable odours.
But such a strong perfume could be very problematic for people who are sensitive to fragrances. This brings me to my next point about what ingredients are actually in the bottle – and if I really want this product hanging around my home, my family and our skin.
What ingredients are in laundry beads?
The Comfort In-Wash Scent Booster lists 'Dye Colorant and Fragrances' amongst its ingredients.
In Australia, manufacturers are not required to disclose what ingredients make up the fragrances in these types of household products, despite the fact that a single 'fragrance' in a product is usually a mixture of anywhere from several dozen to several hundred ingredients – any of which could contain potentially hazardous chemicals.
One third of Australians report… respiratory problems, asthma attacks, migraine headaches and dermatological problems as a result of exposure to fragranced consumer products
Artificial fragrances in household products such as laundry beads and detergents can cause various health problems and trigger sensitivities, allergic reactions and rashes – not only in the people who are using them, but also in the people around them.
Recent research indicates that one third of Australians report experiencing adverse effects such as respiratory problems, asthma attacks, migraine headaches and dermatological problems as a result of exposure to fragranced consumer products.
Even if you enjoy a floral fragrance on a freshly washed towel, the fact is you are coating your clothing in chemicals and you can't be sure what exactly is in them. So the best way to avoid the potential adverse effects of fragranced products is simply not to use them.
Are scented laundry beads harmful to the environment?
Another reason to avoid adding extra chemicals to your wash is to reduce the impact your laundry habits have on the environment.
As well as the carbon footprint of the manufacture, packaging and transportation of this product, there's also the issue that anything you add to your wash could end up in our waterways, as well as in the air you and your family are breathing in. The cap and bottle on the Comfort In-Wash Scent Booster are recyclable, thankfully, but this relies on people taking the trouble to recycle the packaging correctly instead of sending it to landfill.
What can I use instead of scented laundry beads?
If you really want freshly scented laundry, but you also want to reduce the chemical load in your home, there are ways you can add natural fragrance to your wash.
Some say that adding half a cup of vinegar to your dispenser drawer helps to neutralise odours (but read your manual first, as some washing machine manufacturers advise against this).
Hanging your clothes outside to dry in the sun and a gentle-blowing breeze means they'll be infused with nature's fresh scent
You can also try adding a few drops of natural essential oils to an unscented natural laundry detergent. Failing that, hanging your clothes outside to dry in the sun and a gentle-blowing breeze (as long as you have a warm day and a clean environment) means they'll be infused with nature's fresh scent. No extra plastic or chemicals required.
How to save money on your laundry
If the idea of adding $300-plus to your yearly laundry bill gives you the chills, the good news is that ditching expensive and unnecessary add-ons is not the only way you can save money on your washing. Check out our handy tips to see how you can cut your laundry costs by more than $500 a year.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.