The innovators at Chinese company Haier have recently put into production their version of a washing machine that doesn't require detergent and is creating some buzz. The machine, WasH20, amplifies the autoionization properties of water molecules to clean clothes. The more basic hydroxide solution allegedly pulls stains right off apparel, while the acidic hydronium ion solution steralizes the clothes. Since it doesn't do much in the way of adding pretty "moring rain" or "lavender poodle" (or whatever) scents to the clothes, traditionalists still have the option of using soap as the machine is a hybrid.
The most interesting part about the machine, however, is the response many bloggers are having: it's some kind of hoax. Tech blog Engadget.com makes it sound like this is as crackpot an idea as the electrolysis car. The washer, however, makes real sense (if only because it's going into production--we've been waiting like 80 years on the car). The big deal with the bloggers seems to be that people are misunderstanding the science that runs it. For one, unlike most posters are saying, the machine makes hydronium ions (like I mentioned) and not H+, the incorrect shorthand they teach you in high school chemistry to get you by. Also, I am not sure why all these people seem to think the the clothes will smell the same as when they went it (i.e. stinky). Various combinations of bacteria and their wastes are the reason your clothes smell in the first place--sterilizing your clothes will kill the perpetrators and make inert the smellies.
Granted,since I don't live in France I haven't seen the machine in action, but I know I have a better grasp on the science here than these bozos. (If the machine worked by electrolysis, it would blow up your clothes, more than likely. Go read a science book.) Bottom line here's a good idea in the works, and a way to reduce phosphate contamination. Though to be fair, there are a bunch of organic, non-phosphate detergents out there that smell nice at competitive prices.
As always, though: the bad news. (And it's not the price--the thousand bucks they want is pretty standard for your higher quality units, plus you don't have to buy the detergent.) For now Haier only has plans to sell the washer in France. Of course, it should be worth the wait--check out the link in the bottom corner for customizing options ("Personnalisez-moi"). It looks like doing laundry in an converted Formula One racer.