Tuesday, Feb. 17, 1998 | 10:08 a.m.
Bonnie Rattner, a Las Vegas advertising account executive, purchased a $70 "Original Laundry Clean Ring" about five months ago.
The red, plastic product, marketed by Dynamic ONE Worldwide Inc. of Las Vegas, is the size and shape of a doughnut and is filled with liquid. It is advertised to clean load after load of dirty laundry without detergent. Instead it claims to clean clothes "through the science of quantum physics."
"It seemed to work fine for the first two or three washes, but then we started to notice that the laundry didn't feel or smell clean -- so now we use it with detergent."
Grenville Pridham, Nevada deputy attorney general, nodded his head when he heard this story.
"Most of the complaints begin around the third wash. That seems to be the magic number," said Pridham, who explained the soap residue in clothing that's already been washed in detergent is enough to clean the first couple of washes.
Beyond that, critics charge, there simply is no magic behind the Original Laundry Clean Ring and the Laundry CD, both marketed by Dynamic ONE Worldwide, and similar products like the Laundry Ball, which is advertised to affect washing machine water in order to clean clothing without the use of polluting detergents.
Typically these products are sold through multilevel marketing, otherwise known as direct sales. Sales representatives purchase the product in bulk from the distributor, and they in turn sell to friends and acquaintances.
While Pridham said he's gotten complaints "from around the country" by users of the Original Laundry Clean Ring and the Laundry CD, Dynamic ONE Worldwide has prompted only two complaints to the Better Business Bureau of Southern Nevada since June 1997, when the business was incorporated.
But Pridham explained that because detergent-free cleaning products generally are sold through multilevel marketing, it's more difficult for dissatisfied customers to register complaints.
"If you buy a product in a store, and it doesn't work, then people come back to you and demand satisfaction," Pridham said.
Rattner purchased the $70 Laundry Ring from a friend at a significant discount.
"It's a good thing we didn't pay much for it," Rattner said. "We would have been extremely disappointed. It has no practically no value whatsoever beyond increasing the agitation of the water. Somehow, throwing it away doesn't seem right. So we leave it in the machine -- and hope it doesn't break and cause a huge mess."
Detergent-free laundry cleaning products already have created a legal mess, according to court documents in several states.
In September 1997, after the Utah Division of Consumer Protection had civilly charged Trade-Net of Dunedin, Fla., with deceptive sales practices for claiming its Laundry Ball uses a "confidential process" to change the molecular structure of water, the company agreed to pay a $10,000 fine and refund money to dissatisfied Utah customers, according to spokesman Kim Morris.
The company had claimed the process forced dirt from clothing through "electronic release," making the use of laundry detergent unnecessary. But the consumer protection division contracted with the University of Utah Department of Physics and an independent local chemistry lab to conduct separate, independent studies of the technology.
Researchers found no evidence of an electrical charge from the ball and determined the liquid used was blue colored water, and was not "structured" in any way different from ordinary water, Morris said.
A month later, Michael Maunu, the owner of a Las Vegas company that distributes Laundry Rings and Laundry CDs, went to court himself to file a District Court suit against a Dallas company alleging the company failed to pay for thousands of Laundry CDs.
As president of New Millennium Enterprises, Maunu filed suit against against Jim Fobair, president of Life Extension International in Dallas, seeking $400,000 in actual and punitive damages.
Fobair's attorney, Steve Sapp, declined to comment on the case.
How Maunu got involved with Fobair is unclear, but Maunu's ties to Dallas are documented by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, which reports that in the late 1980s Maunu served nearly 2 1/2 years of a five-year sentence for securities fraud committed in that city.
Maunu faces more legal problems April 11 in Justice Court when he will be tried on a charge of deceptive trade practice, a criminal misdemeanor, for claiming that the Original Laundry Clean Ring "achieves its amazing results through the science of physics," according to the complaint filed by Pridham of the attorney general's office against Maunu and Dynamic ONE Worldwide.
Bill Smith, Maunu's criminal attorney, declined to comment on his client's past legal troubles or his current ones.
Both the Original Laundry Clean Ring and the Laundry CD, which is a clear plastic shell slightly bigger than a hockey puck and filled with blue liquid, are manufactured by Aqueous Labs Inc., a Las Vegas company owned by Michael Ansley. Other items manufactured by Aqueous Labs include nutritional supplements and health and beauty products.
Another local company owned by Ansley is Structured Waters Inc. Brian Berman, Ansley's civil attorney, who is also an officer in Structured Waters, explained that this company manufactures the fluid inside the Laundry Ring and the Laundry CD.
"We received some correspondence (from the attorney general's office) requesting certain information about the laundry ring," Berman said. "And largely, we referred the correspondence to people actually marketing the ring."
Although Berman acknowledges that both companies have been under investigation by the state for their role in the manufacture of detergent-free laundry cleaning products, the attorney believes his client will not be charged with a crime.
"My client is simply the manufacturer. We're approached by a client and given specifications for a product and then asked to produce the product," Berman said. "We don't guarantee what it does to clothing. We simply guarantee that it's been manufactured within specifications."
In the complaint against Maunu and Dynamic ONE Worldwide, Pridham states Maunu "willfully and unlawfully" has made and continues to make unsubstantiated assertions about the laundry cleaning product.
"They claim that this product somehow changes the molecular structure of water through the magic of physics," Pridham said. "We say, fine, provide evidence that shows how it works."
To the marketers of the various detergent-free laundry products, this is the rub.
"If you buy a six-pack of Coca-Cola, they tell you there's a secret ingredient, and you know it's not what's inside but the viability of the product, and it's the same with the Laundry Ring," said John Hunt, Maunu's civil attorney.
Hunt said he has sent Pridham reports from an independent lab that prove that the Laundry Ring works as well as detergent on many stains, and even surpasses detergent on some stains.
But Pridham said the report is inconclusive at best, and he noted that although the lab tested the Laundry Clean Ring against detergent, it didn't back up the test with a comparison of the power of water -- without the Laundry Clean ring -- against soapy water.
Pridham said he suspects that plain water works better than detergent on some stains -- such as wine and grape juice, and that the agitation from today's powerful washing machine is itself enough to wash away much of the dirt.
"Most stains are water soluble," Pridham said. "With today's washing machines, most of them come right out (without detergent.)"
Hunt countered, "We produced independent tests that show the product cleans as well as detergent. Whether it's from pure agitation or some kind of kinetic energy, I couldn't tell you. But the bottom line is that these independent reports verify the product works."
But is it the product that really works or the marketing?
"I'm getting calls about these products from around the country," Pridham said. "These products seem to be sold everywhere through multilevel marketing."
And just last weekend, the Original Laundry Clean Ring made its first appearance on national television.
Total Lifestyle Corp., a publicly traded corporation headquartered in Las Vegas, has begun using infomercials to market the product as "a safe, effective alternative to traditional laundry detergents."
The segment, hosted by ABC's Good Morning America money editor Steve Crowley, features excerpts from a recently completed 90-day consumer test, as well as "candid" interviews with users of the Laundry Ring.
Radd Berrett, president of Total Lifestyle, explained the infomercial is a 50-50 joint venture between his company and William M. Thompson of TV Inc., whose infomercials have grossed nearly $1 billion in revenues in the last decade.
"There's a tremendous amount of interest in the Laundry Ring and there are a lot of happy customers, but the biggest challenge we face in this business is people making claims that they shouldn't be making," Berrett said. "This product is not a magic bullet. Sometimes you need a stain stick, and every once in a while you need to use bleach for your whites, but this product is a good option to detergent, and you can save $400 or $500 bucks a year by using it."
Through the infomercials, executives at Total Lifestyle plan to sell the Laundry Ring to customers across the nation.
"Dynamic ONE Worldwide has exclusive multilevel marketing rights, and that's fine," Berrett said. "We're not interested in regional penetration. We're interested in nationwide sales."
Berrett is familiar with the complaint filed by the Nevada Attorney General's Office against Maunu and Dynamic ONE Worldwide.
"We wish Michael Maunu the best in court," said Berrett, who adds he believes the charges against the product are without merit. "I fear that the (deputy) attorney general has done irreparable damage to that company. It really has been devastating to that company."
About the manufacturer of the Laundry Ring, Berrett said: "There are few people whom I have more respect for than Michael Ansley. There is no gray area in my dealings with him. The guy is straightforward."
When the Laundry Ring is used as directed, Berrett said, "the product truly works. It's environmentally safe, and it has the potential to save people money."
Berman, Maunu's attorney, also touted the benefits to the environment of using the Laundry Ring.
"This offers people an environmentally safe alternative," Berman said. "You have to buy laundry detergent, and you don't produce phosphates that pollute the environment. Does it have to work as well as detergent? Does it have to work almost as well? Obviously, there are advantages to this product."
Another laundry product advertised as "environmentally friendly" is the Ionic 60 Laundry Ball. The product, which sells for $15, is advertised to be reusable for 60 washes.
Spokesman Jack Peck for Sunwest Capital Resources, the Laguna Beach, Calif., company that markets the laundry product, which is the size and shape of a tennis ball, said that unlike other detergent-replacement laundry cleaners, water actually passes through the Ionic 60 Laundry Ball.
Peck explained that there are "high-tech cleaning agents" in the Ionic 60 Laundry Ball that "activate" washing machine water. He added that the product does not contain soaps, dyes or other harsh chemicals.
"Once you use it, you'll see it works," said Peck, who stressed the product's environmental benefits.
"There are many cities, such as Tucson, where homeowners can't use soap in washing machines, because they damage septic tanks," Peck said. "You can see the benefits to this product."