What if you could clean a load of dirty clothes and linens with just a spoonful of laundry detergent and a single cup of water? As soon as late 2010, commercial laundry rooms in hotels, hospitals, and the like may have the option to save massive amounts of (increasingly expensive) water by switching over to a revolutionary new washing technology. A nearly waterless washing machine designed by a company called Xeros (Greek for “dry”) purportedly uses only 10% of the water sucked up by conventional machines. The rest of the dirty work is done by little “rice-sized nylon beads,” according to BusinessWeeks’ Adam Aston, which “act like chemical magnets, absorbing grime and soap as they tumble over fabric.” Aston writes that the Xeros venture has already been backed by “some $3 million in public and venture capital funds,” and is slated to hit the market, well, relatively soon.

Here’s how it works: when a wash load gets going, that lone cup of water creates humidity, which makes the nylon polymer beads absorbent. The beads then beat into fabrics as the machine spins, and suck stains and dirt right into their spongy centers. When the load is done, they’re corralled through an outlet in the machine (so users don’t have to do any separating of clothes and beads), where they’re stored for the next use. One batch of beads will last for about 100 loads of laundry, so replacement is no hassle.

This is where things really start to sound too good to be true. According to an article in Gizmag, which covered the new ecovention earlier this year, the Xeros machine cleans clothes perfectly without a spin or rinse cycle, thereby using a mere 2% of the electricity guzzled by a conventional machine. But wait! There’s more. No need to dry clothes, since they emerge from the Xeros ready to fold or wear. The energy savings, needless to say, could be as astronomical as the water savings.

Seeing is believing, so check out the picture that GizMag ran with their story: it features a Cambridge Consultants staffer holding a bucket of the nylon beads, letting a handful of the little buggers sift and pour through his fingers. Sure enough, they look just like grains of rice.

And you’ll never guess the name of Xeros’ CEO. Bill Westwater.