Washing machines stuffed with millions of little nylon balls might be the start of a revolution in how we wash textiles, if Xeros has its way.

After several years of research the company is selling commercial washing machines that use a fraction of the water of traditional machines, thanks to the small balls that fill the washer drum and act as cleaning agents.

“If you take it all the way back to basically beating a textile or garment on a rock on a river, that’s really the same type of science that’s been in place around cleaning things — textiles in particular — since the beginning of time,” said Jonathan Benjamin, Xeros president for North America. His company hopes to drive the industry forward.

The technology has its roots at the University of Leeds, where researchers were trying to dye fabrics more effectively. While experimenting with polymer beads, they noticed the beads were excellent at absorbing things. Why not use the beads to create a greener washing machine?

When the wash cycle begins 1.3 million of the tiny balls fill the machine, mix with water and extract stains and dirt. Xeros supplies its own detergent that is engineered to work best with the machine and the beads. During the wash cycle the balls exit the washing machine’s drum through small holes. They can be reused for 500 wash cycles.

“At the end of the day you get 99.99999 percent of the beads out of the load, you may have a couple left that kind of work their way through,” Benjamin said.

Xeros has installed 30 machines this year and plans to install 150 by year’s end.

Crest Cleaners chief executive David Slan first encountered Xeros a couple years ago. “I thought it was the coolest thing in the world,” Slan told me.

He now has four machines in his 14 locations. He wants his locations to be 100 percent Xeros in a few years, but is currently limited by the size of the machines. The Xeros machine delivers only half the throughput per square foot of a traditional washing machine, according to Slan.

“If there’s one negative right now it’s the fact that the footprint of the machines is quite large compared to a traditional washer. As we know with technology, things get smaller,” Slan said.

He described his current savings on utility costs as “not earth-shattering,” but a smart investment to position his company for an inevitable rise in water and sewage fees.

“The laundry when it comes out, it’s cleaner, it’s fresher smelling,” said Chad Hanson, regional vice president for the Witham Group, which operates 17 hotels.

Hanson installed three of the machines in his hotels in July. His old 60-pound commercial machines used 115 gallons of water for a load. The Xeros machines use 30.

Because linens emerge dryer, he’s shaving eight minutes off the time it takes to dry sheets, and five to six minutes for drying a load of towels. The machines almost never use hot water, which he estimates will knock 10 percent off his natural gas bill.

If Xeros succeeds in commercial washing machines, the next logical step would be bringing more environmentally-friendly washing machines to the residential market.