The age-old formula for washing clothes is as simple as it is wasteful: Take gallons of water, add soap, and scrub vigorously. The same recipe applies whether the washing is done on a riverbank, a washboard, or in a Maytag. Now, researchers at Arthur D. Little Inc. in Cambridge, Mass., have come up with a radically new washer that may be a boon to water-strapped regions such as the West Coast.

The washer-dryer was designed for NASA's Space Station Freedom, where water, power, and living space will be at a premium. The vibration-free machine is one-quarter the size of ordinary washers, uses an enzyme-based cleaner, and consumes 20% less power and 80% less water per pound of clothes. The prototype has worked so well that Peter E. Glaser, ADL's vice-president for space operations, believes earthbound appliance makers may be interested. With any luck, the laundromat of the future may be a conservationist's dream.

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