Ozone has a complex personality. It's unhealthful at ground level, but in the upper atmosphere it blocks harmful solar rays. Now, it can also help do the laundry. Man-made ozone--generated by zapping air with electricity to make a gas composed of three oxygen atoms--is a powerful oxidizer that kills bacteria and decomposes organic stains. When ozone is dissolved into wash water, washing machines can get by with less detergent, cooler water, less agitation, and less damage to fabrics. Laundry Logic Inc. in Conshohocken, Pa., and Pure Water Corp. in Kansas City, Kan., have sold a handful of systems that pump ozone into modified commercial washing machines.

Tri-O-Clean Laundry Systems Inc. in Fort Pierce, Fla., sells systems that use cold water and no detergent at all. They filter and recycle most of the water. Tougher environmental regulations should spur demand, says Charles I. Pearsall, managing director for marketing: "Water is going to be a very expensive commodity in the next 10 years, and so is sewage."

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