Jerry Seinfeld always insisted that there's no such thing as dry cleaning ("what are you going to do—shake it, tap it, blow on it?," etc.), but it looks like Stephen Burkinshaw, a British professor, has actually invented a (mostly) waterless washing machine, which uses only 2 percent of the energy and water of regular washing machines and could hit the market as soon as next year. The secret? Tiny plastic chips, evidently:

      

Step four looks like a bit of hand-waving, but what do I know? Especially striking is this stat from the Daily Mail: "The average UK household uses almost 21 litres of water daily on clothes washing, 13 per cent of consumption"—enough to fill 145 Olympic-sized swimming pools each day. Here in the United States, washing machines account for roughly 20 percent of residential water use. Presumably machines like this would catch on in California, where water shortages are now thwarting new development. (Though, as The New York Times noted, it's the farmers in California who guzzle up the lion's share of water, and for some reason they're mostly exempt from Arnold Schwarzenegger's new conservation plan. Drier washing machines, it seems, can only do so much.)

--Bradford Plumer