Enviro Friendly Laundry detergent?

behaviorkeltonDecember 5, 2007

Are there laundry detergents that are particularly friendly to the environment?

I now have a front loader, but I'd like to find a laundry detergent that will have the least impact on the environment.

Better yet, I'd like a detergent that I can use as a a gentle grey water (one which will allow me to water plants without modification).

Do the kinds of detergents sold in those hippy health food stores *actually* have a lesser impact?

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...... who cares ???
It's soap .

If you are all into saving the world tell me what car you drive and how you live and so on.

    Bookmark   December 6, 2007 at 2:28AM
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The less extra stuff in your detergent the more easily it will degrade, the happier your plants ( and the planet) will be.
I would check the websites of the various detergents you find and see what they say. also check with your country extension agent about gray water.

Keep asking questions. What you want to know makes sense, it should be common knowledge.

    Bookmark   December 7, 2007 at 9:04AM
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To answer your questions, yes, places like Whole Foods does sell a variety of laudry detergent made with safer ingredients than found in regular detergent.

However, your front-load manufacurer will recommend the use of detergent labled for front-loader (aka HE/"High Efficiency") use for best performance. These do not suds up as much as regular detergent. So you should really look for enviro-safe for front-loaders.

I would risk using the waster water for watering plants. You'd be better of buying/making a rain barrel and attaching that to your roof gutters. Good luck.

    Bookmark   December 7, 2007 at 11:55AM
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We're using a HE product called "Ecos" that our local Costco carries. It claims to be phosphate free and to use a soy-based fabric softener. Has to be cheaper than anything from Whole Foods.

    Bookmark   December 16, 2007 at 10:43PM
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Here you are:

Consumers have become much more concerned about how the products they use impact the environment in recent years. Unfortunately, it can be difficult for even highly educated consumers to find out just what ingredients are in certain products, and how they might impact the environment.

Take the leading brand laundry detergents. You certainly wont get a straight answer by looking at the ingredients label, where you typically find the following cryptic message: "Ingredients include surfactants (anionic and nonionic) and enzymes."

We cannot provide you with specific ingredients used in Tide or other name brand laundry detergents, for a couple reasons. First of all, companies are not required by law to list their ingredients, and claim that their formulations are confidential. Secondly, the ingredients they use change periodically, whether due to reformulation or simply the use of alternative ingredients to reduce costs. However, the following list of ingredients commonly used in the leading brands, along with a description of how they impact the environment, should give you a good idea of whatÂs really inside:

Alkyl benzene sulfonates or ABS (also linear alkyl benzene sulfonates or LAS, linear alkyl sodium sulfonates).
A class of synthetic surfactants (usually identified as "anionic surfactants.") ABS are very slow to biodegrade and seldom used. LAS, however, are the most common surfactants in use. During the manufacturing process, carcinogens and reproductive toxins such as benzene are released into the environment. While LAS do biodegrade, they do so slowly and are of low to moderate toxicity. LAS are synthetic. The pure compounds may cause skin irritation on prolonged contact, just like soap. Allergic reactions are rare. Because oleo-based alternatives are available, LAS should not be used.

Alkyl phenoxy polyethoxy ethanols (also nonyl phenoxy ethoxylate or nonyl phenol).

This is a general name for a group of synthetic surfactants. They are slow to biodegrade in the environment and have been implicated in chronic health problems. Researchers in England have found that in trace amounts they activate estrogen receptors in cells, which in turn alters the activity of certain genes. For example, in experiments they have been found to stimulate the growth of breast cancer cells and feminize male fish. One member of this family of chemicals is used as a common spermicide, indicating the general level of high biological toxicity associated with these compounds.

Artificial fragrances

Artificial fragrances are made from petroleum. Many do not degrade in the environment, and may have toxic effects on both fish and mammals. Additionally, they often can cause allergies and skin or eye irritation.

Diethanolamines (also diethanolamine, triethanolamine and monoethanolamine).

A synthetic family of surfactants, this group of compounds is used to neutralize acids in products to make them non-irritating. Diathanolamines are slow to biodegrade and they react with natural nitrogen oxides and sodium nitrite pollutants in the atmosphere to form nitrosamines, a family of

potent carcinogens.

EDTA (ethylene-diamino-tetra-acetate).

A class of synthetic, phosphate-alternative compounds used to reduce calcium and magnesium hardness in water. EDTA is also used to prevent bleaching agents from becoming active before they're immersed in water and as a foaming stabilizer. EDTA does not readily biodegrade and once introduced into the general environment can re-dissolve toxic heavy metals trapped in underwater sediments, allowing them to re-enter and re-circulate in the food chain.

Optical brighteners

Optical brighteners are a broad classification of many different synthetic chemicals that, when applied to clothing, convert UV light wavelengths to visible light, thus making laundered clothes appear "whiter." Their inclusion in any formula does not enhance or affect the product's performance in any way; they simply trick the eye. Optical brighteners do not readily biodegrade. They are toxic to fish when washed into the general environment and can create bacterial mutations. They can cause allergic reaction when in contact with skin that is then exposed to sunlight. Most optical brighteners are given trade names which consumers are unlikely to

see on a label.

Petroleum distillates (also naphthas).

A broad category encompassing almost every type of chemical obtained directly from the petroleum refining process. Any ingredient listed as a "petroleum distillate" or "naphtha" should be suspect as it is, firstly a synthetic and, secondly, likely to cause one or more detrimental health or environmental effects.


A key nutrient in ecosystems, phosphates are natural minerals important to the maintenance of all life. Their role in laundry detergents is to remove hard water minerals and thus increase the effectiveness of the detergents themselves. They are also a deflocculating agent; that is, they prevent dirt from settling back onto clothes during washing. While relatively non-irritating and non-toxic in the environment, they nonetheless contribute to significant eutrophication of waterways and create unbalanced ecosystems by fostering dangerously explosive marine plant

growth. For these reasons they are banned or restricted in many states. Products containing phosphates should be considered unacceptable.

Note: The major laundry detergent manufacturers no longer use phosphates in their formulations.


Similar in chemical structure to certain plastics and acrylic compounds, these are relatively new, synthetic phosphate substitutes. Because they are recent additions to the consumer product chemical arsenal, however, their effects on human and environmental health remain largely unknown. Though tests show they are non-toxic, do not interfere with treatment plant operation and generally settle out with the sludge during water treatment, until further study and analysis are conducted, use of this ingredient is not recommended. Further, they are not biodegradable and are petroleum based.

Polyethylene glycol (also PEG).

Another type of anti-redeposition agent, PEG is a polymer made from ethylene oxide and is similar to some non-ionic detergents. Not considered toxic, it takes large doses to be lethal in animals. However, PEG is slow to degrade and is synthetic.

Quaternium 15

An alkyl ammonium chloride used as a surfactant, disinfectant and deodorant that releases formaldehyde, a potent toxin.

Xylene sulfonate

Xylene is a synthetic that, when reacted with sulfuric acid, creates a surfactant. Slow to biodegrade in the environment and moderately toxic.

    Bookmark   December 18, 2007 at 7:54AM
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I'm a huge fan of Charlie's Soap (powder), having converted from years of using homemade laundry soap and ALL Free-and-Clear.

I used 2 of the 80-load bags to see how it performed, and then purchased the 5-gallon bucket (1280 loads), which will serve our laundry needs for about 3.5 years at a cost of just over 9 cents per load.

I dry the laundry on a line (inside or outside), and you'll find Charlie's Soap leaves the clothing less stiff. They are even softer when you take them wet out of the washer. I never use toxic softeners either, but use white vinegar in the rinse.

One drawback... Don't go switching back and forth between standard laundry detergent and Charlie's. Once you get all the soap and softener residue out of your clothing, you'll find Charlie's works even better. But if you switch back and forth, it's kinda a futile battle.

If you have any questions you can call their toll-free number: 1-800-854-3541. Very kind and helpful folks! You'll find a lot of discussion on the Laundry forum about Charlie's Soap. That's where I learned about it.


    Bookmark   December 21, 2007 at 11:55AM
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we use mrs meyers, work great. takes out ground in dirt that regular detergents wouldn't touch


    Bookmark   December 23, 2007 at 10:27PM
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Thanks for the Mrs. Meyers and Charlie links.

Dang, you'd think I could have found them by Googling... but they didn't show up.

Thanks again

    Bookmark   December 29, 2007 at 10:47PM
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I swear by Seventh Generation brand products. I've used the laundry detergent and other products for a couple years now & very happy with everything I use.

Here's the link:

The website explains their ingredients & philosophy much better than I can. Basically, the detergent uses plant-based ingredients. Not petroleum-based. Don't need refineries just to make soap. There's a lot on the website...plus printable coupons.

In my area, I find a few products here & there in various stores. The best selections are in natural food stores. Walgreens carries more than any other chain/box store. Plus, Walgreens has sales.

    Bookmark   January 12, 2008 at 8:31PM
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I have tried various detergents that claim to be environmentally friendly, and have a range of different opinions on them. Generally, I do find that they clean comparatively to conventional phosphate-free brands, which is what I would otherwise be buying.

The other major differences I notice are the packet sizes (normally smaller than other brands), and the price. Detergents that claim to be environmentally friendly cost a lot more. I have also found that while I can cut back significantly on the amount I use with conventional powders and still get very good cleaning results, the eco-detergents do not normally work well when you reduce the dose. This makes them even more expensive in use, and I find that combined with the smaller packets I also generate a lot more waste when I use them.

I also have concerns that their production is not consuming less resources. I suspect some might even use more. When we make a product from plant materials on a large scale, those plants have to be commercially grown. Farming is a huge consumer of fossil fuels, both for powering machinery and producing agricultural chemicals. It contributes to water pollution and uses a lot of land too. It is entirely possible for a bottle of plant based detergent to have consumed more oil than an ordinary bottle, even though it has no petrochemicals in it.

Another issue is that non-petrochemical does not mean synthetic free. The raw materials, of whatever origin, plant or petrochemical can be (and usually are) dramatically changed during processing to create any number of synthetic compounds that are not naturally present in the environment where we dispose of waste water. I can think of some ecological products that use the exact same detergents as conventional brands, they simply produce them from plant materials rather than petrochemicals. I have wondered if it is in fact more efficient to turn the oil directly in to the detergents than it is using it to grow plants to make the same detergent.

Then there are products that claim environmental advantages I'm convinced they will not provide. I have found allegedly ecological washing powders which contain phosphates, despite their well known adverse effect on the environment.

Without answers to these questions, which have not been well addressed by the companies who produce the products, I'm not convinced that the ecological products are better for the environment. There may even be a compelling case that some are worse.

I've gone back to using a conventional supermarket brand. It's phosphate free, which does make a positive difference to the environment, and it can be bought in large cardboard packets that are 100% recyclable when eventually empty. It also works well in small amounts.

Too many people use far too much product, I'm sure that a vast quantity of excess cleaning product is sent down the drain every day, and using too much means more packaging waste as well. We might realise more environmental benefits from tackling this waste than trying to encourage people to use ecological products that may not be any better than others. Unfortunately there are few companies, ecological or not who see any advantage in taking up the waste cause. There is simply no profit in conservation and moderating consumption.

    Bookmark   January 20, 2008 at 10:03AM
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Charlie's Soap is a great natural detergent. It comes in a small paper package and you use 1 tablespoon per wash load. All ingredients are listed on the package. You can buy it at natural type grocery stores or at www.charliesoap.com.

I'm not in any way affiliated with the company, I just really like their product.

    Bookmark   January 20, 2008 at 2:50PM
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+1 - Seventh Generation

    Bookmark   January 20, 2008 at 9:48PM
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Me too on the Charlie's soap. . . My daughter was having huge problems since switching to a front-loader -- expecially "clean" towels with had a sour odor when used. I found out about CS on the laundry forum and after switching the odor gradually disppeared. I've had a FL for about 3 months and have used nothing but CS and am pleased with the cleaning, softness, and scent. Highly recommend it!

    Bookmark   January 24, 2008 at 12:41AM
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