Green laundry detergent
A green detergent should be non-toxic and biodegradable with no petroleum based ingredients, no optical brighteners and no dyes or fragrances.
Natural and eco-friendly home laundry products have been in use for centuries. They were replaced by chemical based detergents as science progressed. With the rise in environmental concerns among mainstream consumers, green laundry detergents have once again become popular.
The ingredients used in laundry detergents first caught the attention of the public in the late 1960s when gobs of green gunk appeared as water bodies got polluted. This was largely attributed to phosphates in detergents. In time, phosphates were banned in laundry detergents.
Why should I be aware of this?
- Most commercially available laundry detergents still include toxic ingredients such as NPE (nonylphenoxyethoxylate), a petroleum-derived nonionic surfactant; chlorine bleach; LAS (linear alkylbenzenesulfonate), a petroleum-derived anionic surfactant; and synthetic fragrances, which can contain toxic substances like phthalates.
- Many green detergents are also not as "green" as they claim. They might have an adverse impact on our health and the health of the environment. It is important to know what to look for while buying green laundry detergents.
How does this affect me?
Conventional detergents leave chemical residues on the clothes. These residues enter our bodies either through the skin or through the lungs. They cause many common health problems including allergies, skin infections. Children might be sensitive to dtergents. Some exhibit breathing problems and sensitivity to odors.
All about green laundry detergents
- Green laundry detergents are made of non-toxic, biodegradable, plant-derived and non-volatile materials. Most "green" laundry detergents use oil made from plants, such as corn, palm kernel and coconut. In addition, they avoid use of ingredients that can be harmful to aquatic life.
- Typical ingredients may include corn and coconut-based for surfactants, soda ash and borax for water softeners and sodium gluconate and sorbitol as a natural anti-redeposition agent.
- A true green detergent is sensitive to a person's carbon footprint. 80% of the energy used during laundry is to heat the water. A green detergent is effective in cold water.
- Powdered laundry soap is cheaper and also uses fewer resources to create than liquid soap. But liquid detergents do dissolve much easier in cold or hard water.
Chemicals to watch out for
It is not mandatory for laundry detergents to list the ingredients on their label. A committed eco friendly detergent will list all its ingresients on the product label. Some detergents might be made from a combination of plant based ingredients and synthetic chemicals. You need to watch out for these chemicals and avoid products that use them.
- Artificial fragrances -- Artificial fragrances are made from petroleum. As they do not degrade, they are toxic. They can cause rashes and skin irritations and also contribute to the loss of marine life and algae growth.
- EDTA (ethylene-diamino-tetra-acetate) is a phosphate-alternative compound used to reduce calcium and magnesium hardness in water. It is also a foaming stabilizer and prevents bleaching agents from becoming active before they are immersed in water. But it is toxic and does not readily biodegrade often bonding with other toxic heavy metals found in water.
- Optical brighteners are a broad classification of many different synthetic chemicals that do not get your clothes any cleaner or make your detergent any stronger. They simply convert UV light wavelengths to visible light thereby making laundered clothes appear "whiter." Since they do not readily biodegrade, they are extremely toxic to fish and other marine life.
- Polyethylene glycol (PEG) is a polymer that acts as anti-redeposition agent keeping dirt from getting back onto clothing in the wash water. Made from ethylene oxide, it is similar to some non-ionic detergents and is not considered toxic but does add to overall pollution.
Certifications for green laundry detergents
When looking for a truly non-toxic laundry detergent look for third party certification.
- Leaping Bunny -- Companies with this logo have pledged not to conduct animal testing on either their products or the ingredients which are used in those products.
- Green Seal -- This label means that the cleaning product has met rigorous health and environmental standards which include:
- Non – corrosive to human body.
- Will not cause illness when absorbed or inhaled.
- Does not contain 2-utylehanol, alkylphenol etholxylate, phthalates, heavy metals, optical brighteners or ozone-depleting compounds.
- Does not contain any ingredient determined by the UN to be mutagenic.
- Does not contain any reproductive toxin.
- Does not contain any known carcinogenic chemical (based on requirements of 5 different agencies).
- Can not be combustible, and can not contain air pollutants.
- Must perform as well as a conventional product.
It is a myth that a green laungry detergent using plant based ingredients does not have harmful effect on the environment. Even plant based surfactants often carry with them dangerous impurities that arise from the manufacturing process, and which can not be completely removed. Do not buy a detergent simply because it states on the label that it is ecologically friendly, or that it is non-toxic or bio degradable. Since most substances do eventually break down, and since even conventional cleaning products are designed with this in mind, the term “biodegradable” is not an indicator of a safe detergent.
What can I do?
- Do not use detergents that contain enzymes when cleaning carpets and upholstery. Upholstery and carpet cleaning techniques do not necessarily completely remove all traces of cleaning substances from the area, and enzymes which remain in the fibers of these household items may become air borne and lead to asthma and respiratory allergies in susceptible individuals.
- Because standard laundry manufacturers do not have to list ingredients on packaging, you might consider a laundry detergent that voluntarily lists its formulation and advocates environmental responsibility.
- The definition of toxin changes depending who is defining a toxin. The industry likes to define toxin in terms of risk. Choose old fashioned "no risk" ingredients, not "low risk" commercial alternatives. Read the fine print on the label.
Home made detergent
- 1 cup soap flakes
- 1/2 cup washing soda
- 1/2 cup Borax
Soap flakes can be made by grating your favorite pure vegetable soap with a cheese grater. Mix ingredients together and store in a glass container. Use 1 tablespoon per load (2 for heavily soiled laundry), wash in warm or cold water. This standard recipe can be adjusted for soft water by using 1 cup soap flakes, 1/4 cup washing soda adn 1/2 cup borax. For hard water, use 1 cup soap flakes, 1 cup washing soda, and 1 cup borax.