Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Eco Friendly Laundry part 1: Washing

For years I have been giving away my recipes and tips for eco friendly and money saving cleaning products to anyone who wants them. In fact, I offer my best ones on my website for all to share. But in all this time I haven't had many converts that I know of. I can personally vouch for how inexpensive and easy they are to make and how wonderful they are to use and how they surprisingly work better than all those nasty smelling, harsh expensive, commercial products I bought for years. But I've always just touted the benefits.

What I have failed to do all these years is the fire and brimstone preaching equivalent of gaining converts. I've never bothered to use the scare tactics of harsh reality. And truthfully, that's not my style and I don't really want to start now. But there are a few facts that you ought to know about the products that you are bringing into your home and using in your own personal environment, on your garments, on your bedding and towels and dinner napkins and everything else in your home that you and your family are in nearly constant contact with day in and day out.

This is the first in a five part series on Eco Friendly Laundry.

I must admit that I don't make my own laundry detergent. It's not quite as easy to do as making some other products if you like liquid detergents though it is possible. Dry laundry soap is easier to make, but me and my machine prefer liquid so I buy it. Read on for my recommendation.

FACT:  Did you know that makers of laundry soap, softeners, bleaching agents, household cleaners, etc are NOT required by law to disclose what their products contain? Nope, they aren't. They may list some of the ingredients on the bottle, but they don't have to fully disclose what's in there. Sometimes they are protecting their secret recipes. Sometimes they just don't want you to know. Most eco-friendly brands voluntarily list ALL of the ingredients.

Most commercial laundry cleaning products are DETERGENTS.  Detergents by definition are petroleum based. Petroleum based products are slow to biodegrade. SOAPS on the other hand are plant based. They biodegrade much more quickly. Eco friendly laundry cleaning products are generally soap.

The used water that drains from your washer doesn't just go to the treatment plant to be treated and then returned to the system. Waste water treatment is not a closed system. Some water is released back into the environment and the treatments used cannot break down many of the chemicals used in making laundry detergents. They are released into an eco system that is not designed to deal with them. The water that is not released back into the environment does go right back to you and all your neighbors.

Eco-friendly brands contain highly effective plant based enzymes or ethanol instead solvents for removing stains. Solvents are harsh on the eco-system (your family is part of the eco-system). Traditional detergents also usually contain synthetic fragrances many of which have been proven harmful to marine life or have been found to be carcinogenic. The big commercial brands are heavy on surfactants some of which can mimic hormones in the bloodstream or can damage the immune system.

SIDE NOTE: Thankfully, the use of phosphates in laundry detergents has been banned for some time, but they are still used in some of your other cleaning products such as dishwasher detergent. Phosphates are basically fertilizer which end up in waterways causing excess growth of algae and water plants which deplete the oxygen and kill fish and wildlife. Phosphates are so bad that several states are now adopting a voluntary ban on them in dishwasher detergents as well.

I know you aren't ingesting your laundry detergent, but putting anything on or against your skin can cause it to enter your bloodstream if the particles are small enough. That's why applying a muscle rub like Aspercreme topically can ease the pain of the underlying muscles by sending the asprin it contains right to the effected muscles. That's why taking a nice hot bath with Epsom salts can almost magically sooth sore muscles. The magnesium in the salts enters your bloodstream. Sure, you can also take a magnesium supplement, but soaking in a bath of magnesium salts gives your skin direct contact all over your body and works much faster than ingesting the magnesium. Any residue left from your laundry products is on your clothes, your towels, your bedding, the air you breathe and some of it can certainly can enter your body.

Got your attention now?

BUT . . .

You've been using the same detergent for years and you know how it works, you like how it smells, you can pick it up while you shop for groceries . . . .

OR . . .

You buy whatever is on sale or you have a coupon for and those swishy eco-friendly products are more expensive and there are never any sales or coupons.

OR . . .

How can these things even clean well if they are so "gentle" to the environment?

To the first and last argument, I say just give it a try. When I tried it I was very pleasantly surprised because even though I was using less of the concentrated formula and it was unscented my clothes looked and even smelled cleaner. The brand I buy is available in almost every grocery store chain.

To those worried about your budget, take a look at the number of loads that the expensive little bottle of eco friendly detergent will wash. Compare price per load rather than price per container. And go on-line and you'll very likely find a coupon to print off. My favorite brand has an on-line coupon club. If your sale brand still comes out ahead in the price department consider if those few cents per load are worth it.

And what is my favorite brand? For years I have been using Seventh Generation. It's one of the most available brands out there so you're sure to be able to find it. I liked it so well from the start that I admit I haven't tried many other brands. It works equally as well on delicates as it does on dirty gardening clothes and my sweaty TaeKwonDo uniform so it's the only thing I buy. It comes in liquid and powder and does go on sale sometimes.

I did also try the Costco brand of eco-friendly detergent. The price was nice but I was highly disappointed to discover it contained a lot of synthetic fragrance.

P.S. I also use Seventh Generation dishwashing liquid. They also have a wonderful Blog and if you become their friend on their Facebook Page you'll receive an update every time there is a new post.

Check in next time for the second post in the five part series which will be on bleaches.


  1. Excellent information! I am not doing the laundry any longer since stairs are a no no for me, and my daughter uses what she uses. I have instructed her to use an eco-friendly detergent with no added odors for me.


  2. Looking forward to the rest of the series! Unfortunately 7th Generation don't sell in the UK. I use Ecover. Its OK, but not as effective as the chemical versions used to be - I wouldn't go back though. Just interested in better stuff. Also would love to know how to make the washing smell better! Thank you

  3. Great information. I must admit I am one of those old dogs who is reluctant to try new tricks. But, more and more lately, I have been paying attention to the chemicals that come into my house. Thanks for the information and I will see if I can find that Seventh Generation brand here. I have to wait until I use up all of my bad stuff first. ♥

  4. Julie, I use the Ecover laundry stain remover and find that it works quite well.

    Keep reading the tips to find out how to make your laundry smell better, but--as a sneak peak--adding some white vinegar to the rinse cycle will remove almost any odor AND help set dyes.

    Using up the old stuff is the best way to get rid of it--or donate it.