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Washing Detergent Washing Detergent

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Go green with your laundry with natural and organic laundry detergent


Laundry detergents may contain three potentially harmful components:


Phosphates encourage algae blooms in waterways; if you have ever swam in a reedy lake, that body of water was probably extremely high in phosphates due to runoff from fertilizer and laundry detergent.

Nonylphenol Ethoxylate (NPE)

This surfactant (wetting agent that lowers surface tension of liquid) is an endocrine disruptor and estrogen mimic, potentially causing hormonal problems or even cancer.  See the reports section for an excellent report by the Sierra Club on NPE’s.


Causes disruption to breathing.

The problem is that bits of the detergent stay on your clothes long after you remove them from the laundry room, ensuring that they will come into contact with your skin.  Also phosphates are a major threat to the continued sustainability of our waterways.


Green Living Tips


“Does Not Contain…”

Look for natural and organic detergents at the store that contain no phosphates.  Phosphates are the area of most concern when it comes to the environment; they choke up waterways and destroy fragile aqueous ecosystems. 

When looking at ingredients at the store, you are better off looking at what the detergent does not contain than what the detergent does contain; most manufacturers do not list what is in the product, and are not yet required to by law. 

You may also want to look for a green detergent that has no NPE as described above or bleach.  Most manufacturers have ruled out phosphates, but not all have ruled out these two ingredients which are more toxic to humans than they are to waterways. 

Phosphates are just the “easy” way to get laundry clean; there are other things that can be used that cost just a little more money that can replace them completely.  It is up to us as consumers to ensure that our buying power goes where manufacturers are applying natural and organic solutions rather than just trying to cut costs and use fancy marketing to get around the less environmentally acceptable aspects of a product.

Is it Really Dirty?

We are programmed to wash clothes after one wearing.  This is not necessary.  Wash clothes only if they need it – if they are soiled or if they have been worn a few times.  Reuse towels and facecloths where you can.  This will not only reduce the amount of laundry detergent used, it will ensure that your clothes last longer.

Coldwater Washing is Hot

Cold water detergents are even available in phosphate-free versions to further the environmental benefits. By washing your clothes in cold water, you will save loads of money on electricity, and of course this qualifies as being more energy efficient and environmentally friendly.  The maker of Tide Coldwater, Proctor and Gamble, has stated that the average household can save $63.00 a year if they wash all of their laundry in cold water (both wash and rinse cycles).

Super Green Me Tips


Choose Biodegradable detergent

Biodegradable laundry detergent does not contain the harmful ingredients listed above, as phosphates and NPE’s will just stay in the environment rather than degrading.  This is also a necessity if your laundry is going into a septic tank or similar wastewater treatment system.

Go Natural – Organic Detergents

It is possible to purchase organic detergents that not only meet all of the above criteria, but are also made mostly or entirely from natural sources.  These “super-green” natural laundry detergents also have minimal packaging and may be made in smaller batches, so they may be available only at your local natural health products store.  Organic detergents will also be biodegradable, and most will contain plant oils and no petroleum. 

Can they get clothes clean?  The charge against most of these detergents is that they spend too much time looking at the ingredients and not enough time focusing on the core problem of getting clothes clean.  The best way to determine which eco laundry brand is best for you is to buy a few small bottles and try them out, and settle on the one that is best for you.

Don’t dismiss them as being too expensive.  Seventh Generation laundry detergent is listed at costing the same as major brand names – 30 cents per load.

Homemade - make your own laundry detergent

This step not only ensures that you are not using packaging or contributing to the carbon footprint by purchasing something made in another country or region, it will save you loads of cash.  Follow the instructions in the article below:

Effectiveness / Result

Clean clothes, waterways free from algal blooms, and less allergies and breathing problems due to the use of bleach in detergents.

Watersheds free from phosphates are less likely to require costly water treatment plants to make the water safe for drinking.  Phosphates choke off waterways with algal blooms, destroying the ecosystem of the waterway, killing the wildlife that rely on that ecosystem, and making the water less safe to drink.

Even the most advanced water treatment plants cannot treat water for NPE’s.

The Facts

The average family washes approximately 36 kilograms or 80 pounds of laundry per week.  This amounts in the US to 35 billion loads of laundry per year.  The average amount of laundry detergent used in a load of laundry is a ½ cup.  This means that 17.5 billion cups of laundry detergent are being used per year in the US alone. 

Since manufacturers are not allowed to list ingredients, one can only estimate the amounts of phosphates and other harmful chemicals that are touching our bodies and entering our waterways.  If your household alone converts to a natural, organic detergent your impact on the environment will be immediate and recognizable.  If you switch to coldwater washing in the bargain, you will also be saving more than $300.00 per year. 

Estimated annual consumption of household detergents in Europe
(Henkel, internal market data)
Product Annual consumption (2005)                          Europe (tons)    % of total

Heavy Duty Laundry detergents (powders & liquids)     4 440 000          45%

Fabric softeners                                                       1 540 000          16%

All-purpose cleaning agents                                       1 470 000          15%

Hand dishwashing agents                                          1 000 000           10%

Laundry Additives                                                     717 350              5%

Machine dishwashing agents                                      528 000*            6%

*only ca. 48% of this tonnage refers to P-containing cleaners, the remaining tonnage is related to salt, rinser, etc.
Table sourced from


  • Report on phosphates in Australian Waterways:
  • Governmental Report (EU) on Phosphates in Detergents:
  • The Role of Detergents in the Phosphate-Balance of
  • European Surface Waters
Submitted by angelawest on Aug 5, 2008