Thursday, August 30, 2007

Reader Question: Greening your Laundry Detergent

Our first question comes from Amy in Ann Arbor, MI. She wants to know what laundry detergent to use that is both eco-friendly and can be used with a newborn in her growing family.

First of all, the #1 thing to do to "green" your washing machine is to wash everything in COLD. Most of the energy that is used for washing clothes comes from heating the water, and the vast majority of our homes are supplied by electricity from coal or natural gas-fired power plants which are the most significant source of pollution in our homes.

Here is what else I dug up on eco-friendly laundry...
1. What to avoid to protect the water supply, air quality and human health: petroleum-based chemicals, optical brightners, dyes or artificial fragrances.
2. Instead, look for brands that are biodegradable, non-toxic, vegetable-based cleansers, dye-free, and either fragrance free or fragranced using natural essential oils.

At our house, I use the Whole Foods 365 brand laundry powder, mainly because of its low cost. Admittedly, it doesn't remove all of the tough preschool stains we have around here. But, it won't irritate our skin or eyes, has no chemicals in it that may cause cancer, and won't pollute the environment. None of our old brands cleaned everything perfectly either.

For a home with a new baby, I would recommend using Seventh Generation's Baby Laundry Detergent or their Free and Clear version. Both are similar and are free of dyes and fragrances which can irritate a baby's skin. Just because these detergents are gentle it doesn't mean that they are not effective enough for cleaning all of your family's clothes. There are other "free and clear" laundry detergent brands on the market. But, I cannot confirm that they are not made with petroleum based chemicals. So, though they won't irritate your family's skin, they will pollute our air and water.

Other recommended brands are: Ecover, Sun & Earth, and Natural Choices Home Safe Products.

Also, exchange chlorine bleach (a known carcinogen) for oxygen bleaches, and add 1/2 cup of baking soda to your laundry's rinse cycle instead of using fabric softener.

For more resources on greening your laundry detergent check out these resources:
1. Green Clean: The Environmentally Sound Guide to Cleaning Your Home by Linda Mason Hunter and Mikki Halpin
2. Clean House, Clean Planet: Clean Your House for Pennies a Day The Safe, Non-Toxic Way by Karen Logan
3. Co-op America (details a very inexpensive way to use castille soap to clean your laundry.)
4. The Green Guide (includes user feedback on some eco-friendly laundry detergent brands)
5. The Green Guide (more DIY recipes)

Thanks for the question, Amy!
Look for more info on high efficiency washing machines and how to save energy when drying in a future post.
Keep the questions coming to


Ally said...

We've had good success with Seventh Generation brand laundry detergent.

Dede said...

Thanks for the tips;
Caution to sensitive Skin Types:
I tried the 365 Laundry detergent Citrus Scent (they were giving it away free at Whole Foods) but it gave my 5 yr old and 8 yr old a rash. I will check to see if they have an unscented version or try the 7th Generation you mentioned...