Do you want your home to be more environmentally kind? Do you want to prevent your family from coming in contact with harmful chemicals? A great place to start is with your laundry. We'll tell you about the benefits of environmentally kind laundry detergent because at DYPER we care about your family.
The low-down on environmentally kind laundry products
The idea that environmentally kind laundry detergents cost more than their conventional counterparts and don't clean as well is a myth. Many environmentally kind laundry detergents are comparable to conventional laundry detergents in cost, and they're just as effective at cleaning your laundry. But what does "environmentally kind" really mean?
When a laundry detergent really is environmentally kind, it doesn't contain any ingredients that are harmful to the environment or to human health. An environmentally kind laundry detergent is kind for your family and you, and won’t cause any harm to your local waterways.
The biggest thing to consider when deciding what laundry detergent to buy is the ingredient list. Because the terms “environmentally kind” and “green’ are not regulated by the government, they can be used inappropriately in marketing; look past a product’s green claims and check out the ingredients instead. The easiest way to look for ingredients is to check the back label of the product; look for any chemicals or additives that can irritate skin or harm aquatic life.
What's the best environmentally kind laundry detergent? A good, environmentally responsible laundry detergent doesn't contain any of the following harmful ingredients:
- Surfactants. These are a major component of laundry detergent. They break up stains and disperse dirt that doesn't dissolve in water. Surfactants are toxic to aquatic life. They destroy the mucus layers that protect fish from bacteria and parasites, damage the gills, and decrease the breeding ability of aquatic organisms. Sodium lauryl sulfate/sodium lauryl ether sulfate (a.k.a. sodium laureth sulfate), commonly used surfactants, are the main ingredient in most conventional laundry detergents. They can irritate the skin, according to one study.
- Phosphate. This ingredient is used in many conventional detergents to soften hard water. The trouble with phosphate is that it's still active even after wastewater is treated. Once it enters waterways, it encourages the overgrowth of algae. This drastically reduces the amount of oxygen in the water and results in decreased levels of aquatic organisms, including fish.
- 1,4-dioxane. This isn't an ingredient, but instead is a manufacturing by-product that occurs when certain ingredients are mixed in a process called ethoxylation. For example, when sodium lauryl sulfate is used in detergents, it is ethoxylated to convert it to sodium laureth sulfate, which is gentler on the skin. In the process, 1,4-dioxane is created. The EPA classifies 1,4-dioxane as a carcinogen. 1,4 dioxane is present in some public water supplies. An Environmental Working Group test found that from 2013 to 2019, 90 million people received water contaminated with 1,4-dioxane.
- Optical brighteners. These are chemicals added to detergents to make laundry look brighter and whiter without removing or adding color. They are not biodegradable, so once they enter wastewater they stay there. They bioaccumulate into aquatic life and pose a hazard over extended periods. They can cause skin irritation in people with allergies, and increase sensitivity to the sun.
- Artificial fragrances. These can irritate skin, and may cause long-term damage to aquatic life downstream by interfering with the ability to eliminate toxins, according to a 2004 study.
- Dichlorobenzene. This is another highly toxic chemical used in conventional detergents. Dichlorobenzene is dangerous to aquatic life and can continue poisoning it for years. For humans, the fumes of dichlorobenzene can damage the eyes, and it is listed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a possible carcinogen.
Ingredients aren't the only thing to consider when deciding which environmentally kin laundry detergent to buy — packaging is also an important consideration. The most environmentally resonsible laundry detergent is one that is not packaged in plastic. If you find a laundry detergent that doesn't contain harmful ingredients but is packaged in plastic, it is not environmentally kind.
Plastic laundry detergent containers are generally not reusable or recyclable. Laundry detergent comes in are HDPE jugs, and only 30 percent of all HDPE jugs of any kind are recycled in the U.S. The other 70 percent end up in landfills where they emit methane, a greenhouse gas with a warming potential 86 times that of carbon dioxide.
Plastic takes about 400 years to break down, according to National Geographic. North Americans do an estimated 35 billion loads of laundry every year, using about 1.4 ounces of detergent each time; that adds up to a huge amount of HDPE plastic laundry detergent jugs that mostly end up in landfills and contribute to climate change. By opting for laundry detergent that isn't packaged in plastic, you can make a difference in the environment and teach your kids to care about the environment while doing so.
Washing your clothes to benefit the environment
There's no difference between the way you use environmentally kind laundry detergents and their conventional counterparts. However, beyond the ingredients and packaging of the laundry detergent you choose, how you wash your clothes matters. Once you choose the best laundry detergent for your family, consider these tips to step up your laundry game:
- Cut back on the amount of detergent you use for each load. Consumers tend to use 30 percent too much detergent when they do laundry, according to Ryan McKenzie, co-founder of Tru Earth. “The majority of the cleaning action that happens in your washing machine comes from agitation,” he said.
- Use an Energy Star washer and dryer. Energy Star certified washers use about 25 percent less energy and 33 percent less water than regular washers. If all Americans used Energy Star certified dryers, they would save over $1.5 billion a year in utility costs and prevent the amount of greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to those from over two million vehicles.
- Use cold water. Water heating uses about 90 percent of the energy needed to operate a washer, according to Energy Star. Using cold water will save the average household $40 annually. It also reduces your carbon footprint by 10 percent.
- Wash your clothes less often. Of course, this doesn’t pertain to all clothing. Underwear and socks need to be washed after each wear. However, heavy items such as denim or coats can be worn multiple times before washing.
- Wash only full loads. A washing machine that is half-full uses the same amount of water and energy as one that is full.
- Air dry your clothes. Doing so will reduce your climate impact by 67 percent, according to Colorado State University. Machine drying accounts for 75 percent of your laundry’s total carbon footprint.
- Ditch fabric softener to reduce your family’s exposure to chemicals. Replace fabric softener with a woolen dryer ball, which will soften your clothes without chemicals.
- Skip dryer sheets to reduce waste and add a drop or two of lavender oil to a woolen dryer ball.
- Consider using an environmentally kind powder laundry detergent because most are packaged in paper and not plastic.
Helping both your family and the environment
When you choose the most environmentally kind laundry detergent, you choose to keep your family healthier by lessening their exposure to harmful chemicals. You also help your local environment by preventing chemicals that harm aquatic life from entering waterways.