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How Laundry Detergent Works

Green Laundry Detergent Options

Given some of these environmental considerations about laundry detergents, there are some greener options available to today's consumer. Most detergents marketed as environmentally friendly don't include perfumes or dyes, and they're typically phosphate free, biodegradable, and they haven't been tested on animals.

One eco-conscious option is detergent designed to work well in cold water. On average, 80 to 85 percent of the total energy used washing a load of clothes goes to heating up the water [source: Sabaliunas et al.]. Washing in cold water saves energy, which can translate to savings on your household energy bills, too.

Another environmental approach is to use concentrated formulas, which cuts down on packaging and on the amount of water it takes to make the detergent. According to Proctor & Gamble spokeswoman Carol Berning, concentrated detergents require "less plastic for bottles, less corrugated cardboard for crating, and less gasoline used, because we need less trucks to move the shipments" [source: Consumer Reports]. The cold water and concentrated options that different companies manufacture may be one step to greener washing practices. However, even in these forms, the detergents still contain some potentially environmentally hazardous chemicals.

An additional green choice -- for the benefit of the environment and you wallet -- could be making your own laundry detergents. There are a variety of recipes out there, with the common ingredients of water, bar soap, borax and washing soda. Some environmental benefits of making your own laundry detergent are that they typically use fewer chemicals and additives, and they can save on packaging. However, be aware that clothing washed with homemade detergent may also require bleaching, and it may not get stains out as well as some of the commercially produced detergents.

Clearly, detergents are chemically complex products that are continually being improved upon, whether it is boosting their stain-fighting powers or making them greener. For lots more information on laundry detergents and related topics, follow the links on the next page.