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 below.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links

Sources

  • Arlian, Larry G., Vyszenski-Moher, DiAnn L., Morgan, Marjorie S. "Mite and mite allergen removal during machine washing of laundry." J Allergy Clin Immunol. Volume 111. No 6. Page 1269-1273. June 2003.
  • Basketter DA, English JS, Wakelin SH, White IR. "Enzymes, detergents and skin: facts and fantasies." Br J Dermatol. Vol 158, no 6. 1177-81. Epub April 12 2008.
  • Ball, Jeffery. The Wall Street Journal. "Six Products, Six Carbon Footprints" March 1 2009. Accessed Nov 10 2009. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122304950601802565.html
  • Choi SY, Lee IY, Sohn JH, Lee YW, Shin YS, Yong TS, Hong CS, Park JW. "Optimal conditions for the removal of house dust mite, dog dander, and pollen allergens using mechanical laundry." Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. Vol 100, no 6. Page 583-8. June 2008.
  • Consumer Reports. "Liquid laundry detergents lighten the load: Procter & Gamble's new concentrated formulas come in eco-friendly, smaller bottles" Accessed Nov 11 2009. http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/appliances/laundry-and-cleaning/concentrated-detergents/overview/concentrated-detergents-ov.htm
  • Detergents&Soaps.com "Soaps vs. Detergents" Accessed Nov 10 2009. http://www.detergentsandsoaps.com/soaps-detergents.html
  • EPA. "Key Characteristics of Laundry Detergent Ingredients." http://www.epa.gov/dfe/pubs/laundry/techfact/keychar.htm
  • Fruijtier-Polloth C. "The safety of synthetic zeoloties used in detergents" Arch Toxicol. Vol 83. No. 1. Page 23-35. Epub June 18 2008
  • Jabs, Matt. "Jabs Homemade Laundry Detergent." June 9 2009. Accessed Nov 10 2009. http://www.debtfreeadventure.com/2009/06/simple-easy-fast-effective-jabs-homemade-laundry-detergent/
  • Kurz J. "Laundering in the prevention of skin infections." Curr Probl Dermatol. Vol 31. Page 64-81. 2003.
  • Petkewich, Rachel. "Cold-water laundry detergent is a hot idea". Environ Sci Technol, Technology Solutions. Vol 39, No. 23. Page 478A. December 1 2005.
  • Planet Inc. "Ultra Liquid Laundry Detergent: Do you know…about optical brighteners?" 2009. Accessed Nov 12 2009.http://www.planetinc.com/ull.htm
  • Pratt, Charlotte, and Cornely Kathleen. Essential Biochemistry. John Wiley & Sons Inc. 2004.
  • Sabaliunas D., Pittinger C., Kessel C., Masscheleyn P. "Residential energy use and potential conservation through reduced laundering temperatures in the United States and Canada. Integr Environ Assess Manag. Volume 2(2): 142-53, April 2006.
  • Schagen, Sarah Van. Grist. "A review of six green laundry detergents" Feb 26 2008. Accessed Nov 10 2009.http://www.grist.org/article/its-a-wash/
  • Sargent, Edward. "Body Odor Caused By Laundry Detergent." Western Journal of Medicine. Vol 146. No 3. Page 367. March 1987.
  • Silberberg, Martin. Chemistry: The Molecular Nature of Matter and Change: 3rd Edition. McGraw Hill. 2003.
  • Science in the Box. Procter and Gamble. "Surfactants". 2005. Accessed Nov 10 2009. http://www.scienceinthebox.com/en_UK/glossary/surfactants_en.html
  • Tide. "Coldwater" 2009. Accessed Nov 12 2009.http://www.tide.com/en-US/product/tide-coldwater.jspx
  • Tide. "Soap box science - the "unofficial" history of laundry" 2009. Accessed Nov 10 2009. http://www.tide.com/en-US/article/unofficial-history-laundry.jspx
  • Tide. "Loads of Hope" 2009. Accessed Nov 10 2009. http://www.tide.com/en-US/loads-of-hope/index.jspx
  • Tipnut. "10 Homemade Laundry Soap Detergent Recipes." Accessed Nov 10 2009. http://www.debtfreeadventure.com/2009/06/simple-easy-fast-effective-jabs-homemade-laundry-detergent/

More to Explore