Green Laundry Detergents

Retailers and industry have tried to paint themselves green through the marketing of so-called “green” laundry detergents. The January 29 issue Chemical & Engineering News claims that this represents parties having “taken the leading role in a new effort by retailers and industry to market mainstream, environmentally friendly consumer products.”

The cleaning products industry has apparently embraced sustainability, with various innovations, including energy-efficient laundry detergents that work without hot water and other products that degrade once they go down the drain.

Report author Michael McCoy says that, “Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. has been a major catalyst in the green detergent revolution. Using its purchasing power as the world’s biggest retailer, Wal-Mart launched an environmental initiative last October to encourage its suppliers to manufacture more environmentally friendly laundry detergents. Laws and regulations in the United States and the European Union are giving industry additional regulatory incentive to go green with mainstream consumer products,” he adds.

A consideration that is missing from the notion that any laundry product can be “green” is the fact that even the most modern and efficient washing machines and dryers still use huge amounts of energy and vast amounts of water. There is nothing “green” about washing clothes, especially given the common western notion that one wear means an article of clothing is dirty and must be washed.

Now I’m not advocating a return to washboards, mangles, and a weekly bath in front of the hearth, but those in the developed world cannot possibly hope to be “green” as long as we’re using water and energy to wash and dry clothes. In many parts of the world (and coming to a town near you, any time soon) there are millions of people who live day to day with minimal water. An aboriginal Australian told me on a trip to the outback many years ago that he simply couldn’t understand why we’d waste water in such a way when it is such a precious commodity.

11 thoughts on “Green Laundry Detergents”

  1. Hi,

    So whats this BioWashBall? can it be used in every wash and do you need to add anything to it? Also how can it last all year and still have your cloths come out clean and smelling nice and fresh after every wash?

    Another thing is can it be used in commercial laundry machines? If the commercial laundry industry did more to cut back on the carbon footprint of laundry machines and other laundry equipment like some commercial laundry sites do now, the laundry carbon footprint would be so much smaller, dont you think?

  2. My fave detergent is no detergent at all – its the BioWashball. It leave no residue & it costs $34 for a years worth of laundry. Or you can soak clothes & ball in a tub with water before beating….

    Seriously, I have been using this ball for almost a month and I am going to replace all detergents!

  3. Thanks for the clarification Corey, I remember my grandmother having a spin dryer, but it was small, noisy machine built circa 1970 and I doubt it was any more efficient for her than hand-wringing clothes. I presume they technology has moved on a lot since. They are not a white goods item I’ve noticed for sale in the UK though…got any links to outlets (pardon the pun)?

  4. Via email:

    It is much better than a tumble dryer in terms of energy use- it uses about 1/100th of the electricity. Yes it is a manufactured product, but as it is quite a bit smaller than a tumble dryer, the manufacturing and shipping impact is much less as well. It only uses 300 watts, whereas most tumble dryers use close to 5000 and run for close to an hour. Any water that comes out could be recycled.

  5. Interesting thought Corey. Of course, isn’t there a payoff in terms of the energy and materials required to manufacturer the additional device and to run it at high-speed spin? What about recycling the grey water? We can easily utilise the water from our condenser dryer to top up the garden water butts.

  6. Higher spin speeds are an extremely simple, effective solution on the drying side. Front loaders spin at a much faster speed, dramatically reducing drying times in a dryer. For those who can’t or don’t want to shell out that much money, spin dryers are an inexpensive solution and extract even more water and detergent from the clothes than a top of the line front loader. Even if you still use a dryer, you can cut drying times dramatically with a front loader and even more with a spin dryer. As conventional dryers use enormous amounts of energy (around 5000 watts and run for close to an hour) this an excellent way to conserve energy. On top of this your clothes will last longer the less you run them in a tumble dryer.

  7. That’s an interesting point Chandra. Add this to that the fact that some people use these so-called concentrated products just as liberally as they do the non-concentrated version and so waste more product and resources to boot.


  8. Wal-Mart recently announced it will only sell concentrated liquid laundry detergents in the U.S. come April 2008. (The fact that they will gain more shelf space to sell higher-margin items has not been noted in most of the articles I’ve read about the announcement.)

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