I don’t know about you but I get seriously bamboozled by choice. Before I gave up supermarkets, there were two departments that completely paralysed me: the milk fridge and the laundry aisle. The latter more so because a) it stinks and b) it is awash (ha!) with greenwash (ha ha!). Below are my tips on choosing the best eco laundry detergent or powder. I’m not going to tell you which one to buy so you’ll still have to chew your nails a bit and weigh up your personal priorities but you’ll be able to make a more informed choice.
Is liquid or powder laundry detergent better?
Sheesh, I don’t believe there is a straight answer to this question. As is often the case you’ll need to decide for yourself based on what you think is a bigger issue. And ultimately, if you prefer using one form, then you’re probably going to keep using it.
Powdered laundry detergents contain builders to carry the active ingredients. These salts, although natural, can affect waterways, septic systems, plants and soil adversely. When I asked Malcolm Rands, founder of ecostore, whether powder or liquid laundry products were better for the environment, he replied “The liquid is preferable as it contains significantly lower amounts of builders such as sodium carbonate, sodium bicarbonate and sodium citrate.”
The builder in liquid laundry products is water, which is obviously fine provided the other ingredients are relatively harmless. But these products come in plastic containers, which have a much higher footprint than cardboard when they are produced. Another consideration is that liquid detergents are often more expensive and have fewer portions per bottle, meaning more packaging (and transport) is involved per wash.
Basically, there are special considerations for both powdered and liquid detergent, which brings us to…
Things to consider when choosing your eco laundry product
- Choose concentrated. The more concentrated the product, the less packaging, transport and associated emissions and resources used. The product should state how many washes you get; you want minimal weight/bulk for more washes. Aldi’s Laundrite, for example, comes in a 4kg box and yields 30 washes, whereas Aware Sensitive gives you 30 washes for 1.5kg, therefore Aware is the better choice.
- Look for the “NP” symbol that tells you there are no phosphates in the product (most Australian brands have phased out or are in the process of phasing out phosphates).
- Choose a product that uses plant-derived surfactants as opposed to petroleum-based surfactants.
- Look for powders that contain no fillers, such as sodium sulphate. These are pointless and are used to bulk out the pack, they also have a detrimental effect on our waterways.
- Ensure it is biodegradable and septic safe.
- Avoid optical brighteners, which don’t actually make your clothes any cleaner so are a waste of resources.
- Go for products designed to work best in cold water as this uses to 80 per cent less energy.
- Ensure your laundry detergent or powder is palm-oil free or uses palm oil from a certified sustainable source (read more about palm oil here).
- For both liquid and powder detergents, look for recycled packaging.
- Buy in bulk where possible to save packaging, but be sure you’re still getting the concentrated product!
- I love a product that doesn’t come with a plastic scoop in each box (dedicate a permanent spoon or cup measure to the laundry instead). Watch out for any excess packaging.
For the record, I have used almost all the eco-friendly laundry products available in the supermarkets and found they all worked just fine. You do give up a small level of performance when you choose eco-friendly laundry products, but again it comes down to your values and whether you’re okay with your clothing not having that Hollywood-smile gleam that comes with optical brighteners and other chemicals.
** TELL ME: Would it be helpful if I put together a scorecard comparing the most widely available eco-laundry brands’ environmental credentials? If enough people say yes, I’ll prioritise it :) **