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Introduction

The fact that every day is washing day for many families means that, collectively, we are expending far more energy, water and detergent on our laundry than ever before. None of these are good for the environment – particularly the detergents, which are often derived from petroleum by-products. Nevertheless, many companies produce eco-friendly alternatives, which can be just as effective and rarely cost much more than your usual brand.

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Over-performance

60-second green guide

  • If using a mainstream brand, choose a washing powder over a liquid. Concentrated powder is better than standard powder
  • Use soap-based detergents, or ones with a high soap content
  • Vegetable-based surfactants are better than petrochemical-based ones
  • Use a product without phosphates, phosphonates or carboxylates
  • Make eco-products work better in hard water areas by using a water softener
  • Where applicable, use a low wash temperature or select the ‘economy’ cycle

The mega-wash companies Procter & Gamble and Lever Brothers churn over 84 per cent of the British clothes that are washed every day. Their research and development divisions are masters at devising new and impressive-sounding formulations for their products, dazzling people with promises of whiter and whiter whites. While performance and value for money are undoubtedly important, most of the things put in the average wash simply don’t need the highest level of performance. Using a more eco-friendly laundry detergent can go a long way.

laundry

Toxic chemicals policy

For the Washing-Up Liquid sector, we have introduced a new ethical criterion: ‘Toxic Chemicals Policy’ which assesses a company’s policy – or usage – of certain chemicals in their products. There is a lot of ‘chemophobia’ about synthetic chemicals, as well as a lot of misinformation about which are harmful and which are not. To be fair, a lot of the science is still catching up in this area. Some synthetic chemicals are listed as ‘controversial’, with evidence still lacking. Other synthetics that were once listed as ‘controversial’ and which were once promoted as a ‘hazardous’ have been found to not be harmful on the scale of human consumption. Finally, it is also true that some synthetics have been found to be harmful, to humans or the environment or both.

It is important to keep up with the latest science. Based on the opinion of various experts in this area (scientists, environmentalists, public health organisations, etc), we have specifically focused on the following chemicals which are considered to be most harmful to the environment and human health but are legally allowed for use in products: formaldehyde, parabens, phthalates and triclosan.

Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde can be found in cleaning (and beauty) products and is used as a preservative to help prevent bacteria growth.  Formaldehyde is a respiratory irritant that can cause chest pain, shortness of breath, coughing and nose and throat irritation.  It has been linked to an increased risk of asthma and allergies in children and is also recognised as a human carcinogen.

Parabens

Parabens are widely used in cleaning (and beauty) products as preservatives – preventing the growth of bacteria, mold and yeast.  Some studies point towards parabens containing estrogen-mimicking properties, which are associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.

Phthalates

Are used in numerous cleaning (and beauty) products, with the main benefit of increasing flexibility and softness and they are also used in synthetic fragrances.  Phalates are known to be an endocrine disruptor and have also been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer and reproductive birth defects.

Triclosan

Triclosan, which can be found in cleaning (beauty and health) products, is used as an anti-bacterial/fungal chemical.  Triclosan is known to be an endocrine disruptor – especially thyroid and reproductive hormones and as a skin irritant.

Company group

The Toxic Chemicals Policy ratings are based on the policies of the Company Group – not the brand itself (this is because an ‘eco’ brand which excludes these chemicals, could be owned by a company still using these chemicals in other brands).  To find out about the methodology behind the ratings, see the Toxic Chemicals Policy information here.

Ingredients to watch

Detergents from the mega-wash companies are more likely to contain petroleum-based surfactants, which can take many years to biodegrade. Look for vegetable-based alternatives, and avoid detergents that contain other chemical ingredients such as phosphates, phosphonates and carboxylates. Phosphates are a known cause of eutrophication, a process that disrupts the natural balance of rivers and streams and can cause problems for fish and other wildlife.

Enzymes used in detergents are not directly bad for the environment, but have in the past been reported to cause problems for workers in the factories making them. The good news is that these problems have been almost entirely eradicated in recent years.

Other innovations

Some companies such as Ecover have begun to offer a refilling facility, so that the bottles of their ethical laundry detergents do not have to be thrown away when empty. The sellers (such as a specialist shops and health food stores) are provided with a supply of the product so that customers can return their bottles to the nearest available outlet and fill them back up. As most detergent packaging is not suitable for recycling, this is a significant step in reducing the amount of household waste produced.

Also available are products that claim to reduce the amount of laundry detergent required. Some work using enzymes, while others help to soften the water in the washing machine. Reception to these innovations has been mixed, with some saying that the products have lower stain-removing power, but they are nevertheless worth researching.


Ethical Comparison – Laundry Detergents Detailed Rankings Table


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Buy our detailed Ethical Research Reports. See the findings behind companies’ ethical ratings, as featured in The Good Shopping Guide. Several different product sectors available covering hundreds of consumer brands.

We have created ethical comparison rankings for the following brands, based on the activities of the company group (see above tables): Bio-D, Clear Spring, Ecover, ACDO, Advance, Co-op, Cyclon, Login, Novon, Surcare, Persil, Surf, Ariel, Bold, Daz, Dreft, Fairy

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LAST UPDATED:2018