Sunday, November 23, 2008

My Pile of Laundry Was Growing

And it was starting to stink because I was feeling pretty bad about using the petroleum based detergent and disposable dryer sheets I was storing under the kitchen sink to get it clean. I had been using these products for many years but now, as more and more environmental information begins to sink in, it was causing me distress to consider pouring more nastiness down the drain. But…I told myself that no matter what the ingredients, it was better to use what I had before buying something new so at the end of this past week when we finally ran out of the bad for the Earth detergent, Matt volunteered to walk down to the grocery store to pick up some more. He assured me that he would be reading each label based on the factors that are most important to us.

The first thing Melissa wrote for Green Leaf was a review of a few laundry detergents. What she quickly discovered and shared with us is that some of the products saying they are super green may not be so eco-friendly after all due to the use of coconut based surfactants; controversy over the harvesting of these oils due to the potential impact it has on a rainforest became the topic raised. After reading that I was most definitely stumped and wondered what in creation I could do to actually wash my clothing without having an impact on the planet in some way.

My conclusion was to weigh all the options, determine the least impactful trade off for my family’s personal needs and not feel bad about my decision because I was at least making a well informed choice.

The issues that were important to our family in regard to the impact laundry detergents have on the environment (on a global level as well as a personal level) are:

1. Perpetuating the use of petroleum based products
2. Discovering renewable resource ingredients
3. Spending less money for something that will last longer
4. Removing the burned laundry smell (frequently occurs with coin-op machines)
5. Soft, static free fabrics (especially at this dry time of year)

When taking all of these issues into account, looking up information on each product, its ingredients and associated terms, as well as re-reading the information Melissa provided as a fantastic jumping off guide, we determined that Arm & Hammer Essentials detergent and Ultra Downy were the right products for us.

Here is how they fit into the list of our vital family factors:

1 & 2. Neither product uses petroleum based products in the detergent itself, both are derived from plant based resources: detergent - coconut oil, softener - cationic surfactant which, based on the P&G pdf link for Fabric Conditioner, looks to be corn based ethanol. (Without getting too scientific the basic definition of cationic is: a positively charged ion that moves toward a negative ion, and surfactant is: a substance that lowers tension of water once dissolved (soap) allowing organic compounds (dirt) to become more soluble)

3. Both products were purchased collectively for just over the cost of one bottle of Seventh Generation detergent (which contains similar ingredients) and after about seven loads (including our heavy comforter) we still have more than half a bottle left.

4 & 5. Since we chose the fabric softener free of dyes and perfumes but the detergent with a mountain rain scent there was a slight burned smell lingering on some loads (sheets specifically) but mostly they were all soft, static free and smelling like clean laundry. Though as a side note, I just sniffed the liquid in both bottles just to see how it compared to the smell of the clean fabrics and I am not joking when I tell you that the fabric softener smells exactly like Elmer’s Glue. Very strange and will likely open up a new can of research into what ingredients make up that product to see if they are at all similar.
Due to all of these factors, as well as the knowledge that both bottles can be recycled, I am granting a Four Leaf Rating to both of these products.

In a global capacity, I have no idea where these products would be placed on a greenness scale, I do not know who or what would determine that type of mass rating system, but on a personal level I feel that we made a well informed, thoroughly researched decision to purchase products which have a greater positive impact in our environment. Each time we purchase a necessary product using these types of personal guidelines we are helping to reduce waste, save money and garnering a good value as well as performance.


Mayhem said...

Great Post - very informative! I love that you posted some products that were the right thing to go with - especially since I already use that Downy! YAY!

capitolagirl said...

My cousin makes her own laundry detergent because of the petroleum thing too. I've been looking into different eco products and am currently using a liquid product from Trader Joe's. From what I've read, it has a cellose-based brightener (rather than petroleum) as well as soy-based fabric softener in it. I'm certainly no expert, but trying to make more informed choices too.

High Desert Diva said...

Having all this info helps all of us. Thanks.

Bridgete said...

I'm waiting impatiently for All Free & Clear to go green. If I use anything else, I'll itch. I can't have scents or dyes in anything, and I can't use laundry detergent that has fabric softeners in it - or liquid stuff like Downy. I can use dryer sheets, but again, have to be free of all dyes and perfumes.

Good thing I no longer have to use coin-op machines.

FairiesNest said...

Wonderfully informative! I've been struggling with the green laundry issue. Thanks for the info!...Now you are drying those on a clothes line , right? ;)

artjewl said...

Did you look into Amway's SA8? I've been using it for years, and it's always been tauted as having been "green before green was cool."

Here's a pdf of the data sheet if you're interested. It's super-concentrated (100 loads in a 6.6lb box), and the chipboard carton as well as the tiny scoop are recyclable. (There is a thin polybag inside that has to be tossed though, but I figure it's forgivable considering tossing it probably has less environmental impact than the production of a fully recyclable bottle.) I honestly don't know what to look for on the data sheet to see how it compares to anything else. I just know it's fully biodegradable.