Posts tagged ‘green washing’

So What Makes Washing Powder (Not) Eco Friendly?

michael blochThe days of the washing board are long gone and while modern appliances have made the chore of clothes washing somewhat easier, they’ve also encouraged excesses in terms of the amount of water we use, energy we consume and chemicals we release into the environment. For some reason, the Australians are most gung ho on this issue. So this is a guest post by the Australian Michael Bloch who writes GreenLivingTips.com.

Laundry detergents tend to contain complex chemical cocktails made up surfactants, builders, bleaches, colorants, optical brighteners, fragrances and solvent ingredients. Many components are synthesized from crude oil and while the brand may claim biodegradability, breakdown can take some time; creating a buildup in waterways. Toxic substances such as carcinogens and other compounds that are deadly to aquatic life can also be produced during the degrading process or through interaction with other chemicals.

Components such as colorants really aren’t necessary – they are often just there to make them pleasing to the eye as you pour them out. Fragrances are of particular concern as companies often aren’t required to detail what these are comprised of.

Just about every supermarket these days offers “earth friendly” detergents and usually you’ll find they are quite a bit cheaper too due to the no-frills, low active chemical approach – yet they can be just as effective. The “extra cleaning power” you often see advertised for major brands usually means extra of the base chemicals, plus some other nasties thrown in; and the more is better approach really doesn’t apply to the average household washing needs – you’re just paying more for what is effectively only a byproduct of marketing. When shopping for detergent, compare chemical percentages – even between the earth friendly brands. Less of X ingredient doesn’t necessarily mean a poorer wash, but will likely mean less of a toll on the environment and your wallet.

In Australia, there’s an estimated 500 million household wash loads consuming 120,000 tonnes of chemicals per year. While the brand we use at home couldn’t be called totally green, the lower/lesser chemical formulation has proven effective and safe for our blackwater recycling system. If everyone used a similar brand; annual laundry detergent chemical consumption would plummet to 4,000 tonnes according to the detergent company’s web site. That’s an incredible 3000% reduction in chemical waste to achieve the same washing results – and at far less cost to the consumer.

Another ingredient to watch for in washing detergents are phosphates. While a naturally occurring substance, if too much phosphate is present in a body of water, it can spark the growth of algal blooms which can then have a suffocating or toxic effect on other aquatic life forms. Phosphate in laundry detergent really isn’t necessary, so avoid it altogether if possible.
If you need a bit of extra punch to your wash in terms of bleaching, consider adding a 1/2 cup of lemon juice to the rinse cycle and hang clothes outside to dry. By the way, a teaspoon of lemon juice thrown into your wash can also help your clothes to smell fresher! Other more environmentally friendly alternatives to brightening are a half cup of baking soda thrown into the wash, or half a cup of borax. Another big issue with detergents is the elaborate packaging and amount of water in the product, so opt for concentrates in recyclable packaging. There are also “uber-green” laundry detergents available that are entirely plant based – no synthetic chemicals; but expect to pay quite a bit more for those. On his own blog, Michael offers tips on pre-wash treatments, load size, water levels, cold water, greywater collection and drying.

March 1, 2008 at 9:48 am Leave a comment

The Ultimate Guide To Making Your Own Eco Friendly Washing Powder

The case for making your own washing powder is strong; it saves the environment and it saves money. Bar soap, the main ingredient in your home made washing detergent, is extremely compact and transporting it from A to B is way more energy efficient than dry commercial washing powder or the liquid equivalent. Why ship expensive boxes of washing detergent for miles if you can make your own washing detergent with a few simple ingredients for next to nothing?

If you decide to make your own detergent, do it the best way possible; phosphate free and make sure your soap consists of vegetable (not animal) derived fats. In a previous post, I wrote down a short make-your-own-washing-powder recipe in which the main ingredient was Sunlight Soap. I swear by Sunlight, but noticed that this soap is less regular in the US and Canada than it is in Europe. Unilever’s info pages don’t reveal anything about the bar soap, so you’ll have to shop around or contact the company directly.

Because so many people are interested in making their own washing powder for as little money as possible, I examined some alternatives in case you can’t find Sunlight bar soap.

This is the ultimate guide:
woman doing some sound ecological washingBefore I launch into a Step-by-Step explanation, first this; there are two ways to get your soap bars liquified. Some people ‘cook’ the soap. In my view, this is totally not necessary. Soap does not melt! The trick is simply to get it liquified by soaking it and that doesn’t require hot water at all. You’d even be better advised to use your microwave for this. There are some cool videos on YouTube demonstrating this process. But honestly, all you need is a grating rasp and a bit of patience. Or if you want to use your kitchen blender, some people recommend it too.

What you need for the full recipe:
*A bar of soap (for types of soap, see STEP one).
*Washing soda (four or five spoonfuls). Washing Soda, or SAL Soda, is sodium carbonate decahydrate. It’s a mineral. It fights grease, stains, but more importantly; it softens water. Click here to find out more about its environmental credentials (as well as eco info about borax).
*Environmental bleach. Click here to find the eco bleaches available on the market.)
*Vinegar (half a cup) Use the cheapest type you can get. Reduce the amount or change brands if you find it’s smelly. I only use vinegar to reduce soap residue in the machine.
*Salt (Big soupspoonful). Does the same as vinegar but without the smell. If you still smell the vinegar after your washing has dried (often the case in ‘soft’ water areas), just use salt only.
*A big bowl (you will understand that it should not be the same one you used for cleaning the toilet/the outside/the floors)
*A rasp or cheese grate (alternatively a kitchen blender)
*Around two gallons of water (7 litres)
*A 12-inch diameter siff
*A whisk

STEP one – Choose your soap. You need a big bar of eco friendly (ie bio degradable) soap of around 300 grams to make 2 gallons of washing detergent. Consider using the ecological soap you already use for your hands and ask your retailer if there’s a laundry bar version. If you can’t find one, shop around for pure Castile Soap which is made of coconut oils (visit my shop) to for a store locater or to buy it online). Alternatively buy soap that it is made only of vegetable based fats/oils and sodium hydroxide. This usually will be ecologically friendly. For more information about ecologically sound soaps, check out Castile Soap’s information.

If you find these are too expensive or are just trying the method only, opt for these alternatives:
*Fels Naptha (a laundry soap). It’s a good solution for US people. It contains no phosphates, which is the most important criterium.
*Zote. A laundry bar soap, which costs very little. Also available in the US and Canada. It is similar to Sunlight soap, costs 65 cents, and also comes in large, often hand-breakable, bars. If the soap bar is heavier than 300 grams, just adjust the water quantity and also add more washing soda and or borax. For this recipe you can do with a bit less than one big bar (or you can just add some more water to the mixture at the very end).

STEP two – Get a big bowl of water and grate the soap in it, stirring occasionally, so the grated soap doesn’t lump into one big bal but rather becomes a kind of lumpy stew. Let this sit for a week. After the week is over, throw the mixture through a siff, push through the lumps with the back of a spoon so it dissolves into a smooth sludge. Use enough water but no more than one gallon at this stage (2.3 litre) and move onto STEP three.

If you insist on using hot water to ‘melt’ the soap;
Some people insist on heating the liquid. This goes quicker and also the method allows you to judge the amount of sludge/residue that builds up from the soap you use. In my opinion this is a total waste of energy. Whenever I switch soap types, I simply check my washing machine to see if a lot of residue (undesirable) builds up. But if you had a grandmother who always did this and it makes you feel better to play slave over a hot stove, then be my guest. This is what you do; Grate your soap. Take a limited amount of water (around four cups), bring this to just below boiling point and add the soap into the water. Don’t lump it all in at once, because the effect of your grating will be totally ruined. Slowly sprinkle the soap in and use a whisk to whittle the mixture firmly. The better you whisk the stew, the quicker the soap will liquify. When you’ve done this, turn off the heat and continue with STEP three.

STEP three – The mixture is almost complete. Now you need to add washing soda, salt and vinegar. The latter ingredient is optional, but vinegar (choose a transparent type) softens the washing and keeps colors bright. Salt is also optional, but it also works miracles for your colors. Add these ingredients, stir extremely well and then you’re almost done. The only thing you need to do now is to dilute the mixture to two gallons (around 7 litres) with water. This should leave you with a washing liquid of similar concentration as normal (commercial) washing detergents, but you can play around with the ratios of water per bar of soap as you test your concoction.

Using your eco friendly washing detergent: Use 1 to 1.3 cups (not more) for each load of washing. Mix in the borax only at this point and due it according to the instructions on the package. A good alternative to bleach is the use of half a lemon in white washes; it bleaches perfectly. Having said that, it IS a good idea to use bleach from time to time. Click here to read about the health hazards involved in not using bleach in your washings.

Cost savings: There is no reason not to go environmentally friendly on your washing. People claim that the cheapest (non-eco friendly) washing detergent at Costco sells at $12 for a big bucket. That’s less than 0.10 cents a wash load. My method is probably as cheap or cheaper and ecologically sound.

Another cost saving tip: If you are into cost efficiency in your washing consider soaking your laundry overnight in a bowl of cold water with a few spoonfuls of washing detergent. If you do this, you can reduce the amount of washing detergent for your washing drastically. Also, you will be able to lower the washing temperature. This way, you save on detergent and energy.

Alternative Eco Detergents: Don’t feel like making your own detergent, but still want to wash 100% eco friendly? Go and check out local organic food stores. Prices of good products are around $20 per gallon. Castile Soaps offers a liquid form of olive based oils that’s suitable for laundry use. Check it out here. My favorite regular environmentally friendly washing powder (available anywhere in the world) is Ecover. Unilever launched a liquid Sunlight Soap that is 100% phosphate free in 2006. Check the company’s product page to see if you can buy it anywhere.

February 19, 2008 at 8:28 pm 2 comments












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