Laundry Detergent Alternatives

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Clothes Dry Line

Photo Credit: Some rights reserved by  fourme via Flickr.

Back in pre-washing machine days, young maidens took out the dirty laundry and laid them on stony riverbeds to spend the day dancing on them, washing out dirt. Most of us today don’t have the leisure of time (and dancing skills) to do our laundry the same way. Instead, washing machines and detergents take care of the dirty problems for us – but these aren’t squeaky clean themselves when it comes to environmental impacts.

Detergents are made from man-made chemical compounds. Since detergents are designed for single use and thrown out with wastewater, they can have significant impact on the environment both in terms of quantity and quality.

Most store bought detergents usually contain phosphate among other ingredients like perfume, surfactants, etc. High levels of phosphate making its way into rivers, lakes, and other bodies of water can cause explosion in algal growth. Too much algae in the water leads to a competition for oxygen that other aquatic life also needs for survival. In severe cases, excessive algal growth can cause perennially occurring dead zones.

Off-Grid Washing Machine

Photo Credit: Creative Commons BY-NC-SA. by Karen Arrington via

Detergents also contain surfactants. These are chemicals that break down surface tension in water to help break off and keep dirt away from fabric. If these surfactants find their way in aquatic ecosystems, however, they can cause significant damage to aquatic life. Surfactants strip off fish’s protective mucus layer which helps protect them bacteria and various parasites. Surfactants also make aquatic life more vulnerable to absorption of pollutants in the water like pesticides. Other issues like safety and monitoring in the manufacturing process (where large amounts of individual ingredients are vulnerable to spills and leaching into the environment), non-recyclable waste from packaging, and carbon emissions also raise concerns.

Nevertheless, there are laundry detergent alternatives as well laundry machine alternatives available to make cleaning your laundry less harsh on the environment:

Use A Wooden Washing Machine

It may sound surprising, but has actually come up with a zero-emission washing machine that utilizes nothing more than human power and leverage. The site shows a step-by-step tutorial for those inclined to build one.

Skip Tumble Drying

If you have an open space with good solar access try the old fashioned, zero carbon emission clothesline instead for drying out your laundry. Even if you don’t have open space outside, you can try getting a clothes drying rack near a window to dry your clothes.

Use Energy Efficient Washing Machines

Check labels of washing machines and consider choosing front loading ones over top loading washing machines – they are usually more efficient.

Homemade Laundry Detergents

Several leading companies have marketed “greener” and “environmentally friendly” detergent products in answer to the above concerns. But some environmentalists point out that taking out one component (ex. phosphate) means putting in several other chemicals for compensation, the effects of which are also questionable. Even if the perfect environmentally friendly chemical composition of detergents are discovered, there’s still the carbon emission of the manufacturing process and transportation of the products. You can try making your own homemade eco friendly laundry detergents in answer to these issues. The recipe only takes five to ten minutes to prepare and can save you money.

Concentrated Liquid Detergents

If mixing ingredients isn’t working for you and you end up with George’s Marvelous Medicine, try choosing concentrated liquid detergents. These save packaging and transport trips.


If these suggestions still aren’t enough for your dirty clothes, you can always do a dance number on your laundry.

Estel M.
About Estel M. (339 Posts)

Estel Grace Masangkay is a creative writer who enjoys outdoor trips and nature activities. She is passionate about sustainability and environment conservation. Follow Me @Em23me.

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