What's the point of doing laundry with non-toxic soap if it still produces loads of un-recycled plastic waste?
One of the easiest ways to reduce the amount of plastic in your household is to stop using big plastic jugs of liquid laundry detergent. Over 30 billion loads of laundry are done annually in North America, using approximately 40 grams’ (1.2 ounces) worth of detergent each, which adds up to an obscene number of plastic laundry jugs that serve no greater purpose than to hold detergent for a relatively short amount of time (via Life Without Plastic).
A horrifying 1 billion laundry jugs are discarded in the United States annually. Once empty, only an estimated 30 percent of these high-density polyethylene (HPDE) jugs are recycled. The remaining 70 percent ends up in landfills, or clogs oceans and waterways.
If you don’t use liquid, then be careful about what kind of powdered detergent you buy. Many of the boxes come lined with plastic, with a plastic handle, a plastic strip embedded in the cardboard to facilitate opening, and a plastic scoop. Most of that packaging will never be recycled.
There are less wasteful, greener options on the market that are slowly becoming easier to find, as long as you look beyond the laundry aisle of the supermarket. Check the alternative products section, visit your local health food store, order online, or mix up your own detergent. Here are some products that work well:
Pure Soap Flakes
Soap flakes are made from a concentration of pure castile soap saponified with vegetable oils. They are a mild cleaner, free from chemicals, dyes, bleaches, synthetic surfactants, and phosphates. Soap flakes are versatile; you can use them for laundering clothes, but also for bathing, cleaning your house, and washing produce, etc.
You must dissolve in hot water first, prior to washing with cold water. Soap flakes can be paired with other natural ingredients for more intense cleaning ability, such as baking soda, washing soda, borax, and hydrogen peroxide (see detailed list of uses here).
You can order pure soap flakes online (this brand is free from palm oil), or look at your local health food store.
Pure Laundry Soap Powder
Just slightly more complex than soap flakes, laundry soap powder contains borax. It’s organic, biodegradable, free from all detergents, non-polluting, and does not require the use of fabric softeners or anti-static. It does need to be dissolved in hot water prior to adding cold water for laundry.
The brand I like is made in Toronto, ON, by The Soap Works and comes in a brown paper bag.
Dizolve makes an innovative ‘eco-strip’ made of laundry soap that’s deceptively small but surprisingly effective. The strip is the size of a movie ticket, but you only need a single one per load. The soap it’s made of is biodegradable, hypoallergenic, phosphate-free, free from dyes, chlorine bleach, 1,4-dioxane, and parabens, and is vegan.
Weighing just under 3 grams, each strip represents an impressive 94 percent reduction in the average amount of detergent used per load. It works well in cold water.
The strips come in a paper box. You can get 64 strips / loads per box for CAD $12.99 and there’s free shipping for orders over $20. Order here.
When you first start buying My GreenFills, you will receive a plastic laundry jug – but it’s the last jug you’ll ever buy. Whenever you need more laundry soap, you simply buy a refill of powdered laundry soap that comes in a paper sleeve, and then mix it up yourself in the laundry jug.
The products are all-natural, safe, and more easily dissolvable than soap flakes. It works very well in cold water. You can also buy fabric softener, color-safe brightener, and enzyme stain remover. You can read a detailed TreeHugger review here. Order here.
The Simply Co.
“Whoever said need to use toxic chemicals to wash your clothes?” This three-ingredient laundry soap, launched by Zero Waste blogger Lauren Singer, contains only washing soda, baking soda, and organic, vegan castile soap. Sure, it’s easy enough to make at home, but for those of you who don’t feel like it, this is the next best option.
Singer takes waste very seriously. The soap comes in a paper box, which can be recycled or composted. Margaret reported for TreeHugger last year: “Singer has worked to source all of her ingredients with minimal packaging, and recycles anything that she cannot re-use herself. She plans to make all her thank-you cards and business cards from recycled paper.”
You can order it online.
Make your own
Laundry soap is very simple and can easily be made at home. It’s cleaner, greener, and cheaper. Here is a recipe for powdered and liquid laundry detergent.