Everyday enviro with Elise: going green in the laundry

Everyday enviro with Elise: going green in the laundry

By Elise Catterall  September 14th, 2020

Have you ever wondered how clean your cleaning products really are? With their lengthy ingredient lists and chemical aromas, laundry products present a challenge for even the most eco-friendly of shoppers. Elise Catterall shares some simple tips to help you keep toxic chemicals out of your washing machine (and local waterways).


It only takes a stroll down the laundry aisle of the supermarket to see that laundry detergent is a pretty saturated market. It’s understandable, as laundry detergents are one of the most commonly purchased household items. But sadly, much of what you see on the shelves is not particularly environmentally friendly.

Many of us choose our detergent out of habit — the same one we, or maybe our mum, have always used — but the time has come to have a closer look at what we buy and make a better choice for our waterways.

Phosphates are a common ingredient in laundry detergents and phosphate contains phosphorus, which causes algal blooms that are seriously detrimental to our waterways, so that is the first ingredient you should avoid. If your detergent has a label showing P or, even better, NP, that means it contains low or no phosphorus, which straight away makes it a better choice than a detergent containing substantial amounts of phosphorus.

Many detergents also contain sodium carbonate often as the first (and therefore, main) ingredient. This too has determinantal effects on waterways, causing salination of freshwater systems. Other ingredients, such as optical brighteners, surfactants, chlorine-based bleaching agents and ingredients derived from palm oil and petrochemicals, can harm aquatic life when used in sufficient quantities. On top of all this, these ingredients are usually non-biodegradable so they can hang around causing havoc for eons.

The good news is that there are plenty of alternatives. Increasingly, shelf space in supermarkets is being given to environmentally friendly products like the Planet Ark endorsed Aware Sensitive detergent, which makes life a bit easier. You can also readily find alternatives at health food stores, eco stores and online. To help you in your quest, Choice Magazine and Shop Ethical, produced the following list of things to look for when purchasing detergent:

  • Biodegradable certifications, such as Australia’s AS4351 standard.

  • Plant-based (rather than petroleum-based) ingredients.

  • A concentrated formulation. This also has the benefit of less packaging, fewer chemicals per wash and smaller carbon footprint for transportation.

  • Specific ingredient information, such as solvent-free non petroleum-based ingredients, rather than unregulated greenwash claims like ‘natural’ and ‘eco-friendly’.

I would also add not tested on animals, which happily, most eco-friendly products are not.

Other options are buying soap nuts or simple castile soap as liquid or flakes. While not renowned for their stain removing abilities, these alternatives are definitely gentler on the environment. Blends of bicarbonate of soda and vinegar are also widely recommended, but these too have limitations to their effectiveness. Whatever you choose, even if your clothes don’t come out as bright and shiny, at least you are doing the earth a favour. 

See you next time! - Elise

Positive Environment News has been compiled using publicly available information. Planet Ark does not take responsibility for the accuracy of the original information and encourages readers to check the references before using this information for their own purposes. 


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Elise Catterall

Elise is a writer, photographer, and naturopath with a passion for nature. She completed a Master of Public Health in 2017 through the University of Sydney. Her photographic work focuses on flowers and plants as a way of celebrating nature. She has been writing for Planet Ark since 2017, sharing positive environment stories, personal environmental experiences and perspectives.

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