Sometimes Green, Not Always Clean

We have tried many detergents in an attempt to reduce the impact of doing our laundry on the environment. According to this report by the US EPA on the Key Characteristics of Laundry Detergent Ingredients, many conventional laundry detergents contain substances that:

  • Are toxic to aquatic organisms like fish and algae
  • Are endocrine disruptors in animals, including humans
  • Diminish oxygen levels in water and hence reduce the water body’s ability to support  aquatic life (phosphates)
  • May cause cancer or other adverse health effects in humans

One of the most effective ways to reduce the impact of doing laundry is to minimize the amount of washing we do and to use less detergent. For example, towels, bedding, sweater and jeans don’t require heavy duty cleaning. For these items, we can cut our detergent use in half. According to the WSJ, many fashionistas are in fact washing their jeans as little as possible and are instead hanging them up to air out.

We hesitated somewhat before writing this article because without a testing lab, it can be quite hard to tell when clothes are clean. Our highly “scientific” method includes visually inspecting and smelling our laundry after a wash. Here is a review of the cleaners we have tried:

PRODUCT Ceramic Pieces Washing Ball (Korea)

PRICE HK$ 400 – 500

PRODUCT RATING Useless. The plastic ball contains ceramic pellets which supposedly change the pH balance of the water to wash your clothes without detergent. However, Consumer Council’s “Choice” magazine conducted lab tests that show that using it is no more effective than washing with water alone.

PRODUCT Nature Clean Laundry Powder (Canada)

PRICE HK$ 80 for 2kg

PRODUCT RATING Very good. Clothes look and smell clean. Results are very similar to conventional detergents. Has a very pleasant smell. Highly concentrated so only a small amount is required. Lasts a surprisingly long time for such a small box.

GREEN RATING Quite Green. Does not contain phosphates, chlorine bleach, synthetic dyes & perfumes, or optical brighteners. Formula is vegetable based derived from corn and palm kernel oil. The demand for palm oil though is a cause of deforestation of tropical rainforests. Powders are more concentrated than liquids, hence require less energy to transport. This may be somewhat offset by the fact that it is produced in the Canada. Packaged in a recycled cardboard carton.

AVAILABLE AT Club O in Mong Kok

PRODUCT Liquid Soap Nut Laundry Detergent (Taiwan)

PRICE HK$ 135 for 4.2 kg

PRODUCT RATING Good. Clothes seem quite clean. The fragrance may be different from what we have become accustomed to in conventional detergents.

GREEN RATING Light Green. Being a liquid, it is very heavy, requiring more fossil fuel to transport. However, it is produced in Taiwan which is quite close to Hong Kong. The plastic bottle that holds the detergent is also derived from petrochemicals and will in all likelihood end up in the landfill.

AVAILABLE AT Health Aims Shops around Hong Kong

PRODUCT Soap Nut Shells (Nepal). There are many brands selling this.

PRICE HK$ 38-48 per bag

PRODUCT RATING Good for light cleaning such as towels, bedding, sweaters and jeans. You place 5 to 6 shells in the small cloth bag and put it in with your wash. After washing hang the bag to dry. The shells can be re-used a couple of times. Smells gently fresh and clean without a strong scent. Hypoallergenic: does not leave a residue like a lot of other detergents which can cause irritation to our skin. The soapnuts contain saponins which are a natural surfactant. If you put them in a glass jar with water and shake it, you can see that it produces bubbles.

GREEN RATING Deep Green. Completely unprocessed. 100% biodegradable. Up-cycling a waste product. The fruit of the soap nut is used the production of cosmetics,  Ayurvedic shampoos and cleansers, and detergents (like the one above).

AVAILABLE Mei Foo Organic Farmers Market

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