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Green Cleaning: alternatives to normal detergents

Updated on February 10, 2018

Doing the laundry

Green up your laundry

It is hard to be as happy as the woman above when you have a mountain of laundry to do. Even with a washing machine it often seems a chore. The modern housewife relies on technology to help make her life easier especially if she has to look after a big family. I should add, to not be sexist, that the 'homemaker' could be a man or the man in the house might be enlightened enough to help his wife around the house. Sadly, equal rights tend to be confined to the developed world. But what is not confined to poorer countries is the awful way we abuse the environment to get our clothes clean.

Back in the 1940s the war years produced a shortage of animal and vegetable fats and so soap became in short supply. At that point most people used soap to do their laundry. To make up for this deficiency scientists took something that was abundant, namely petroleum and made detergents. This was a terrible move because over the decades it became ingrained in many people's subconscious that detergents were better than soap; that detergents kill bacteria and clean better. This was a ploy by marketers that has had a devastating consequence on the environment. Detergents not only contain petrol that is a quickly diminishing resource but they also contain phosphates, ammonia, butyl, glycol ether, sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium laureth sulfate, diothanolamine and ethylene diaminetetra acetic acid and a host of other unpronounceable chemicals that are poisoning our rivers, streams and seas. The worst offender is phosphate which combines with water to make algae bloom that chokes the life of rivers and streams.

The best and greenest thing you can do is to change to either an alternative to detergents or use a eco-friendly detergent.

Here are two alternatives:

1) The first is so simple it is genius. Shrug off your conditioning and use soap. You can simply put soap suds into your washing machine. Soap is just an oil or fat that is reacted with an alkaline solution. They do much less damage to the environment than the average petroleum based detergent. The only problem with using simple soap is that soap combines with the minerals in hard water to produce an insoluble film that turns clothes gray. The solution to this problem is to add a half cup of vinegar during the rinse cycle.

If this method is not to your tastes than you can use Nellie's Laundry Soda. A 100% natural product that is basically soap but with the combined ability to combat hard water.

2) The process of reacting fatty acid in an alkaline solution is called saponification. This is how soap is made and detergents are synthetic and nasty alternatives to soap. Amazingly nature has given us a plant that contains saponin. This is the dried fruit from the Chinese soapberry tree. The fruit already has a cleaning agent so no process is needed other than to dry the fruit. You can make body soap, shampoo, pesticides and laundry soap from the fruit of the Chinese soapberry tree. The product that is available to us is called Maggie's Nuts. It is just the dried fruit of the soapberry tree. You simply put two or three nuts in a cloth bag with the wash, start the program and one hour later hey presto you have clean clothes. No chemical processes are involved in the making of Maggie's Nuts. They are 100% organic and good for the environment. Maggie's Nuts can clean cotton, silk and wool. They make the laundry especially soft and fresh. More and more people are starting to write about how genius Maggie's Nuts are.It might be time for you to give up buying your regular detergent and order Maggie's nuts.

If you are not convinced by either the idea of returning to using soap to do the laundry or using Maggie's Nuts. Then there is one final way you can still be part of the solution and not the problem. And that is by using an "environmentally friendly detergent". I thought the phrase was a contradiction in terms but Seventh Generation Laundry Detergent has proved me wrong. All those chemicals mentioned above are absent, as are phospates. It is not tested on animals and it is hypoallergenic (good for people with allergies). Tests have shown that Seventh Generation Laundry Detergents are the greenest and most effective detergents on the market.

So there you have it. For those ready to fully embrace the green revolution there are the two natural saponin products of soap and dried soapberry fruit to try. For those not ready to give up the detergent mindset there is Seventh Generation Laundry Detergent.

I will leave you with one fact Seventh Generation have brought to light. If every US household replaced one bottle of petroleum-based detergent with a plant-based one then 149,000 barrels of oil could be saved. That's enough to heat 8,500 homes for a year.


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