Biodegradable Laundry Detergent vs Conventional Detergents

Living a more sustainable lifestyle means doing a little more digging into our habits and all of the products we rely on to get things done. From more ethical fashion to clean beauty to green cleaning, we have to get to know our habits and the products we use to keep our hectic lives running as smoothly as possible. Quite the task indeed! 

This post is generously sponsored by PURE, a brand I use and love.

Laundry detergent is one such product, ever-present in our homes and very much needed. Naturally, we use quite a bit of it too. In 2019, the market for liquid laundry detergent was valued at $27.1 Billion. Yes, that's a billion with a 'B'!

So what of it? Well, the short answer is that when it comes to choosing between biodegradable laundry detergent vs conventional detergents, it's a no-brainer. Reaching for biodegradable laundry detergent is the best thing to do for the environment. 

But what makes the difference between biodegradable laundry detergent and conventional detergents? What makes a laundry detergent eco-friendly altogether? Or what's the best eco-friendly laundry detergent you may be wondering? 

This and everything you need to know about the best eco-friendly laundry detergent is what we’ll be diving into in this one so settle in for the low down on everything biodegradable laundry detergent vs conventional detergents.

Biodegradable laundry detergent vs. conventional detergents 

The fresh smell of linen. Pin

Laundry detergent is one of the most common household products in our homes. So what is the difference then between biodegradable laundry detergent and conventional detergent? 

Well for starters, biodegradable laundry detergent is made up of ingredients (notably surfactants) that can be broken down within a reasonable amount of time when they find their way into our ecosystems. Microorganisms active in nature go to work on these compounds helping to leave no trace of them behind. 

Once they have been broken down, these ingredients do not go on to alter or harm the environment in any way. In Europe, detergent is considered biodegradable when all of the surfactants in the product degrade by more than 60% within 28 days under aerobic conditions – in the presence of air. 

On the other hand, conventional laundry detergent is made of petroleum-based ingredients, dyes, synthetic fragrances, and other chemicals that do not fully degrade and go on to pollute our waterways and ecosystems. 

Some of the ingredients used in conventional laundry detergent even pose a threat to human health. Take petroleum distillate for example. It is a surfactant that is commonly used in conventional detergents. Yet, it has been found to damage the mucous membranes and lungs, among other things. It may even cause cancer. 

What Makes A Laundry Detergent Eco-Friendly? 

Eco-friendly detergent basically leaves a lighter footprint on us and on the planet. It is made using natural or naturally-derived ingredients that are safe for humans and for the environment. It must also be packaged in compostable or easily recyclable materials like cardboard or recyclable metal tins. 

It is also best if the facilities where these products are made operate using more sustainable practices. Some brands make their products in factories that are powered by renewable energy and/or that recycle and reuse the water they consume. There are many more circular practices that lighten the impact of production on the environment too so be on the lookout for that. 

Brands that demonstrate corporate responsibility in the form of environmental and social initiatives are the better choice for more eco-friendly detergents. Think carbon neutrality programs, investments in nature conservation, or diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts. 

Does Eco-Friendly mean it’s biodegradable too? 

Eco-friendly detergent must mean biodegradable too. What I mean by that is once it is used, laundry detergent (or any product for that matter) should not persist or accumulate in our ecosystems if it winds up there. We use so much of so many products and our ecosystems can only handle so much. 

In fact, at present humanity uses the equivalent of 1.75 Earths to provide the resources we use and absorb our waste. If you cannot wrap your mind around that, that’s because we only have one earth. 

So, when we talk about eco-friendly laundry detergent or any other eco-friendly product it must also be biodegradable, leaving little to no trace behind. The scale at which we operate is simply too large to accommodate anything less. 

How Do Laundry Detergents Impact the Environment? 

Conventional laundry detergent can have a severe impact on the environment. It winds up in our ecosystems when wastewater from our laundry is discharged into sewers untreated. This has many consequences on aquatic life. 

For starters, laundry detergent can cause eutrophication, where ingredients like phosphates and nitrogen (which are commonly used in conventional detergents) accumulate in rivers and other water bodies causing algal blooms. When all of this algae dies, its decomposition sucks up all of the oxygen in the water leaving other aquatic life without enough oxygen to survive, causing them to die too.

Where infiltration happens, the harmful ingredients found in conventional laundry detergent can also go on to contaminate groundwater. It leaves behind unwanted compounds like nitrates, ammonium, boron, and phosphates. This is very serious because groundwater is a major source of fresh water for humans. In the U.S. groundwater supplies 51% of the population's drinking water. 

The impact of conventional laundry detergents is very very real and that’s why we need to be as mindful as we can about what kind of products we reach for.  

Is liquid or powder laundry detergent better for the environment? 

Where biodegradable, eco-friendly detergent is concerned, powder detergent seems to be the better choice for the environment, particularly at disposal. That’s because powder detergent is most likely to be packaged in cardboard. And cardboard is more easily recyclable. It can even be repurposed or composted at home.  

Liquid detergent on the other hand often comes in plastic, uses more water, and can lead to waste where people tend to add too much of it to the laundry. Using too much laundry detergent is not only bad for your wallet because it simply does nothing to get your clothes any cleaner. It also releases more unwanted chemicals and compounds down the drain so do be mindful of that too. Ultimately though, it will all come down to what works best for your budget and what products are available nearest you. 

Green Detergents vs. Conventional Laundry Detergents: What's The Difference? 

The primary difference between green detergents vs conventional detergents will come down to the ingredients. Green detergents are made of natural or naturally-derived ingredients that will not harm the environment if they find their way into our waterways. 

On the flip side, conventional laundry detergent tends to be made of petroleum-based ingredients and other chemicals that are harmful to the environment and to humans. Ingredients like synthetic dyes, bleach, and synthetic fragrances, or harmful bi-products like 1, 4-Dioxane, to name a few. They can also contaminate aquatic ecosystems with toxic heavy metals like arsenic and cadmium, and we definitely don’t want that.

Where packaging is concerned, some green detergents are available in biodegradable, home compostable, or easily recyclable materials (not including plastics). Unfortunately, most are still packaged in recyclable plastic bottles but their contents make them a marked improvement from conventional laundry options nonetheless.  

Reusable shopping bags and ingredients for eco home cleaning on white background. Pin

Does biodegradable laundry detergent work?

Just as there are many eco-friendly products that disinfect effectively, eco-friendly biodegradable laundry detergent can be just as effective if not more effective than conventional detergent, since it does not contribute to environmental destruction just to help us carry out a simple, everyday household task! 

Despite the common misconception, there are a ton of natural cleaning products that do not pit essential cleaning needs against our futures on this planet! From things as simple as cleaning a mirror that is hazy to cleaning grout without scrubbing, there is a non-toxic, planet-friendly solution for just about anything in your home.

Similarly, there are effective biodegradable laundry detergents that work just as well as their conventional counterparts. You’ve just got to know where to look and try some things out. Kind of like we do with all the chemical cleaners that accumulate under our kitchen sinks over the years — except less toxic. 

I’ve also found lots of great stuff to help you on your journey so be sure to have a look around The Hub for answers to all of your green cleaning questions. I have this complete guide on everything zero waste cleaning, a DIY all-purpose bathroom scrub and cleaner, tips on natural laundry stripping with vinegar, and much more! 

What should I look for in a biodegradable, eco-friendly laundry detergent? 

When buying biodegradable, eco-friendly laundry detergent, there are two main components to consider. The ingredients used in the product and the packaging used to contain the detergent. 

We can also consider the brand and its efforts in terms of ethical sourcing practices and corporate responsibility. This will help to understand whether or not brands are actually honest, and whether or not they are greenwashing their products. 

The Ingredients Used 

Look for a detailed list of ingredients that is free from ingredients like Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS), phosphates, bleach, synthetic dyes, formaldehyde, and the all too ambiguous "fragrance".  Look instead for natural, plant-based ingredients. 

The Packaging Used

Easily compostable or recyclable materials like cardboard are best when it comes to eco-friendly laundry detergent packaging. Where that is not an option look for recyclable plastic containers or bulk options with refill stations where you can bring your own container. Perfect for zero waste laundry and ideal for the environment when it comes to packaging and managing plastic waste.   

Which detergents are biodegradable?

Brands with products that are biodegradable will let you know that their product is biodegradable. But you should refer to their list of ingredients to see what their product is made of. You might even do some of your own research on the ingredients if you are not sure. Shopping with reputable brands with certifications to boot is also helpful. Look for certifications from reputable organizations like EWG, and Ecocert. 

What's the best eco-friendly laundry detergent? 

The best eco-friendly laundry detergent turns out to be the one you can afford. For some of us the choice to be more eco-friendly remains a financial one, so consider your options, do make an effort where possible, and find what works best for you while considering the ingredients in the product, the packaging and the products that are available nearest you.

Pure Laundry Detergent 

A woman holding a bottle of PURE biodegradable laundry detergent. Pin
Image: Pure

PURE is on a mission to offer eco-friendly products for the home, using only naturally sourced ingredients that are toxic-free and safe for everyone in the family. With a commitment to transparency, you will find the ingredients to all of their household products right on their website. Check out oNature for healthy home fragrance, Osmose for household essentials like vinegar, and Flonette for kitchen essentials like dishwashing brushes and storage bags.  

All of these products are made in Canada by Total Fabrication and all are non-toxic and biodegradable. It is no different with PURE’s natural laundry detergent which is also vegan, cruelty-free, gluten-free, effective in cold water, and safe for babies and sensitive skin. 

What PURE Is doing for the Environment

PURE is the first Canadian manufacturer to be certified Climate Change by Ecocert. Only safe, toxic-free, biodegradable ingredients are used in their products which will not go on to contaminate our ecosystems. 

They also encourage a zero-waste lifestyle by offering laundry detergent and other household products in bulk where you can reuse your old containers. This helps to reduce the need for plastic packaging and saves about 1 million bottles from winding up in our oceans. They even take care to be as efficient as possible with the retailers they work with

Their ultra-concentrated formula means a lower carbon footprint too since less product and less packaging is needed with PURE Laundry Detergent. This also means savings on our end since it costs $0,15 cents less per load using PURE. All around a simple, more mindful alternative to conventional laundry detergent, while using safer ingredients and remaining effective. 

In terms of corporate responsibility, PURE helps organizations, sports teams, schools, and other groups with fundraising for ecological programs. Through their fundraising campaigns, PURE enables participants to generate funds by receiving a percentage from the sale of PURE products. 

Surprised woman holding metal laundry basket with messy clothes on white background. Pin

Ingredients Used In PURE Laundry Detergent

PURE laundry detergent is made using plant- and mineral-derived ingredients that come together to dilute by 95% in water. That means fewer particles are released into nature from the moment the wash cycle starts.

For scent, PURE uses a mixture of fragrances made up of at least 50% natural essential oils, as well as synthetic fragrances. However, they ensure that no toxic chemicals are used in their synthetic fragrances ever. You will find several aromas including Almond Blossom, Lavender, and more. They also make sure to offer a fragrance-free option. 

Packaging Used

In terms of packaging, you can choose from two options on their website. There is a 2.5L clear recyclable and reusable plastic container, and a 10L pouring tap option made of a combination of cardboard and plastic for an easy bulk option at home. 

Bulk Packaging Options 

The best thing to do is to bring your old PURE jug to one of their many refill stations available throughout Quebec, Ontario, and the Maritimes. Easily locate retailers nearest you using their store locator, making sure to remember to bring your own clean container, if you can. 

When it comes down to the impact on the environment, biodegradable wins hands down! 

There is no better option than biodegradable detergent. This may be a hard truth to swallow when you’ve grown up using brands that aren't the best and see everyone else using them too. But that is, unfortunately, the case for a lot of the conventional products on the market. Their ubiquity does not speak to safety or sustainability even when it comes to products that come into contact with our bodies. 

From laundry detergent and disinfectant wipes to non-toxic shampoo, cruelty-free and vegan toothpaste, and skincare we have no choice but to rethink the products we use. Thankfully there are better, more sustainable alternatives making it easier to switch to safer detergents and other products that will not go on to threaten our health or that of the environment. And we are so so grateful! 

For more sustainable living essentials be sure to check out the brand directory where you will find everything from clothing and accessories, to home and plastic-free essentials.

Before you go, make sure to check out some of our other great eco-friendly cleaning ideas for your home:

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