Who even knew there was a difference between soaps and detergents? Aren't these words interchangeable? Indeed they're not! Soaps are made of materials found in nature while detergents are man-made or synthetic cleaning products.
Why are traditional detergents bad for the environment?
There's a laundry list (pun intended) of synthetic chemicals in traditional detergents that have negative effects on the environment and are toxic to aquatic life. Before we get into the nitty gritty about laundry detergents vs soaps, here is a mind-blowing statistic that shows why this difference really matters in our daily choice for how to clean our laundry.
The average American family does approximately 300 loads of laundry per year. All families in the US use enough water to fill roughly 1.5 million olympic-sized swimming pools to wash clothes every year.
That's a lot of water that is going into our natural environment and greatly affecting the ecosystems and wildlife it comes in contact with.
What you should look for in a green laundry soap?
Because this is such a widespread and destructive practice, the EPA has developed a certification called the Safer Choice label to help users "identify products with safer chemical ingredients, without sacrificing quality or performance." So, what can you expect from a product that has the EPA Safer Choice label on it?
Every ingredient (regardless of the percentage) has been reviewed by EPA scientists and must meet strict safety criteria for both human health and the environment, including carcinogenicity, reproductive/developmental toxicity, toxicity to aquatic life, and persistence in the environment.
Product performance is comparable to conventional products and meets the certification's performance standards.
Packaging is sustainable or has sustainable components and measures are being taken to improve the packaging during the timeframe under the Safer Choice program.
Product meets pH standards to minimize the potential for skin and eye irritation or injury.
VOC levels are restricted in order to minimize indoor air pollution and associated respiratory concerns.
Is the EPA Safer Choice label the only green option?
Definitely not. Because participation in this program is voluntary, not every laundry soap that is good for the environment has the Safer Choice label; there are plenty of green products out there that don't have this certification. If you're using what you think is an environmentally friendly laundry soap that doesn't have EPA's Safer Choice label, a little bit of research will tell you whether or not the the ingredients in the product are harmful.
The EPA published a Safer Chemical Ingredients List with an interactive search tool that allows you to look up all the ingredients listed in your product. They categorize all products based on their level of concern and with just a few searches you can see if your favorite laundry soap would meet the Safer Choice ingredient standards.
Try homemade laundry soaps
Admittedly, we've never tried making our own laundry soaps but a few weeks ago we bought a couple of homemade laundry soaps at the McKinney Farmers Market. We've been on a quest for the perfect laundry soap and wanted to venture outside of the store-bought options.
When we got home to check the ingredients used in the products, we were reminded that homemade doesn't always mean eco-friendly! One of the ingredients in the Texas Earth Child product (sodium tetraborate) was listed in the "yellow triangle" category on the EPA Safer Chemical Ingredients List. This means that the "chemical has met Safer Choice Criteria for its functional ingredient-class, but has some hazard profile issues. Specifically, a chemical with this code is not associated with a low level of hazard concern for all human health and environmental endpoints." Definitely a learning opportunity.
The other homemade laundry soap we bought is amazing! It's the Simple Suds and Stuff lavender scented laundry soap. I put my dirtiest towel (you know, the one with all the mascara smudges on it) in the wash, and it came out sparkly clean! The sheets were also in the same cycle, and I could still smell the fresh scent a coupe of days later. We chatted with the couple who sells these products and they're all homemade with lots of love! Definitely a win!
So whether its a product that's EPA Safer Choice certified or not, store bought or homemade, make the switch from harmful detergents to laundry soaps that won't send 1.5 million olympic pools worth of toxic water into the environment!