Most commercial cleaning products contain synthetic detergents. Synthetic detergents are petrochemicals known for their ability to cut grease and lift stains. Detergents are widely considered superior to ordinary soap for their cleaning power. However, growing concern for the environment prompts us to consider alternatives to detergents: the presence of detergent in the water supply harms organic life. Additionally, some believe that laws regulating the sale of detergents do not adequately remedy the hazards detergents pose to the environment. Fortunately, environmentally friendly cleaning products allow us to take matters into our own hands to reduce our impact on the water supply.
How Detergent Works
Although several kinds of detergents exist, their chemical structures all operate in similar ways. One branch of the molecule attracts fats and dirt while the other branch attracts water molecules. This structure bypasses the natural surface tension of water, permitting the detergent molecules to dislodge dirt, stains, and bacteria in ways that soap alone cannot. For this reason detergent is added to most cleaning products, especially laundry detergent.
Dangers of Detergents
Unfortunately, the power of the detergent molecule is also the source of its harmfulness. Detergent molecules are highly resilient and biodegrade into harmful sub-molecules. These molecules accumulate in the water supply, both directly and indirectly harming aquatic and human life. Studies show that accumulation of phosphorus in the water supply harms the fish population. A recent study suggests that detergents contain endocrine disruptors that inflict reproductive harm upon all organisms. Drinking water containing detergent byproducts may lead to serious health problems such as endometriosis, breast cancer, and thyroid trouble. Considering these dangers, it is high time for us to switch from detergent to more environmentally friendly cleaning products.
Commercial Alternatives to Laundry Detergent
Fortunately, environmentally friendly cleaning products are available to help us avoid harmful detergents. Companies such as Shaklee, Seventh Generation, Simple Green and ECOS manufacture detergents that do not contain petrochemicals, caustics, or dioxanes. These environmentally friendly cleaning products look, smell, and act similarly to conventional laundry detergents but do not biodegrade into harmful chemicals. Because some of these products can be expensive, many instead supplement their laundry routines with less commercial products.
Natural Laundry Tips
Like commercial environmentally cleaning products, ordinary household items can fight dirt and stains naturally. White vinegar is an especially versatile substance for stain removal and effective cleaning. Soak stains in white vinegar or lemon juice before washing. For tougher stains, soak clothes in a bowl of glycerine. Add half a cup of Borax to the laundry cycle. Avoid dryer sheets altogether by throwing a felted wool ball in the dryer.
These simple, environmentally friendly cleaning products can help anyone reduce the amount of harmful chemicals humans add to the water supply. Every little bit helps.