October 3, 2008

Mild, Green, and Squeaky-Clean Detergents Ethical Living Rebecca McQuillan’s Weekly Guide

By Rebecca McQuillan

ONCE upon a time, when there was no Daz Ultra, people used soap flakes to clean their laundry. Before that, they used urine.

Thankfully, the quest to find ecofriendly ways of cleaning clothes has not gone (back) that far. In fact, it is at the cutting edge of technology (well, most of it). This innovative subdivision of the eco-consumer sector provides the shopper with laundry products that minimise the amount of chemical residue we're flushing into the environment and the quantity of water we use.

Not only can you get environmentally friendly versions of washing powder and liquid, which use plant-based active agents instead of petrochemical ones, but you can buy wholly new forms of cleaning product. Ecoballs fall into that category. Shaped like mini Saturns, these fist-sized plastic objects claim to clean your clothes without any foaming detergent whatsoever, by increasing the degree of alkalinity in the water, which aids the cleaning process, enabling the water to lift off the dirt more effectively. Then there are Soapods, which are the fruit of plants of the Sapindus genus and contain a natural detergent.

I gave Ecoballs, Soapods and two other eco-friendly laundry products a try to see if they could contend with conventional liquids and powders. Admittedly, I don't have Aggie Mackenzie's standards, but I do expect my clothes to be clean of dirt, grease and troublesome odours. I tested the products on colour loads washed on a easy-care cycle at 40 degrees.

Ecoballs Ecoballs consist of two porous blue plastic spheres containing pellets of non-toxic mineral oxides and have thick foam rubber circles round the middle like planetary rings (to minimise noise in the machine). You just put them in the drum on top of the laundry and wash as normal (though as there's no detergent, you can cut out the rinse cycle if your machine allows you to, which can save lots of water).

Cost: RRP GBP34.99 (though can be found cheaper) for two balls with two refills of pellets. Up to 150 washes. Performance: These removed any "lived-in" smell and cleaned most marks, but not quite all: a grease stain on a sweatshirt remained. However, the Ecoballs do come with a small tube of eco stain remover.

Soapods These look at first glance like the husks of large nuts, but when you actually handle them, they're stickier than that and have a unexpected vinegary smell. The pods are in fragments and you need the equivalent of five to seven complete nuts, which you put into a little cotton drawstring bag (provided). This then gets popped straight into the washing machine and you wash as usual. Because of the slightly odd smell, you might want to use an eco- friendly fabric conditioner. We tried AlmaWin Lemon Fresh Natural Laundry scent. Cost: GBP4.99 for an 190g bag, which should do about 25 washes Performance: No complaints. There was no whiff of vinegar, just lemon.

Ecover non biological washing powder Ecover uses plant-based "surfactants" in place of oil-derived ones. Surfactants work by lowering the surface tension of water to allow dirt to be removed more easily. Ecover recently redesigned its range. Cost: GBP10.75 for 2.66kg Performance: Ecover does the job of any conventional detergent. I found the old formulation used to leave clothes with a slightly odd odour, but the new one has put that right. It removed a grease stain from a T-shirt.

AlmaWin heavy duty biological washing powder concentrate Like Ecover, AlmaWin is free of brighteners, petrochemicals, phosphates and chlorine but, unlike Ecover, contains protease. It is not tested on animals. Cost: GBP6.45 for just over 1kg Performance: This did a fine job, though with its biological component, won't be suitable for all skin types.

Overall verdict: for cleaning clothes of everyday grime, all of these products did the job. For occasional heavy-duty cleaning, I'll be using one of the powders.

Ecoballs and Soapods and nuts are widely available in health food shops such as Real Foods, Broughton Street, Edinburgh, 0131 557 1911; Ecover can be found in supermarkets and health food stores; AlmaWin range is at Entrading, 88 West Regent Street, Glasgow, 0141 332 2424.

Originally published by Newsquest Media Group.

(c) 2008 Herald, The; Glasgow (UK). Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.