Are all laundry detergents biodegradable? (9 examples of biodegradable)

In this article, it shall be known whether all laundry detergents are biodegradable or not. Other aspects that shall be covered will be: 

  • What is laundry detergent?
  • What are common ingredients in laundry detergents?
  • What are the health & environmental risks of laundry detergents?
  • What are eco-friendly laundry detergents?
  • What is biodegradability?
  • What is biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste?
  • Are all laundry detergents biodegradable?
  • What are examples of biodegradable laundry detergents?
  • FAQs

Are all laundry detergents biodegradable?

Not all laundry detergents are biodegradable. Only those detergents that are made from natural materials like natural preservatives and plant-based surfactants can be called biodegradable. 

Detergents that are made from synthetic chemicals can not be called biodegradable and will cause negative impacts on human health, life and the environment. 

What is a laundry detergent?

A laundry detergent is a soap that is produced or manufactured to wash clothes with. In today’s time, laundry detergents have become an important necessity because everyone wears clothes. 

Be it high-ranking officials or poor labourers, the need to cover the body either as a necessity or for luxury has remained in society since the very start. Just as this need to wear clothes is there, the need to wash and clean those clothes has also been present since very ancient times. 

Therefore, we find a lot of laundry detergents in the consumer marketplace. While all these detergents may be of good use and decent utilitarian value, it is not incumbent that all these soaps are good for the environment either. 

Some laundry soaps may be made from harmful chemicals to achieve their utilitarian value. These chemicals have a multitude of impacts on the environment and human health. 

Whereas, some laundry detergents are made from natural and eco-friendly ingredients that are not only good for use but also gentle on the skin and mild to the environment. 

In this article, both types of laundry detergents will be shed light upon. 

What are common ingredients in the majority of laundry detergents?

Some of the basic ingredients used in most detergents include:

  • Alkalies 
  • Surfactants
  • Anti redospiting agents
  • Colourants
  • Catalytic enzymes 
  • Functional materials 
  • Fragrance  

Alkalis are used to neutralise the acidity so that dirt, grease and stains can be removed from the fabric without excessive effort. Alkali substances can be mild to high strengths based on the type of detergent. 

Examples of alkali substances are baking soda, borax, ammonia, trisodium phosphate, caustic soda, lye, and washing soda. These chemicals may be toxic for humans when taken up. These chemicals are also known to cause harm to the environment. 

Surfactants are one of the most important ingredients used in laundry detergents. They are responsible for the breakage of stains and the suspension of dirt. Examples may include alkyl sulphates, alkyl ethoxylate sulphates, ethers or fatty alcohol. 

These chemicals are also associated with detrimental impacts on human health and the environment and that is why care should be imparted in using laundry detergents because inapt use may reciprocate into unhealthy or even fatal circumstances. 

Some of the functional materials used in laundry detergents can be:

  • pH adjusters (to maintain the pH and neutralise) 
  • Water conditioners (for the management of hard water)
  • Optical brighteners (used as an alternative to bleach) 
  • Preservatives (to deter microbial contamination and growth) 

Enzymes are also very important components of a typical laundry detergent. Examples of enzymes used are protease, amylase, cellulase, lipase, and pectinase. All these enzymes break various dirt elements of clothes such as grease, stain or dirt. 

The use of chemical enzymes has increased the utilitarian value of laundry detergents because before more detergents were used and at specific conditions of temperatures. 

Fragrances and colourants are used to add a good scent to laundry detergents and eventually the clothes while also making the clothes’ colour quite fervent. 

Therefore, it can be summed up that the story of laundry detergents started with natural substances such as lye, but with increased use and greater demand, many synthetic interventions were adopted for laundry detergents.

As a result, the utilitarian value of laundry detergents increased but also at the cost of our environment and human health. 

What are the health & environmental risks of laundry detergents?

Most conventional laundry detergents that are made from harmful chemicals may have many detrimental impacts on the environment and human health. These may be: 

  • Skin allergy 
  • Necrosis in skin or tissue
  • Breathing complications 
  • Throat issues
  • Altered blood pressure 
  • Loss of vision 
  • Burning sensations 
  • Nausea 

Among the harmful effects on the environment, there are: 

  • Water pollution 
  • Loss of life 
  • Depletion of oxygen availability in water bodies
  • Toxic fertilisers 
  • Damage to crops 
  • Damage to plants
  • Soil pollution 
  • Infiltration into food chains

What are eco-friendly laundry detergents?

We have assessed some of the major conventional laundry detergents that may contain toxic and harmful chemicals. These chemicals have a multitude of detrimental impacts on the environment and human health. All these effects have been talked about in detail. 

You may now wonder what is the case with eco-friendly laundry detergents. What factors make them eco-friendly?

The main reason why eco-friendly laundry detergents are framed as good for the environment is that they are made from natural materials instead of synthetic materials. 

The use of natural materials in these eco-friendly detergents is the main factor that the use of these detergents is not linked to any harm to the environment or human health. 

The natural materials may be plant-based surfactants and natural preservatives. Examples of these may include:

  • Cocamidopropyl Betaine
  • Sodium Coco Sulphate
  • Cocamidopropylamine Oxide
  • Phenoxyethanol
  • Lavandula Angustifolia oil 
  • Methylisothiazolinone

What is biodegradability?

Biodegradability can be explained as a process in which microbes break down complex waste into simple substances. As a result, these simple substances can become a part of nature again. 

The microbes responsible for the biodegradation process usually are decomposers, bacteria, fungi, algae, and even protozoa. All these microbes play their role in the degradation of waste. 

If you have ever seen a dead animal body decaying, then you have seen these microbes in action. Biodegradability is nature’s own way to deal with waste. It is a way to ensure that there is no waste generation and no waste accumulation. 

Currently, there are about 2 billion tons of waste produced globally. These figures may very well increase exponentially. More than 40% of this waste is not treated properly and is dumped out of ignorance and lack of knowledge. 

If the waste produced and mistreated is not biodegradable, it will add further oil to the fire. It will incapacitate this world to support and sustain life, driving all of us to mass extinction. 

There are countless negative impacts if there is no biodegradability. These may include: 

  • Global warming
  • Deforestation 
  • Pollution
  • Loss of life
  • Habitat destruction
  • Infiltration into the food chains
  • Loss of land 
  • Species endangerment 
  • Soil erosion 
  • Decreased yield 
  • Destruction of ecosystems 

What are the types of waste based on biodegradability? 

Based on the concept and edifice of biodegradability, wastes can largely be classified into two classes. One type of waste is that which can be degraded while the second type is that which can not be degraded. 

The general understanding related to this concept is that natural products are easily and readily degraded within a short span of time. That is because they contain no artificial or synthetic materials. 

Whereas, synthetic or artificial materials, which usually are man-made, can not be degraded readily and hence may require hundreds of years to degrade in the environment. This increased duration causes strain on the environment which affects life nearby. 

The tragedy today is that non-biodegradable wastes despite being dangerous to the environment and life nearby are preferred by the consumer because of their benefits and convenience of use. 

What are some examples of biodegradable wastes? 

Examples of biodegradable wastes may include: 

  • Food waste
  • Human waste 
  • Manure Sewage 
  • Hospital waste 
  • Dead animals & Plants 
  • Waste from slaughterhouse 

What are some examples of non-biodegradable wastes? 

Examples of non-biodegradable waste may include: 

  • PVC, PEG, EVA  
  • Hazardous substances
  • Pesticides
  • Fertilisers
  • E-wastes
  • Rubbers
  • Synthetic polymers
  • Shopping bags 
  • Packaging materials
  • Plastic bottles 
  • Nuclear Wastes

Are all laundry detergents biodegradable?

Based on the current literature and discussion, two propositions can be speculated: 

  • A product or substance is termed biodegradable if it is made from natural materials like plant-based products or animal-based products.
  • Laundry detergents are made from both natural materials (plant-based surfactants) and non-natural materials like chemical surfactants or alkalies.

In the light of the above speculations, it can be summed up that not all laundry detergents are biodegradable. A laundry detergent is termed biodegradable only when it mostly is made from natural materials (plant-based in most cases). 

However, we have seen that there are many laundry detergents that are not made from natural materials but are rather made from synthetic substances or chemicals. 

Therefore, only those laundry detergents are biodegradable that are made from natural substances. In the case of the other, there will be severe negative implications to health and the environment including:  

  • Aquatic toxicity 
  • Chemical releases
  • Lungs issues
  • Skin irritation 
  • Skin allergies
  • Neurological issues 
  • Cancers
  • Damage to foetus 
  • Effects on hormones
  • Neurotoxicity

What are some examples of biodegradable laundry detergents? (9 examples) 

It is important to note some of the commercially available laundry detergents that are biodegradable as well. This will enable consumers to make better choices in terms of eco-friendliness and sustainability. 

  • Seventh Generation.
  • Ecos Laundry detergent
  • Meliora.
  • Dropps.
  • Method.
  • Mrs Meyer’s.
  • Biokleen.
  • Tru Earth.
  • Puracy Natural Laundry Detergent.

Conclusion

It is concluded that not all laundry detergents are biodegradable. Only those detergents that are made from natural materials like natural preservatives and plant-based surfactants can be called biodegradable. 

Detergents that are made from synthetic chemicals can not be called biodegradable and will cause negative impacts on human health, life and the environment. 

Frequently asked questions: Are all laundry detergents biodegradable?

Which detergents are used more?

Currently, non-biodegradable detergents are used more than biodegradable ones primarily because of a lack of awareness and absence of pro-environmental behaviour. 

Are biodegradable detergents less effective?

No, biodegradable detergents offer the same utilitarian aspects as non-biodegradable detergents.

References 

  • Bajpai, D. (2007). Laundry detergents: an overview. Journal of oleo science, 56(7), 327-340.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC. (2012). Health hazards associated with laundry detergent pods-United States, May-June 2012. MMWR. Morbidity and mortality weekly report, 61(41), 825-829.
  • Okpokwasili, G. C., & Nwabuzor, C. N. (1988). Primary biodegradation of antionic surfactants in laundry detergents. Chemosphere, 17(11), 2175-2182.
  • Smulders, E., & Rähse, W. (2002). Laundry detergents (p. 52). Weinheim: Wiley-Vch.
  • Bolt, Chris. (January 7, 2022). 10 Best Eco-Friendly Laundry Detergents (2022). Retrieved from: https://greencitizen.com/blog/eco-friendly-laundry-detergents/

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