What is Natural Laundry Detergent?

By Jennifer LyallLiv Healthy.tv

Have you ever walked down the laundry detergent aisle and held your breathe so you don't have to breathe in the perfumes and whatever else may be coming out of the boxes detergents?

I remember when I was beginning my journey to good health, I gradually began taking a new look at  different products that I used on a regular basis.  I remember feeling overwhelmed with all of the new logos and claims and ingredients to understand.

One product everyone uses on a regular basis is laundry detergent.  There are lots of products out there that call themselves "gentle", "green", "natural" or even "eco laundry detergent", but what does this really mean?

I contact my colleagues at Frank T. Ross & Sons, makers of Nature Clean product line to find out more about what exactly a natural laundry detergent is, and what consumers should look for.

Liv Healthy:  What is an all natural laundry detergent? 

Nature Clean:

An all natural laundry detergent is a product that uses ‘natural’ ingredients in its production. There are no regulations that enforce proof of claims therefore the situation is really product specific and consumer should pay attention to labels and research the company they are buying products from. For the most part natural ingredients are sustainable however petroleum ingredients can be considered natural because they are derived from the ground however they are not sustainable. 

Watch out for dyes and perfumes that are not natural even though companies claim they are. Very few natural dyes are available, if a product is purple or blue it is most likely not using a natural dye.

Additionally, ‘natural’ and ‘green’ do not mean the same thing even though they seem to be used interchangeably. Generally a ‘green’ product insinuates that it does not harm the environment. Products that are terms ‘green products’ can use ingredients that are based on synthetic or natural ingredients as both can be biodegradable and therefore not harm the environment.  Natural ingredients also do not harm the environment however they are derived from natural, renewable resources- plants, naturally occurring minerals etc.

Liv Healthy:  How does natural laundry soap work?

Nature Clean:

In the cleaning process, surface tension must be reduced so water can spread and wet surfaces. Chemical detergents that are able to do this effectively are called surface active agents, or surfactants. They are said to make water "wetter."

Surfactants perform other important functions in cleaning, such as loosening, emulsifying (dispersing in water) and holding soil in suspension until it can be rinsed away. Natural laundry products perform the same way as "traditional" laundry detergents however they use natural ingredients instead.  "Traditional" laundry detergents typically uses Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS), which is used as a degreaser.  It s typically derived from petroleum

Liv Healthy:  What impact does natural laundry detergent have on my clothes?  Does it affect the colour of the clothes or the strength of the fibers?

Nature Clean:

Each natural cleaning product is different therefore it is important to read the product labels to find what is right for you. Also consumers should be encouraged to contact the manufacturer for additional questions.

Some natural detergents contain enzymes- these are ingredients that assist in the removal of stains- these can have a negative impact on the fibers as they can break down the fibers over time. These laundry detergent enzymes end up coating the clothes and some people end up developing allergies to the detergents because of this residue.  Look for a product that does not contain enzymes.

As for the impact on the color of clothes- look for poly glucoside formulation as this type of surfactant is gentler on the dyes compared to alcohol ethoxylates.

Liv Healthy:  What impact does natural alternative laundry detergent have on the environment?

Nature Clean:

There are different degrees of natural- some companies use hybrids ie part natural and part synthetic- these then become partially renewable and sustainable- poly glucosides are 100 % natural and therefore  from 100 % renewable and sustainable resources.

Surfactants used in products certified by EcoLogo or green seal will be readily biodegradable. 

Liv Healthy:  I've noticed that stains need a little more attention.  Before, when I used chemical based detergents I could just throw throw the clothes in the washing machine and most of the ground in dirt for instance would come off, with no effort from me.  Now I use a natural stain remover to scrub the stains away.  I've changed my routine and give stains more attention (and they do disappear, usually with just bit of scrubbing  :), but why is there a difference?

Nature Clean:

The surfactants that are used in traditional cleaners to help remove stains and dirt are usually petroleum based and therefore while their performance is great, their effect on the environment and our bodies is less than fantastic.

Petroleum ingredients are formulated from a finite resource and are therefore considered detrimental to the environment as it’s not sustainable

Additionally, petroleum ingredients are known to cause reactions for individuals who have sensitivities or chemical allergies

When using natural cleaners it is best to pretreat the garment while the stain is fresh instead of waiting awhile.

Liv Healthy:  I've also noticed that my clothes don't have as much static cling since I've been using a natural option- why is that?

Nature Clean:

Some surfactant systems have either positive charge (anionic)  SLS and SLES. Formulations based on non ionics are less likely to contribute to static- non ionics include poly glucoside and alcohol ethoxylates.

Liv Healthy:  For someone who is considering trying a natural laundry detergent, can they use a natural detergent in the same load with a chlorine bleach, or a chemical based stain remover or fabric softener?

Nature Clean:

It’s always best to read the product warnings before you add products into your laundry just to make sure they won’t cause any adverse reactions. 

Essentially you can use a natural detergent with ‘non’ natural bleaches and fabric softeners however, if you have chosen to use a natural cleaner because it uses less toxins and is more gentle to skins, using traditional cleaners negates the benefits of the natural laundry detergents.

Consider choosing a natural stain remover and bleach to go with the nautral laundry soap.

Liv Healthy:  What qualities should someone look for when choosing a natural laundry wash detergent?

Nature Clean:

Look for products that list their ingredients, this way you can check and make sure the ingredients that are being used are natural. When looking for ingredients though make sure the company lists them in INCI format, this is a internationally recognized language for ingredients therefore it means you can easily look them up. IF a company uses perfume, surfactants or corn based something this is not enough information for you to search.

3rd party certification is a good indication that the company/product is honest and truthful however you should still read the labels to make sure- Eco logo and Green Seal are the most respected in North America.  Always do your research to ensure that the organization behind the certification is credible.

Look for products that contain essential oils or essential oil blends and that don’t contain many dyes or perfumes.


Thanks to Frank T. Ross for providing some valuable insight into natural laundry detergents!



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