This article covers territory that didn’t make it into the short video (below) that helps people purchase more eco and health-friendly laundry cleaning products. I created the video for www.IntroductionToSustainability.com.
I became curious what—if any—eco and health-friendly laundry products are available to people who shop at conventional stores. I must admit I’ve only on rare occasions found myself in a Walgreens, Safeway, Vons, Albertson’s, Target, or the like. Due to my smell sensitivity I’ve assiduously avoided the detergents isle. Being thus under-informed, I decided to check it out…from the safety of my computer!
Safeway.com was to be the database I mined. On Thursday, August 13, 2015, I checked into the grocery delivery section of Safeway’s website. There I conducted a search for “laundry detergent.” This turned up 142 total products. After deleting multiple sizes of the same product, I was left with 99 items to research for environmental and health safety in the Environmental Working Group’s “Guide to Healthy Cleaning” database. (An identical search on Walmart.com reveals 1,045 products. For time considerations I stuck with Safeway.com!)
The helpful people at the Environmental Working Group (EWG) provide to the public a large database of over 2,000 products and their ingredients. Each product is graded “A” to “F” in terms of the eco and health-friendliness. The parameters are: asthma/respiratory, skin allergies and irritation, developmental and reproductive toxicity, cancer, and environment. I came to discover the EWG tool is not perfect, and nor was the data entry on the part of the Safeway employee who typed in their product titles. Things like “Downy” versus “Downey” comes to mind. On EWG, I quickly learned that searching for entire product titles was a waste of time, so I narrowed things down to “Tide Liquid” and did a control-F to find a specific product on the search results page.
As a side note, the “Did you mean…?” function on EWG.org was cause for frequent laughter, especially combined with frightfully absurd product names. A search for “Arm & Hammer National Parks Sunkissed Flowers” for example, resulted in, “Did you mean arm & hummer national parks sunkissed florere?” Suffice it to say that I learned to totally ignore the “Did you mean” results… unless I needed a comedy break.
Out of my 99 product candidates from Safeway.com, I was able to identify and record ratings for 51 of those products. Here are the results…
Sadly, a whopping 74% (38 products) of the 51 received an “F” rating; 24% (12) scored a “D,” and 2% (one lonely product) a “C.” *Sigh.* If EWG took plastic versus cardboard packaging into account, the results would likely have been closer to 90% scoring an “F.” So this is how the United States does laundry.
It was a surprise that one of my favorite companies (and a Certified B corporation), Seventh Generation, got a “D” on their “Natural 2x Concentrated Laundry Detergent, Blue Eucalyptus & Lavender.” However, unlike the other six parent companies represented in the list of 99, Seventh Generation addresses their rating in a 2012 blog entry. I’ll let you read the entry and research boric acid and methylisothiazolinone and come to your own conclusions. As the Seventh Generation people point out, their laundry powders score much higher. It also helps that, according to their website, their plastic bottles are made from 80% recycled plastic.
The Parent Companies
Speaking of brands, the consumer is absolutely snowed with apparent options—my count of 99 from Safeway.com was for laundry detergent alone, to say nothing of all of the laundry peripherals—but just seven corporations stand behind them all–SEVEN! Perhaps more startling, just three of those seven account for 83% of all of the laundry detergent products I found in my search. Procter & Gamble is responsible for the lion’s share on Safeway.com, at 51%. Incidentally, 92% (33) of Procter & Gamble’s 36 products (the other 14 P&G’s I did not find in the EWG database) got an “F” rating. The remainder, 8% (3), received a “D.” I’d say that’s an easy average of “F” for P&G.
The Big “C”
The top of the class, the single “C” rating, was for “Arm & Hammer Perfume & Dye Free Laundry Powder.” The added bonus here is that you go home with a cardboard box and not a plastic bottle. Also, if you happen to do your laundry in a laundromat, people with chemical sensitivity won’t be forced to avoid the machines in which you just washed your clothing. 🙂
Find the Winners!
If perchance you’re looking for a EWG “A” rated laundry detergent—or even a “B” for goodness sake—don’t despair. Thir helpful website lists 17 “A’s” under “Laundry Detergent, General Purpose Products,” followed by 11 “B” rated products. In fact, as of this writing you have 70 products to choose from before you ever have to sink so low as a “D,” and as more and more companies get with the eco and health-friendly program, that number will likely go up. The majority may not be available on Safeway.com yet, but I’m sure if you ask the folks at your local Safeway (or Kroger, or whatever) to add a specific top-scoring product, they will be happy to oblige. They do, after all, want your money, so tell them how to get it. Post on their Facebook page, email the company, or better yet, send them a good ole’ fashion letter.
Every message you send to communicate your preference for ecologically sensitive and human-health-friendly laundry products is a point toward the laundry revolution! And every eco and health-friendly laundry product you do–or don’t–buy is a message in itself. “Message in a bottle…”