It’s good that we can mention good news in the beginning: the biggest problem of water pollution from washing detergents is largely solved in Germany now: The use of phosphates.
By legal regulations (prohibitions) and technical innovations in the water-treatment plants, the load of phosphate has been greatly reduced. Therefore, the energy efficiency in the washing process has become the most important environmental factor.
But still other ingredients of detergents pollute the waters.
Factors that influence water consumption and water pollution are:
- Washing machine water consumption
- Efficiency of the washing process and proper dosage
- Choice of detergent and ingredients
- Packing of detergent
1. Water consumption of the washing machine
When buying new washing machines, the consumption values must be specified.
Consumers should make sure to use a machine with the energy efficiency class at least A ++ or A +++. This machines consume at least 35% less energy than a machine of class A. In addition, care should be taken on water consumption. In the standard wash program – depending on the machine size – the water-usage should be between 40 litres (5kg machine) and 50 litres (8kg machine) per wash cycle.
In addition, the machine should have a capacity mechanism, which adjusts the amount of water used in accordance with the load factor of the machine.
The Eco-top-ten list of the Öko-Institut e.V. can help in selecting an appropriate product: http://ecotopten.de
2. Efficiency of the washing process and the dosing
630,000 tons of detergent are consumed annually in Germany. That are nearly 8 kg of washing-detergent per resident on average. In addition, 220,000 tons of special agents, softeners, cleaning products, etc. pollute the environment and in particular the wastewater.
Compact detergents can help you to dose the detergent and additives exact amount. Detergents can work only with soft water. Therefore, each detergent must contain softeners. But the local water hardness varies depending on the region. The Berlin tap water has an average water hardness of 17 ° dH, which means that it is “hard” water. In order to ensure an optimal blend of detergents and softeners, we recommend the use of a modular system, because otherwise ready mixed detergents contain unnecessarily many surfactants, enzymes and possibly bleach and with this pollute the wastewater useless.
Duty detergents also contain bleaches and should therefore only used for white laundry or to disinfect laundry against infectious diseases. Modular systems in this case allow the targeted use as well.
Instead of a modular system colour detergents are used with minimum dosage (soft water) and combined with additional bleach and softener. At the Berlin water hardness, this can save about 40% of the detergent substances. Remember: Also ecological detergent pollute the water – though usually far less than petrochemicals.
Moreover, the choice of the right wash cycle is of central importance.
Temperature: In general, the washing temperature should be set for standard soiling in between 30 and 40 °. According to the German Federal Environmental Agency this is sufficient for modern detergent (also eco). To disinfect the machine (as well as in case of diseases) every 2 to 4 weeks a machine should be washed with 60 °C.
Only in special cases, where germ-free laundry is needed, a hot wash with 90° is recommended. Boiled washing requires more than twice as much energy as a 60° wash.
Wash cycle: It is important to adjust the wash cycle to the appropriate wash. This washing separation makes sense to use the optimal washing programs. In general, we recommend a high loading factor of the machine but ensuring not to overloaded it. This increases the washing efficiency and saves a lot of energy and water. Modern machines have extra long eco-programs. This saves despite its long program-duration a significant amount of energy and water.
3. Choice of detergent and ingredients
Although no phosphates are used in Germany any more many other ingredients of detergents pollute water heavily.
The yield of the detergent, their ingredients and the proper dosage play a crucial role to reduce water pollution. Modern detergents use surfactants (cleansing substances) to dissolve grease and dirt from the clothes. The natural soap surfactant has been replaced with synthetic surfactants in conventional detergents, which are made with high energy consumption from coal and petroleum. But there are surfactants derived from renewable resources such as sugar and vegetable oils. They are readily biodegradable and are often used by eco-brands. Ecological detergent also go without fillers (to make it appear larger by volume), optical brighteners, chlorine or controversial genetically engineered enzymes that are frequently used by the conventional detergent industry. But who wants to minimize environmental burden, should resort to a perfume-free detergent. Some fragrances, such as the citrus fruits are toxic to aquatic organisms.
A major problem of vegetable detergent surfactant production is currently, the extensive use of palm kernel oil and coconut oil. The ever-increasing demand for these oils has already led to massive environmental destruction, especially in Asia and has a comprehensively dramatic impact on ecosystems and therefore the water. Palm oil from organic production can alleviate this dramatic development. However, the production of organic palm oil worldwide is currently negligible.
When selecting a detergent one should consider the following criteria:
- Efficiency of detergent power even at low temperatures
- Biodegradable (organic ingredients as possible)
- Modular system to dispense water softener and bleach correctly
- Free of optical brighteners and perfume
- Not tested on animals
- Recycled packaging material
- Phosphate free (in Germany already standard, but in other countries not very often!)
- In general, enzymes are important cleansing ingredients, but allergies sufferers should consider whether the use of enzymes for them has negative consequences.
Two certifications can assist in the selection of detergents:
The stricter Eco-guarantee logo and the EU Ecolabel
Apart from that also the usage of fabric softeners should be largely dispensed. Often they contain a large number of potentially allergies promoting and environmentally harmful ingredients.
The strength of washing of diverse products is regularly tested by e.g. Stiftung Warentest (Foundation of product-testing) or Öko-Test (eco-test).
AlmaWin / Klarwashingcomparison
During our research, we were particularly convinced by the products of the company’s Almawin / Klar. In addition to using exclusively plants, easily biodegradable and largely organically produced detergents, the company produces with clean power. With the product line “Klar” the company Almawin offers a perfume-free detergent, which achieved good washing results in the test of the magazine “Öko-Test”. But it’s relatively expensive.
Finally OBUK e.V. decided to use the AlmaWin detergent in the guest-house as a first choice.
Products of the company Ecover also have good washing results. Ecover pays attention to ecological production and use of substances that put little stress on the the waters. In addition, perfume free products are offered. Ecover endeavors to reduce and perspectively abolish the usage of detergents that contains environmentally and socially often very problematic produced palm oil.
Frog – to strike a balance
The Color washing powder of the brand “Frosch” convinced us with good washing results, good environmental properties and an average price. The German manufacturer Werner & Mertz is committed to organic production, ensuring animal welfare and the exclusive use of plant surfactants with high and rapid biodegradability. In addition, the manufacturer is trying to reduce the use of palm oil and foster the use of surfactants from European raw materials. Unfortunately, however, he offers no perfume-free products.
The conventional way
The drugstore chain DM offers with their product “Denk mit – Colorwaschmittel Aktiv Schutz” value for money as well as good washing results but little information about the production process. After all, the manufacturers have set their target of sustainable production.