Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Spilling the Dirt on Earthy-Crunchy Laundry Powder

Okay, I'm not your average tree hugger.  You should know that up front.  Oh sure, I care about the environment as much as the next girl.  I saw that Wall-E movie about how humanity might have to evacuate the Earth if we turn it into a giant garbage dump, entirely devoid of life, and I don't want that kind of future for my children or my grandchildren.  While searching the internet for a nice still shot of Earth-as-garbage-dump from the Wall-E film, I was horrified to find images of parts of the world that already look like the Wall-E film, in real life.

Garbage City, a real place outside of Cairo in Egypt, as photographed by Bas Princen
But until fairly recently there has been a separate subculture associated with "going green," the legacy of the hippie tree-huggers or whatever, and I have not been a member of that group.  I would hesitantly venture into the local Earth Fare organic supermarket from time to time, and find an alternate universe populated by women wearing biblical sandals with socks, carrying hemp diaper-clad babies in handmade, hand-dyed slings, and they have all brought their own reusable fabric grocery totes made out of organic fabric that was handwoven by a collective of indigenous lepers somewhere, with all proceeds donated to saving the rainforest...  Okay, I totally made up that part about the lepers, but you get the idea.  I felt very conspicuous at Earth Fare, self-conscious about my leather purse, my frivolous attire, and my ignorance of the complexities of natural foods, vegetarianism, cruelty-free cosmetics, and environmentally-friendly cleaning products. 

I couldn't even find half of the groceries on my list, and the things I did find seemed outrageously overpriced.  Take laundry detergent, for instance.  I pay $5.99 for a box of Arm & Hammer fragrance-free powdered laundry detergent at the regular grocery store, but there was no Arm & Hammer detergent, or any other recognizable brand, to be found at Earth Fare.  Instead, similarly-sized boxes of laundry powder with brand names I'd never heard of cost as much as $14.99.

Well, in a desperate time crunch, with no laundry soap at home, no clean clothes to wear, and no time to get to a "normal" store to buy laundry detergent any time soon, I broke down and bitterly forked over $14.99 for a box of Biokleen Premium Plus Laundry Powder.  The outside of the box claimed that I would get 54 loads as opposed to the 46 loads I supposedly got from a box of Arm & Hammer.  The box also informed me that it contained no phosphates, no chlorine bleach, and no "fillers."  I have no idea what phosphates and fillers are, and at this point I thought the "no chlorine bleach" part just indicated that this laundry product was safe to use on dark colored loads.  I just hoped this weird stuff would actually get the clothes clean and I wouldn't end up throwing out the whole box.

I got the box home, opened it, and was shocked to find what looked like an instant lemonade mix scoop inside instead of the regular-sized scoop I was used to.  Look at the two side-by-side:
 I was incredibly skeptical about this laundry powder, but after using this product for about a month, I'm a convert.  My clothes are coming out just as clean, and I'm using between 1/4 to 1/5 of the amount of laundry soap that I was using before, so this "expensive" environmentally-friendly laundry product is actually much less expensive than the Arm & Hammer brand, or Tide, or Cheer, or any of the other mainstream detergents.  It turns out that the claim of 46 loads on the Arm & Hammer box is based on small loads, for which you're only supposed to fill the big green scoop to the first line.  Of course they give you the mammoth scoop because they want to encourage people to use more soap so they have to buy more faster.  The Biokleen claim of 54 regular loads or 108 high efficiency (front-loading washer) loads is based on filling their scoop all the way to the top for a full sized load in a conventional washing machine, or halfway up for the HE washing machines. 

I still haven't had a chance to figure out what phosphates are and why they are bad for the environment, or why chlorine bleach has become an enemy of the planet, but I definitely get that when one box lasts four or five times as long, there is less packaging, less waste headed to landfills, and less pollution transporting that product to market.  I would also like to point that, now that I am saving money by switching to environmentally-friendly laundry powder, I have freed up additional grocery funds which can now be allocated towards my favorite guilty Earth Fare splurge: a little $8 block of Ski Queen Gjetost, a caramelized brown Norwegian goat cheese that no one in my family eats except me.  I make little cracker sandwiches with whole grain Wheat Thins when I don't have time for a real lunch.  Mmm...  



cari said...

Biokleen all-purpose cleaner is also great. It comes super-concentrated in a jug that lasts us about 6 months. A (small) dollop of it in the mop bucket, a (very small) dollop of it into a spray bottle, a dash of it into the toilet before brushing... It goes a long way and we use it for all the cleaning.

Rebecca Grace said...

Cari, can you point me towards a relatively unbiased (not a product manufacturer) source to learn more about what to look for and what to look out for when it comes to choosing products that are healthy for people and healthy for the environment? Like a Going Green for Dummies or something?

cari said...

Here's a good place to start for info on what to avoid in body care products:

As for cleaning products, you want to avoid bleach and bleached products (bleach turns into dioxin), and be sure the product is labeled nontoxic and biodegradable. I don't have an information source on hand but some googling should do the trick.