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Sanjida O'Connell

Dr Sanjida O'Connell is a writer and a TV presenter. Sanjida writes about science and green issues. Her latest novel, The Naked Name of Love, was published by John Murray in March. Her latest TV series was on BBC 2: Nature's Top 40, and was a guide to our top British wildlife spectacles. Find more details about Sanjida's work at her website, sanjida.co.uk

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Last week I wrote about the potential environmental problems with detergents – this week is a summary of the laundry products I think are the best. I warn you now, that as a trained scientist, I am aware that I have carried out a number of shockingly unscientific and wholly subjective tests. But I have trialled many products literally for years and have recently had the help of a number of my ecologically-minded neighbours. My problem is that LFM* and I do a lot of exercise so we’re concerned with sweat and mud. I realise people with children may well be more bothered about milk vomit and grass and others might be fixated on Shiraz stains. The bottom line is that if you want totally clean, sweat-free clothes, most eco detergents don’t cut it. It’s not surprising, says Phil Patterson, a textile consultant and founder of Colour Connections. He points out that to clean clothes you need hot water, lots of it, and detergent. Modern washing machines are designed to operate with less water and at lower temperatures than they used to do, which means you’re heavily reliant on the cleaning power of your detergent. Here’s my take on the best environmentally-friendly ones:


Soap pods– the nut of the Indian sapindus tree. They naturally contain soap (saponin) and work pretty well. Put 5-6 in a little bag, tie firmly, use three times and then compost. A totally free option I’ve read about is to use peeled conkers.

£10.50 for 500g


Ecoballs – they contain mineral salts and work by ionizing oxygen, which lifts out the dirt and grime. They’ll only work if you use all three and don’t put any detergent in with them.

£34.95 for three

Ingredients: Anionic surfactants, calcium carbonate, sodium carbonate, sodium metasilicate


On the plus side, these are both very green options: you can reduce fabric conditioner (and don’t need it for the balls) as well as the length of the rinse cycle and you’ll be releasing almost no chemicals. Also, per wash, they’re pretty cheap – Ecozone, the manufacturer of the original ecoballs, claim that they cost 3p per wash; soap pods are meant to be 50% cheaper than conventional or alternative laundry products. The balls are made of plastic but you can refill them with mineral pellets after 1,000 laundry cycles. However, neither option shifts stubborn stains, like make-up, or ingrained sweat, and the ecoballs made the colour run in my sports tops. The laundry doesn’t have that fresh (chemically-produced smell) we’re used to; the manufacturers suggest you add essential oils. Five drops didn’t do anything, fifteen made LFM smell like a flower and stained his shirts, which didn’t go down too well (eight seems to work).


Ecover stain remover  - recommended to me by a number of people. You paint it onto your clothes before you stick them in the wash. The eco balls also come with a stain remover (and a 30 day money-back trial period). Ecover is not recommended for wool or silk but is supposed to remove grease and protein stains such as blood, egg, grass, mud, milk, sweat, ice cream.

£2.89 for 200ml

Ingredients: Alkyl poly glycoside C10-16, sodium lauryl ether sulfate, sodium chloride, ethanol, perfume, cellulase, citric acid, subtilisin 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol linalool



Daylesford organics laundry liquid (concentrated) – the ingredients are all natural, organic and are not tested on animals. The detergent smells gorgeous as it is scented with either geranium or lavender essential oils. Good for wool, silk, cold or handwash cycles – don’t expect it to get rid of dirt and sweat in a normal wash. Plus it’s relatively expensive.

£4.75 for 1 litre

Ingredients: Vegetable oil soap, aqua, glucose-derived detergent, ethanol, natural anionic detergent, citrates, citric acid, geranium oil


AlmaWin heavy duty laundry powder (concentrated) – this was the best of all the environmentally-friendly alternatives I’ve tried (although, in general, modern machines work better with liquids rather than powder and you need to put the powder in the drum, not the drawer). The power contains no brighteners, petrochemicals, phosphates, chlorine, bulking agents, or colour-additives. It’s not the cheapest or the most eco option (compared to pods and balls) and it does contain biological enzymes (protease). Like enzymes in any detergent they will get your clothes cleaner, but they don’t just dissolve stains, they also go to work on fabric so your clothes will not last quite as long, and some people have an allergic reaction to them. Smells quite fresh, although not of lavender, which is what it contains. AlmaWin points out that the protease enzyme is the only one on the market that is not created by genetic engineering… AlmaWin was on a par with conventional detergents like Ariel and Persil, with the added benefit of containing no nasty chemicals, fewer allergens and is not tested on animals.

£7.80 per 1kg

Ingredients: saccharoidal surfactant, fatty alcohol sulphate, vegetable soap, phyllosilicates, soda, sodium bicarbonate, sodium percarbonate, poly aspartic acid, rice starch, citric acid, natural proteases, TAED, organic lavender essential oil


Bio-D concentrated laundry liquid (concentrated) – this doesn’t smell great in the bottle but has a nice, fresh, faint clean smell when the clothes are laundered. Shifted both dirt and all but the very worst sweat and does not contain enzymes. Bio-D comes in a recycled plastic bottle. Junky Styling, London-based designers who create fantastic garments from old suits and shirts, warn that soap can leave a scum stain on your clothes, although I haven’t found this so far. Since the ingredients for both Bio-D and Daylesford Organics are identical (apart from the essential oils) I’m concluding that it must be the amounts of the ingredients that varies.

£3.85 per litre

Ingredients: Vegetable oil soap, aqua, glucose-derived detergent, ethanol, natural anionic detergents, citrates, citric Acid


Good luck!


*LFM – Lovely Frisbee Man

 Photo of Eco balls courtesy of Ecozone


bobbellinhell wrote:
Sunday, 26 July 2009 at 07:24 pm (UTC)
Ecover biological powder works perfectly well, with the Ecover stain remover for hard cases.
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Friday, 24 December 2010 at 03:24 am (UTC)

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