Green Laundry Detergents: An Introduction To Laundry Detergents in General
To understand green laundry detergents, you must first understand the question of what are in laundry detergents in general. Laundry detergent ingredients might include a mixture of many possible chemicals. Most commercially available laundry detergents contain a lot of different chemicals. Many so-called green laundry detergents have a long list of chemical ingredients as well. Only some of the substances that are part of a detergent actually lead to the removal of dirt and oil from your laundry. Some non-cleaning chemicals that you might find in a detergent mixture might include optical brighteners, impurities from synthetic manufacturing processes and fragrance imparting chemicals.
Surfactants – The Main Laundry Detergent Ingredient
As far as the actually cleaning power of your laundry detergent is concerned, the most significant group of chemicals found in a detergent mixture is the surfactants group. Although this group of chemicals may be listed in the laundry detergent ingredients simply under the title ‘surfactant’, this chemical title describes a large group of compounds.
Surfactants may be derived form natural sources such as from palm oil or tallow. Such surfactants are known as oleo-chemicals. Most surfactants used in the laundry detergent market, however, are derived from petroleum. These surfactants are synthetic, and would be described as petro-chemical surfactants.
What Are Surfactants and How Do They Reduce the Surface Tension of Water?
A surfactant is a substance which is capable of sticking strongly to water and sticking strongly to an oily or non-soluble substance at the same time. To put it differently, a surfactant is a substance which possesses both a hydrophilic (water loving) aspect and a hydrophobic (water hating) nature in the same single molecule. A surfactant is given the name ‘surfactant’ because it acts upon the surface that exists between water and water-repelling substances. This chemical activity explains how a surfactant reduces the surface tension of water. One normally would not consider that old-fashioned bar soap and laundry soap flakes belongs to this class of chemicals. But, they do. This is one class of surfactant that poses fewer environmental hazards than do many of the synthetic surfactants that are used in its place today.
The difference between a soap and a detergent is that a soap (such as bar soap) is composed of a single surfactant (specifically – saponified fatty acid) and nothing else, while, a detergent is composed of a whole mixture of substances often including more than just one type of surfactant, along with a mix of other ingredients.
The surfactant that ordinary soap is composed of is not as strong a surfactant as most of its synthetic counter parts are. The mixture of synthetic surfactants that we find in the usual laundry detergent are able to provide excellent cleaning properties when we use them in our washing machines. However, what impact do these chemicals have upon our bodies? Most clean laundry carries with it traces of the detergent which was used to launder it. This left over detergent comes in contact with our bodies. What is the long term effect of this contact?
How well do our waste water treatment facilities actually break down and eliminate spent laundry detergent molecules? What is the long term environmental impact that trace amounts (or worse) of detergent ingredients which are entering the ecosystems down stream of our laundry machines.?
Some researchers do not feel that these questions have been adequately addressed.
Please read the articles in this section to learn more about the impact of surfactants upon our bodies and our environment.
More About Surfactants:
This post is part of the series: Green Laundry Detergents
- Green Laundry Detergents: First Understand What is in Laundry Detergents
- Green Laundry Detergents – Understanding Surfactants, The Detergent’s Mover and Groover
- Green Laundry: Water Hardness and What Your Detergent is Up Against
- Green Laundry Detergents Versus Regular Detergents & Their Tag-Alongs
- “Green Laundry Detergents” that really are “Green”