Are Detergents Biodegradable?

Using detergents are the quickest and easiest way to do the laundry as well as clean around the home and garden.

But just how eco-friendly are most detergents available in the supermarket?

We find out whether detergent is biodegradable and whether there are any environmentally friendly alternatives.

Is Laundry Detergent Biodegradable?

Some detergents are biodegradable and some aren’t.

Not all laundry detergent is crated equally with both bio and non-bio detergents available. But the term bio in this instance refers to whether the laundry detergent is biological (contains additional enzymes).

This is important to know as the ingredients in a detergent determine whether or not it will break down completely once used.

Most laundry detergents also contain chemicals such as optical brighteners, dyes, artificial fragrances, and several other non-natural ingredients.

Look for ingredients with words containing phrases such as “ionic and non-ionic surfactants”. If your detergent contains these ingredients, it is unlikely to be eco-friendly or biodegradable.

Are Laundry Detergents Eco-Friendly?

Most soaps and detergents contain chemicals which are great for cleaning but can cause great harm to the environment.

Grey water (the water that enters our household drains) will end up in a water treatment plant which is designed to safely remove any harmful chemicals.

But storm water (rainwater) enters the drains outside our homes which will make its way into rivers, streams and lakes. This can cause fish to suffocate as excess levels of bacteria in water consume oxygen. This bacteria multiplies so quickly as it feeds on the detergent we use, continually creating a low oxygen environment for fish.

Never recycle or reuse the water used for washing laundry.

It is important that as much detergent as possible enters your foul drainage system. Easy when doing the laundry but not when washing your car with cleaning detergents.

Is Liquid or Powder Detergent Better for the Environment?

Liquid usually contains more eco ingredients than powders, but it’s easier to use too much and the plastic bottles used as packaging aren’t good for the environment. Liquid and powder detergents are always better than laundry pods.

Does Any Company Make an Eco-Friendly Detergent?

There are now several companies and brands making more environmentally friendly detergents and cleaning products.

They contain less artificial chemicals and additives and use ingredients that are natural and break down naturally.

One studied (carried out by Seventh Generation) showed that if every household in the USA replaced one bottle of petroleum-based laundry detergent with a plant-based one, 149000 barrels of crude oil could be saved. That is enough to heat and cool 8500 homes for a year.

To make detergent shopping easier, look for products that are phosphate-free, are not tested on animals, are biodegradable and are packaged in recyclable containers.

Also look for laundry detergents and soaps that can be used at 86°F (30°C). This will use less energy as your washing machine won’t have to heat the water as much.


The sustainable laundry detergent market is expanding with many products now using vegan plant-based materials instead of chemicals derived from petroleum.

Whether you prefer laundry liquid or powder, there is a biodegradable and eco friendly detergent that you can use to do your bit for the environment. 

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