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Biodegradable and non-toxic laundry soaps

Consumers concerned about the environment may want to consider a green laundry detergent. One helpful resource, National Geographic's TheGreenGuide.com, recommends detergents that contain plant-based enzymes or ethanol rather than solvents -- compounds like sodium carbonate or sodium bicarbonate rather than phosphates for cleaning, and plant essential oils for scents rather than synthetic fragrances. According to ConsumerReports.org, none of the detergents it tested included nonylphenol ethoxylates, also known as NPEs. These chemical compounds have been proven to be harmful to marine life by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

In addition to scanning product labels for ingredients, the EPA encourages manufacturers to seek their Design for the Environment (DfE) label. The EPA provides an independent assessment of detergent ingredients and awards the DfE label to products that meet toxicity and biodegradability standards. The EPA doesn't just look at the rate of degradation, but also at the resulting byproducts and their effects on the environment. A list of qualifying detergents is available for consumers to view at the EPA's website. Be aware that not all companies have sought the certification.

Among laundry detergents that skip petroleum-based cleaning agents in favor of eco-friendly compounds, Seventh Generation Natural 2X Concentrated Liquid Detergent (*Est. 36 cents per load) is a favorite green detergent with reviewers. Like most liquid detergents that are now double-strength concentration, twice as many loads can be washed in the same size packaging of a few years ago. Seventh Generation detergents are also low-sudsing, so they can be used in high-efficiency washers as well as in standard washing machines.

In a test of six eco-friendly detergents by green-living site Grist.org, Seventh Generation Free & Clear (the fragrance- and dye-free offering by the company, now known as Seventh Generation Natural 2x Concentrated Liquid Detergent) does the best job at removing stains made from ketchup, balsamic vinaigrette, blueberries, red wine and dirt. Editors also appreciate that Seventh Generation Free & Clear is the only detergent in their test that lists all of its ingredients on its product label. In addition to the Free & Clear variety, Seventh Generation is sold in two scents that reviewers at Amazon.com say are mild enough for people with sensitive skin. Former Tide users say Seventh Generation works just as well. On Drugstore.com, Seventh Generation Free & Clear also receives rave reviews from people with sensitive skin.

Seventh Generation Natural Powdered Detergent (*Est. 36 cents per load) is recommended in one professional review that tests its stain-removing capabilities. Less detergent is needed in HE washers, which reduces the cost per load by nearly two-thirds, to 13 cents. On Amazon.com, this powdered detergent receives a very high average rating from 45 reviewers, who say it gets heavily soiled clothes clean. A few reviewers caution that the powdered version of this detergent must be dissolved in the washing machine water before clothes are added to avoid residue stains, but this is a recommended practice for all powdered laundry soaps. Note that as of the date of this report, Seventh Generation laundry detergents did not yet carry the Design for the Environment certification, but the company states on its website that it is in the midst of the application process and hopes to attain certification for all of its products by the end of 2010.

Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day (*Est. 24 cents per load), also has a strong fan base as a green detergent, and has already attained Design for the Environment certification. It's phosphate-free and made with biodegradable ingredients. It's available in five plant-based fragrances as well as an unscented version. On Drugstore.com, 20 consumers say that it gets clothes clean and that the lavender scent is pleasant without being overpowering. Three scents are sold at Amazon.com, where more than 25 consumers say Mrs. Meyer's Laundry Liquid Detergent is a good value and works on caked-on dirt and tough stains. Only one consumer using a HE washer says it doesn't remove odor from workout clothes.

In a test by Good Housekeeping magazine of eco-friendly cleaners, Arm & Hammer Essentials Liquid Laundry Detergent (*Est. 37 cents per load), which uses plant-based ingredients, does the best job of the nine laundry detergents tested. It is "particularly effective at washing in cold water, with top scores for removing ink, mascara, wine, gravy and grape juice stains." However, in another professional comparison test, it doesn't perform well at removing stains. This product is only sold as a liquid and isn't available for HE washers. It doesn't currently carry the Design for the Environment seal.

If you are looking to spend less on an eco-friendly detergent, Country Save Laundry Detergent Powder (*Est. 19 cents per load) may be the best deal on a powdered eco-friendly detergent. Only half the amount is needed in HE washers, which lowers the price to an inexpensive 10 cents per load. It also bears the EPA's DfE label as proof that it is biodegradable and safe for the environment. More than 70 consumers on Amazon.com give Country Save a high average rating of 4.6 stars out of 5. Some reviewers say they started using this detergent for diapers, and then found it works well on cleaning all types of clothing. Country Save powdered detergent is fragrance-free and dye-free, and many people with eczema say it helps keep their skin clear of breakouts. Country Save's packaging, including the plastic liner and scoop, are made of recycled materials that are recyclable. Country Save also makes a liquid detergent that isn't fragrance-free. However, this detergent is hard to find in stores. It's available online and in some Whole Foods outlets, but not at most large supermarkets.

Green detergents with minimal packaging

Although many of the green products mentioned previously have packaging that's made from recycled materials or is recyclable, a few companies have taken additional strides to minimize the resources needed to make and transport their products.

Method Liquid Laundry Detergent (*Est. 30 cents per load) recently launched a concentrated formula in a very small bottle: 10 ounces does 25 loads, and 20 ounces does 50 loads. Additionally, the bottle is made from 50 percent recycled plastic and is recyclable. Another unique feature is a pump dispenser that takes the guesswork out of measuring. This detergent is sold in two fragrances as well as unscented, and it works in both standard and HE washers. We didn't find any expert reviews on this new product, but more than 10 consumers at Amazon.com say that its no-mess pump is easy to use and that their clothes come out clean. However, its fragrance formulas may not be suitable for consumers with sensitive skin. Method laundry detergent carries the DfE seal.

Dropps is another concentrated liquid detergent that offers an unusual twist on packaging. This detergent is contained in premeasured, individually wrapped packets that completely dissolve in water. For those who are willing to pay the higher price, Dropps Laundry Detergent (*Est. 43 cents per load) is simple to use and appealing to the most environmentally conscious. Dropps qualifies for the EPA's DfE label for using environmentally safe ingredients, and the dissolved wrappers are completely biodegradable. In addition to fresh scent and scent- and dye-free versions, there's a baby product that contains no fragrance or dyes.

We didn't find any expert reviews on Dropps, but all three Dropps products are sold at Amazon.com, where 75 reviewers mostly give it high marks for getting clothes clean. Many say they don't miss the inconvenience of lugging a large detergent jug home from the store and measuring detergent for each load of laundry. A few consumers say its wrappers didn't dissolve properly. Another caveat -- the instructions recommend two packets for large loads, which further increases the cost of this detergent.

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Country Save HE Laundry Detergent, Powder, 160-Load, 10-lb Boxes (Pack of 4)
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Seventh Generation, Natural Citrus Scent, Powder Laundry Detergent 48 Ounces, 18 loads
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Method Squeaky Green Laundry Detergent Free + Clear, 32 ounces Bottle
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Dropps Laundry Detergent Pacs, Scent + Dye Free, 20 Loads (Pack of 3)
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