Ecological laundry detergents — my attempts to wash cleaner

As you can imagine, as a family of seven we wash quite a bit. In fact, I feel like I’m never not washing! There is always a load of laundry waiting, a hand wash soaking or a pile of clean laundry ready to be folded and put away…

Because I wash so much, I’ve become quite aware of the amount of environmental damage because of the detergent we use as well as the amount of plastic bottles we throw away. So over time, I have started to use ecological laundry detergents that I believe are less damaging for the environment (and at the same time, less damaging for our skin as well).

First of all, I have started to use ecological laundry detergents of brands that claim they are polluting our planet less, using plant derived and bio-degradable ingredients. I like companies that are constantly working to make their products better, not just in terms of efficiency but also in terms of sustainability. Packaging is important too — avoiding (virgin) plastics wherever we can.

I realise that in every country there are different ecological laundry detergents on the market, but still wanted to list a few products I like using here:

  • Marseille soap: Marius Fabre offers a nice assortment of products for the laundry. I use the ‘Savon the Marseille’ flakes to soak especially dirty clothes (baby poo!) before I wash them in the machine. Marseille soap is 100% plant based and is entirely biodegradable. The flakes come in a cardboard box that can go in the recycling.
  • Have you ever heard of the ‘soap nut’? The shells of the Sapindus mukorossi fruit, which grow in abundance in India and Nepal, will release a natural form of soap when in touch with water. It gently cleanses your laundry and acts as a natural fabric softener. It’s been used in India and Nepal for thousands of years and is now available in the Netherlands (two young guys started ‘Seepje‘ during their studies). I have been washing our clothes with soap nuts quite regularly, and it does a good job. If you want, you can add a few drops of essential oil to the compartment. (I haven’t tried this yet but I like the idea of it.)
  • Seepje also provides a liquid detergent that I like to use for delicate laundry that I wash on a lower temperature. This product comes in a plastic bottle, but it is made from (Dutch) recycled plastic and is fully recyclable.
  • The Laundress is a NY based company started by two women who were looking to improve the soap industry. They have an extensive range of ecological laundry and cleaning products. I love the ‘chic’ branding and the scents they use are so lovely. It makes doing the laundry feel special! However, the plastic bottles are wasteful, and the price point is high, so I only use these products sporadically. (I particularly like their wool & cashmere shampoo.)
  • For all ‘normal’ laundry (towels, bedsheets, sportswear, jeans, etc) I use a powder detergent from an ecological brand (Ecover). It comes in a cardboard box, so it doesn’t create plastic waste.

ecological laundry detergents

I like using a soap cubes to spot clean and to pre-treat stains or difficult areas (like collars, under-arm, bra straps etc). I also use them to hand wash. Above, you see my collection :). The big block is Marseille soap. Next to it, The Laundress lovely wash & stain bar (smells so great!). And that steel tool behind is a wire soap shaker! It fits the bar shaped Marseille soap in the front and I use it to create soapy water to hand wash. To treat stubborn stains, I sometimes use an old toothbrush. The above examples are all sold plastic free and are made from natural ingredients (vegetable oils).

Additional to choosing detergents with care, here are some other things I think of when I do laundry:

  • I make sure my machine is full when I wash a load (not much of a problem with 5 children!)
  • Cleaning rags, towels and bedsheets are the only items I wash on high temperatures.
  • Even though I do use a dryer (it is unavoidable at the moment), I try to line dry as much as I can.
  • I wash our own bedsheets weekly, but the children’s beds get changed just once every 2 weeks.
  • I carefully look if clothes really need to be washed or if they can be spot cleaned and worn a second or third time. (Except underwear, obviously.)
  • Wintery woollens do not need a lot of washing as wool has self cleaning properties. Air drying is often sufficient.
  • I NEVER use fabric conditioners. It is an extra product I believe we do n0t need to spoil our energy or money on… Plus, I feel it only creates more waste. I personally do not like the (often artificial) scents anyway. I also do not like the feeling of towels that are washed with a fabric softener. They just do not absorb well! (I actually prefer a slightly more ‘rough’ towel. As my grandmother used to say, it is a great skin exfoliator and it helps our blood circulation!) Some say a fabric conditioner makes their clothes less static. However, we almost exclusively own clothes made from natural fibers so this has never been an issue for us…

Do you have any thoughts about doing your laundry in a more environmental friendly way or do you have tips or great products to share? I would love to hear!

xxx Esther


Comments (19)

January 29, 2019

Norfolk Natural Living is an amazing new brand: natural ingredients, biodegradable, PET packaging (recyclable) and striving to get even better. They are also opening a shop in Holt Norfolk (gorgeous town) where I believe you will be able to refill/reuse! Worth a check out online and in Norfolk if you are ever there 😊

Esther in Amsterdam
January 29, 2019

Thank you for sharing! I love the idea of refilling. xx

Lizzy in Minnesota
January 29, 2019

What a great list! I also love castile soap (to help spot clean) and add either Borax or Baking Soda to my wash to help deodorize sweaty summer clothes and as a way to brighten colours and whites without using bleach products. Vinegar is another wonderful product, but it can wear away elastics and the rubber inside a washing machine over time (although I do sill use it occasionally on things like white towels, especially if I’m out of borax/baking soda).

Esther in Amsterdam
January 30, 2019

I read about Borax but it’s not so common here in the NLs. I’ll try to find it! How mush do you typically use? And on top of your regular (eco) detergent?
And yes, I read about baking soda and vinegar too! I haven’t tried them yet but I saw The Laundress sells a nice scented vinegar that I might get! x

Lizzy in Minnesota
February 5, 2019

I usually add about 1/2 cup to a large load of laundry (depending on how dirty the clothes are!). And I add that to my eco detergent; in our washer, everything just gets added at once in the same little drawer. I don’t think the borax necessarily ‘washes’ the clothes but it helps removes odors/disinfects and is a non-bleach way of helping to whiten clothes. And, with stains (even things like olive oil and tomato which are so hard to get out!), I add a spoon of borax to a bucket of warm water and let everything soak or an hour or so. It’s helped save some of my favourite clothing pieces (especially those of my girls! my husband is from italy and we use a lot of tomato sauce, which always ends up all over my girls clothing!) x

Esther in Amsterdam
March 25, 2019

Thank you Lizzy!! (And I agree, tomato sauce stains are the worst! And those of pears!!)

January 29, 2019

Hi Esther,
What a great topic to put out there! I also use the wash nuts from Seepje for all my washing, including the delicates and wool, and I love the way they work and are environmental friendly as well. I always put essential oils in the fabric softener compartment so the laundry also smells nice (my favourites are rosemary and lavender) and it doesn’t stain or anything. I wish I could say that I wash the bedsheets only every 2 to 3 weeks for the environment, but I that would be lying, I am just a bit lazy in that department. Loved your other ideas too!

Esther in Amsterdam
January 30, 2019

Thanks! And I didn’t even know I could use the soap nuts for woollens too — I’ll try that! Thank you! 🙂

January 30, 2019

What a great post! I am a bit surpriced that you havr so many products. I only have two fluid detergents (color and white) and I buy refills for them, recycle the plastic. Then I have a special detergent for wool, two products for hard stains and thats it. I recently ordered something called the eco laundry egg, which you put in the machine and you dont need detergent at all. Will try it and hopefully it works as well as I heard.

Esther in Amsterdam
January 30, 2019

Keep me posted about the laundry egg — it sounds intriguing! I wonder if it makes the laundry ‘fresh’ enough? Do let me know!
PS I try to use powder detergent as much as I can to cut down on plastic… But for delicate washes and wool wash I use liquid detergents as I feel the powder doesn’t dilute well on lower temperatures. The soap nuts are a very recent discovery! The rest is all for hand wash, pre soak and stain treatment! xx

March 25, 2019

Hi Anna,
I’m curious about how you’ve found the ecoegg with your washing? I read the link you gave and looks to goo to be true?! I currently use soap nuts but always open for new ideas.

January 30, 2019

Hello Esther. Very interesting post. We live in Belgium, so I am familiar with the products are mentioning. I would like to know if the ‘Savon the Marseille’ flakes help to remove also other type of stains. With two small kids food, ink and grease stains pose the main challenge for our washing. Would you have any other tips how to get rid of them?

Esther in Amsterdam
February 4, 2019

Hi Katarina, thanks for your comment! I like the way the Marseille soap works — if the soaking doesn’t remove the stain, I tend to use the toothbrush on the stain with the soap! And then I wash as usual. I can get rid of most stains like this, but some things are there to stay, I suppose… 😉

February 6, 2019

If you live in Europe, seek out Hakawerk laundry and household products (German made). Both my mother-in-law and sister-in-law swear by them in France, and I am so sad that they do not export to the US.

Esther in Amsterdam
March 25, 2019

I haven’t seen those in The Netherlands yet! But I’ll look out for them.

May 4, 2019

I’ve been making my own laundry soap for a few years now. It’s a mix of marseille soap flakes and soda cristals dissolved in water. It becomes a gel and works perfectly. I sometimes add some essential oils as well, lemon or lavender

Esther in Amsterdam
May 5, 2019

So interesting! I have both ingredients at home, will give it a try!

August 19, 2019

Using white vinegar instead of fabric softener with or without essential oils is amazing: it helps for colored clothes to retain the color plus it removes odors and makes towels soft.
If you use a dryer, wool dryer balls are amazing! I add a couple of drops of essential oils to the balls and the laundry smells lovely. Wool dryer balls are eco friendly, naturally anti-microbial and last forever. as an added bonus you do not hear any rattling sound that you normally hear when using rubber or plastic drying balls.

Esther in Amsterdam
August 20, 2019

Thank you! I haven’t heard of dryer balls before, I’m going to check them out! x

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