Edit: I posted a recipe and ‘how-to’ for making your own garden friendly liquid laundry detergent. Check it out!
The other week Ken, a local reader, commented on my Tips for A Drought Friendly Garden post saying that he was interested in knowing more about about plant safe detergents and soaps to use in his homemade grey water system. He wanted to know if I knew more about this. Well I knew a little bit, but I did a little research to learn more and I thought I’d share it with you. There are a number of reasons why you might not want to use common detergents and soaps, including what happens to them once they reach our main waterways, and you can read all about it at nature moms, but I’m going to focus garden friendly detergents and soaps.
I remember from way back to an old college class that I took that using detergents and soaps that contain phosphorus can harm the waterways by helping grow algae. Phosphorus acts as a fertilizer, which at first sounds great. If it’s a fertilizer why wouldn’t you want to add it to your garden? Well probably for the same reason that you don’t use Miracle Grow, right you Organic Gardeners? Adding synthetic fertilizers strips the soil of its natural nutrients eventually, so you become dependent on using synthetic fertilizers to add nutrients to the soil. Better to add manure, cover crops and compost to your soil and keep the phosphorus filled detergents out.
When you look for a safe detergent for using when you channel your laundry water into your garden, you want to closely examine the label. Just because it states that the ingredients are ‘plant-based’ doesn’t necessarily mean that the product is harmless. Nor does biodegradable mean that it’s going to biodegrade in a safe and short amount of time. Even harmful chemicals are designed to biodegrade at some point. Most eco-looking detergents and soaps carry those terms, so what in the heck can you use and who can you trust?
To be honest looking at all of the cleaning websites is making my head spin. I think what it comes down to is that if you are really concerned about growing your vegetables completely organically you might want to use your cast off dish water and laundry water for your lawn and ornamentals.
I learned a new term from the Bio-Pac website: Biocompatibility. Biocompatible cleaners are not only non-harmful for plants and soil, they biodegrade entirely into plant nutrients!Biocompantible cleaners are designed with grey water systems in mind, so any of the Bio Pac products would be safe to use. We use their dish soap frequently and besides it being plant safe, it is a nice soap to use. I hand wash the majority of our dishes every night so I’m pretty picky about liquid soaps. I don’t like them to be too thin or to have an icky odor. Bio Pac is nicely concentrated and it smells really nice too – citrusy!
Seventh Generation has been a trusted ‘green’ company for a while now. I use their disposable diapers exclusively and frequently use their detergent too.
Ecover products are also reported to biodegrade cleanly. Treehugger has a great write up all about Ecover.
If you are of the frugal manner, you can try making your own dish soaps and detergents to use. Most recipes call for washing soda, which according to this site is all natural and safe, much like baking soda. I list a detergent recipe below but can’t seem to find a dish soap recipe that looks good.
What to Buy:
- Seventh Generation Liquid Laundry Detergent
- Seventh Generation Powder Natural Laundry Detergent
- Bio-Pac Concentrated Dish Liquid
- Ecover Dishwashing Liquid
- Ecover Laundry Powder
- Try Making Your Own Natural Laundry Detergent
- What Homemade Detergent Costs vs Store Bought Detergents
- EPA Guide to Detergent Additives
What do you know about plant safe detergents and soaps? What do you use?