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May 20, 2018  |  Login
Green Alternative Detergent Ingredients
By Karyn Siegel-Maier

Dirty laundry hasn’t changed much over time. Dirt is still dirt and comes in one of two forms—water-soluble or non-water-soluble. The science of getting laundry clean relies on surfactants and other agents that lift dirt, disperse it into the wash water, and prevent it from being re-deposited on fabrics. It may sound like a tall order from a natural product, but it’s not a lot to ask that it do the job without NPEs or ethyl-whatever.


Here’s a rundown of greener alternative ingredients that you want to see on the label and what they do:






Cleaning Use


Plant or vegetable-based surfactants

Coconut, corn, palm

Anti-redeposition agents

Sodium citrate, borax

Anti-foaming agents

Oleic acid


Potassium sorbate

Anti-bacterial agents and protein dissolvers

Protease and cellulose (plant-based enzymes)

Performance enhancers

Magnesium sulfate, magnesium chloride, sodium sulfate, sodium chloride

Water softening agents

Soda ash, vinegar, sodium bicarbonate

Non-chlorine bleaching agents

Sodium percarbonate, sodium carbonate, hydrogen peroxide


EPA-744-F-99-008: Key Characteristics of Laundry Detergent Ingredients, May 1999 --

The Naturally Clean Home by Karyn Siegel-Maier, Storey Publishing, 1999.

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