What to Know About Plant-Based Laundry Detergent
by Natasha Burton
Plant-based products have taken over the body and home care industry, with everything from makeup to cleaning supplies going botanical. The testing and consulting firm Smithers forecasts that the industry for sustainable home cleaning products alone will reach $111 billion globally by 2026, up from a projected $75 billion in 2021 (1). As people become more aware of — and more careful about — what they put on their skin and the surfaces they come in contact with, traditional products can start to lose their appeal. And laundry detergent is one such item to consider when you’re exploring the transition over to plant-based products. After all, we wear those laundered clothes all day, every day (not to mention sleep all night tucked into our laundered sheets). So what’s to know about plant-based detergents?
It’s What You Won’t Find In Plant-Based Laundry Detergents That Matters
Petrochemicals are some of the most common, harsher ingredients found in traditional laundry detergents. Petrochemicals are formed from petroleum (otherwise known as natural gas) and are used in many products we rely on in our everyday life, laundry detergent included. What’s more, producing petrochemicals contributes to more greenhouse gas emissions and leads to increased pollution and adverse health effects for those who live near petrochemical plants (5).
Benzene is one petrochemical (also referred to as a petroleum distillate) that’s commonly used in detergents (2). And according to the Environmental Working Group, petroleum distillates may be carcinogenic and may cause skin allergies or irritation. They’re also connected to organ damage and fertility issues when exposed repeatedly and over prolonged periods through household cleaners (5).
According to the Cleveland Clinic, harsh cleaners and detergents can also lead to contact dermatitis because of the preservatives and fragrance ingredients that go into those products. Research has found that around 2.5% of detergent remains on our fabrics after we wash them, so it’s important to consider how many traditional detergent ingredients interact with our skin later (6). While some may help clean our fabrics and preserve the detergent itself, they may also leave behind a trail of potential issues for those with sensitive skin or a history of skin allergies (9).
Are Plant-Based Detergents Actually an Effective Alternative?
One of the biggest misconceptions about plant-based laundry detergents is that they aren’t as effective as traditional ones. But plant-based detergents can be just as effective as the ones containing petrochemicals and other harsh ingredients. Depending on the brand and formula, plant-based laundry detergents have different concentrations of plant-derived surfactants and stain-removing enzymes. While the ingredients are derived from plants and bacteria, they still bind to oil and dirt to wash away stains during the laundering process.
Why Plant-Based Is Better
Ultimately, everything we put down the drain, flows into local water sources, so the ingredients in our body and home care products matter. The concerns around petrochemicals — both for environmental and for health reasons — may be one factor fueling the growing popularity of plant-based detergents. One Neilson report on consumer attitudes toward home cleaning found that 40% of consumers globally seek environmentally friendly products (8). These alternatives leverage plant- and bacteria-derived ingredients that still work to remove dirt, grime and oil. And because plant-based products are more likely to use biobased ingredients (renewable ingredients that come from nature), they’re better for the environment and help reduce the amount of carbon emissions that come from relying on non-renewable petroleum-based ingredients.
Cleanyst makes it easy to create safe and effective personal care and household cleaning products from the comfort of your home. Our laundry detergent concentrate is made from 59% biobased content without petrochemicals. And by shipping only necessary ingredients in minimal packaging and harnessing the power of bottle reuse, our system also helps reduce single-use plastic waste by around 80% compared to traditional products.
- Smithers - Sustainable cleaning products market to surge to $110 billion in 2025
- ScienceDirect - Petrochemical
- National Library of Medicine - Health effects of people living close to a petrochemical industrial estate in Thailand.
- Recent Advances in Petrochemical Science - Hazardous Effects of Petrochemical Industries: A Review
- Environmental Working Group - Petroleum Distillates
- Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health - Skin Safety Evaluation of Laundry Detergent Products
- The Coveteur - Chronic Skin Irritation? Your Laundry Detergent Might be to Blame
- Neilsen - The Dirt on Cleaning