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Detergent: green washing


At the beginning of the 1950s, the first detergents for washing machines were produced. Just a few years later, the massive use of the persistent, non-degradable surfactants resulted in foamy mountains in the waters. Each of us consumes about 7,8 kilograms of detergent every year. In about 200 washes we wash every year 550 kilograms of laundry. The environmental organization Global 2000 comments: "In the 1970s, the effects of phosphates became apparent. The biological balance of lakes was disturbed and sporadically animals and plants died from the high concentration of surfactants. "In the following decades at least phosphates and certain surfactants in detergents were banned.

Whiter than white

Conventional detergents contain surfactants as the main washing ingredient. These loosen the dirt from the textile fibers and prevent new dirt from penetrating the fibers. Water softeners prevent calcification in the washing machine and lime deposits on the textiles. Washing alkalis in turn cause the fibers to swell, making it easier to remove dirt. Certain enzymes are added to remove stains that contain protein, starch and grease. Adjusting agents prevent powder detergents from swelling during storage and serve as an extender. Bleaching agents and optical brighteners remove stains and make "white" appear even whiter.

Not everything degradable

In conventional detergents, there are still substances that can cause lasting damage to the environment. These may be, for example, readily biodegradable optical brighteners or ethoxylated surfactants which release small quantities of mutagenic and carcinogenic substances.
In addition, often synthetic fragrances, dyes and preservatives are included, which are either not or very difficult to biodegrade. As a rule, conventional detergents contain genetically modified enzymes whose effects on humans and the environment are completely unknown and can also cause allergies.
Chemical additives that are difficult to degrade get from wastewater to groundwater and from there to drinking water and ultimately to our food. For example, nonylphenols, released from the surfactants of conventional cleaners, act as hormonal persistent permanent toxins. Not harmless are the synthetic, non-degradable nitro-musk fragrances, which serve as Duftfixierer and can accumulate in the fatty tissue of humans and animals.

The eco-alternative

Ecological detergents are based on vegetable raw materials and contain no optical brighteners, dyes, foam boosters or phosphates. Ecological products are especially kind to the skin and especially well suited for allergy sufferers. The term "sensitive" on the product can be an indication that the detergent is fragrance-free or preservative-free. According to test results of Ökotest and Stiftung Warentest, the abandonment of petrochemical substances has no negative effects on the detergency.

"Modular systems"

Many eco-manufacturers offer so-called "modular systems". The individual main components of the detergent can be combined depending on the degree of soiling, washing and water hardness. The basic detergent consists of soap flakes, which dissolve the coarse dirt. Other building blocks, such as water softeners, are used for hard water. For white laundry, there is an extra oxygen-based bleaching brick. This is where the environment benefits, as when used properly, less chemicals are used.
The company Sonett is one of these providers. Sonett only produces detergents that are one hundred percent biodegradable. "In addition to the soap, we use only sugar surfactants and coconut oil alcohol sulphate for cleaning. In addition to soap, these are the most easily degradable and skin-friendly pure plant-based laundry detergents. In particular, by washing in a modular system, in which the basic detergent, softener and bleach are dosed separately, raw materials can be saved and it can be washed very efficiently with simple means. Should a laundry be slightly more dirty, it is treated with gall soap or stain spray or it is added bleach complex, which consists of soda and sodium percarbonate based on oxygen, "said Sonett CEO Gerhard Heid.

Totally natural

Soapnuts, ie the shells of the Indian or Nepalese soapnuts, have been experiencing a real boom in the European market for some years now. The dried dishes are packed in cloth bags and placed in the washing drum. The bowls contain the substance saponin, which acts like soap. Soap nuts can be used several times. When asked about the result, the ghosts differ.
Similarly shared is the opinion when washing with chestnuts, ivy and self-mixed powders of curd soap and soda ash. Maybe the expectations of the consumers are very different. Who expects the usual (chemical) fresh scent will be disappointed and the handling is of course more complex than when using a finished product.

Wash properly

It is not only important to choose the right detergent, but also the correct dosage. Harald Brugger ( "The dosage must be adapted to the degree of soiling and water hardness. Overdose does not make sense, because it will not be cleaner than clean. "In addition to the dosage, it is also important to use the washing machine well and to choose the appropriate temperatures.

  • There are various ways to reduce the use of detergents and to protect the environment.

  • Lower wash temperature: The biggest savings potential is to lower the wash temperature from 90 ° C to 60 ° C or 40 ° C. For normal soiled laundry, a washing temperature of 40 ° C is sufficient.

  • Fully exploiting the washing machine: According to a study by the Vienna Chamber of Labor, on average the Austrians only fill the washing machine up to three quarters. The drum is properly filled when there is still a hand's breadth between the laundry and the edge of the drum.

  • Expensive drying: Dryers are true energy eaters and account for more than a tenth of a household's power consumption. The best and most economical way to dry clothes in the fresh air.

  • The dose makes it: correct dosing is only possible if you know the degree of hardness of your water. (Waterworks or municipality provide information.) When dosing use dosing aids - never dose according to feeling. Fill the measuring cups only up to the mark - never completely. Detergents that are available on the market today contain fewer fillers than a few years ago. Therefore, often the amount you used to be used to is too much for modern laundry detergents.

  • Cleaning the lint filter: Remove the lint filter and the detergent drawer and clean them regularly under running water.


In conversation with environmental physician Prof. DI Dr. med. Hans Peter Hutter.

Which ingredients in conventional detergents are you concerned about?
Hans Peter Hutter: The use of fragrances and perfume oils are generally questionable, they can trigger allergies. There are thousands of fragrances, few have been extensively studied. Not sensible from a medical point of view is the use of disinfectants and biocides. First, these are questionable in effect, since not all microorganisms are killed anyway, but in addition, so are also bred resistances that make certain pathogens even more resistant.

How should the consumer choose the right washing product for him?
Common sense is needed here. Does something really have to be whiter than white? And smell of the most different substances? The basic problem is, the more complex a detergent, the more substances it contains that may be problematic. Eco-detergents are not only environmentally friendly but also more sophisticated and, above all, more skin-friendly.

What do you think of alternative detergents such as the soap nut?
I find it good. The cleaning effect fits all these natural substances have no negative impact on the environment. The most important thing would be to raise awareness of how to relieve the environment not only through the use of alternative detergents, but also with the right metering and handling of the washing machine.

Photo / Video: Shutterstock.

Written by Ursula Wastl

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