How to Choose and Use Cleaning and Laundry Products I.
Avtor Ing. Žaneta Milošová (Havírová)
We all use these products on a regular basis, so it’s a big topic and a big business too. What do you use to choose your favourite laundry, washing, toilet cleaning or floor cleaning products? Are you intrigued by the packaging, the price or the well-known brand? Do you choose based on what you already know or what someone else has recommended to you?
Have you ever noticed that the packaging gives minimal information about what the product contains, while the company logo is impossible to miss? The excuse of not enough space is ridiculous for washing powder versus lip balm, for example. Nevertheless, you will find more information about the ingredients on the mentioned lip balm. Often there are also pictures of flowers, butterflies, meadows and such to make the product look fresh, eco and healthy. We have already discussed the fact that not everything green is immediately eco, organic or the best in an article about greenwashing.
As always, the problem is the legislation. Do you notice how legislation is so often behind everything? Why is that? Is it because there are a lot of things and not enough space to change them in time, or is there no desire to do so and a lot of pressure from the manufacturers? Either way, even though the legislation has changed, it still has some flaws. The fundamental one is Regulation (EC) No 648/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 31 March 2004 on detergents .
“The existing legislation on biodegradability of surfactants in detergents only covers primary biodegradability and it is only applicable to anionic and non-ionic surfactants; therefore it should be replaced by new legislation, which lays the main emphasis on ultimate biodegradability and meets the important concerns related to the potential toxicity of persistent metabolites.” 
“It is unfortunate that the indication of the full composition on products is optional and therefore the manufacturer is not legally required to provide this information.”
So how to choose?
Whether we want to or not, we are exposed to an intentional psychological pressure from manufacturers to buy as much as possible. Normally, we probably know how business works, unfortunately we forget or don’t want to believe it when we buy. So here’s a common list of classic tricks from manufacturers and retailers and what to look out for:
I wish the higher price = higher quality argument were true, but as we’ve seen a thousand times before, it’s not. The most important thing is the composition, that’s what we should care about.
Water itself is not harmful, but why pay for it? It’s better for your wallet and the environment to choose concentrates or products with minimal water. For example, laundry soap with washing soda (a cheap and effective option), detergent as a soap cube or in powder form where you just top up the water at home. Alternatively, there are also washing strips that are lightweight and dissolve in the washing machine, and other products. The water in the product usually signals that there are a bunch of preservatives that may not be the best for our health e.g. parabens, BHT, formaldehydes, triclosan etc. Of course, that doesn’t always have to be the case, sometimes the products contain acceptable preservatives like ascorbic acid (vitamin C), essential oils, potassium sorbate, citric acid, tocopherol (vitamin E) or others.
The ‘brands’ we know from the media should not be a deciding factor when making a purchase. Again, it is only the ingredients that matter. The brands that everyone is familiar with often don’t contain quality ingredients, since more money is put into the advertising of the product rather than it’s ingredients. These contain petroleum derived products, lots of water, lots of preservatives, microplastics, dyes, perfumes and other ingredients which can be dangerous (carcinogenic, toxic, mutagenic and otherwise harmful ingredients – see this article). However, even big companies have now realized that “eco, organic” is moving the world (market) and are trying to make a difference. Often it is the previously mentioned greenwashing.
A local manufacturer, or a manufacturer you can trust (it’s tough). These manufacturers should have a complete ingredient list written on their products in an appropriate language, ideally with an explanation of where the ingredient is sourced from (origin) and what their purpose is. If the company itself is ‘green’, they will be happy to point out how they are environmentally friendly, where they source their raw materials (which and why) and have everything specified on their website. Here again, watch out for the “greenwashers” and don’t always trust everything!
The composition of a product is not an essay, it is about a few essential ingredients. However, here we have to be careful again as the only thing the manufacturer has to indicate on the label by law is the presence of enzymes, disinfectants, optical brighteners, perfumes and preservatives. That’s why we can get the impression that the product is made up of a few ingredients, while it may not be that case. If you want to know what your laundry detergent, window cleaner or floor cleaner really contains, you need to contact the manufacturer/seller or search their website. Why don’t they want to list everything themselves then? Why do we, as consumers, have to ask for the full ingredients, search for them on websites or even ask for safety data sheets?
New and limited editions, special offers, misleadingly low prices and the like – we like to hear about it because it feels like something new and lucrative, but again, beware, it’s just a manipulation by the manufacturer/seller to get us to buy quickly and not have time to read the ingredients and check the quality. And let’s be honest, this works great in all industries!
Something “extra, free” and the like, it’s the same problem as above. The manufacturer is not going to pay for our enjoyment out of their own pocket. They have to make up for it somewhere. For example, by lowering the product quality – usually there is more water in the product as it is the cheapest.
The “eco products” lure. Whether in advertising, on the packaging (green packaging, plants, animals) and so on, producers want to lure us into thinking that their product is the truly eco-friendly one. Only the ingredients should be able to convince us.
Certificates – more in this article, although we can’t rely on them 100% unfortunately. Moreover, it is impossible for small producers to get a certificate for financial reasons, so the fact that a product does not have a certificate is not decisive. On the other hand, if you choose a certificate that is close to your heart, it may make the purchase at least partially easier. Usually the “better ones” meet the condition of being made of at least 95% of natural ingredients, but the remaining percentage can contain almost anything.
What can help us?
Having multiple products at home that are appropriate for a specific washing or cleaning, so that the function of the products matches your requirements for a particular cleaning or washing (e.g., detergent for coloured clothes, for white, for wool, and so on, if needed). It seems like a waste, but the opposite is true.
However, it is also worth having multi-purpose products. For example, I have a spray bottle from an old cleaning product with vinegar and about a tablespoon of dishwashing liquid in it. Anyone can make this mix, it’s cheap and very effective. I use it to completely wash the bathroom as it removes limescale perfectly, I also use it to clean the toilet and the kitchen counter and sink. It disinfects, cleans and degreases. I guarantee that once you try it, you won’t want anything else. Oh and that vinegar smell, it has a solution – air it out or wait about 5 min. Full instructions and other tips can be found here…
It is important to read the packaging and dosage information – this saves nature (since we don’t waste the product) and energy consumption (making new product, reducing washing temperature).
Wash at the temperature indicated by the manufacturer. If you make your own detergent, e.g. laundry slime (laundry soap + water + baking soda), then it depends on how dirty your laundry is and what colour it is, but in short, wash as you are used to.
Find out the hardness of your water. You probably already know what kind of water you have with the naked eye or by years of experience. If you want to be sure, simply buy a test strip to determine the hardness of the water (one costs about 30 CZK). Alternatively, there is a map of the country where the hardness of water is shown, below. Then use the products according to the instructions depending on the hardness of the water. By doing so, you save money and nature!
The hardness of water in the Czech Republic [2, edited]
Počne tisto, kar uživa – dela kot izvršna direktorica podjetja GreenScan. Študirala je na Tehnični univerzi v Ostravi, kjer je magistrirala iz okoljskega inženirstva. Vedno ji je bilo mar za naravo in stvari okoli nje. Rada ima gore, gozdove, živali in sprejema tudi sodobnost. Zato skuša iskati ravnovesje med naravo in sodobnim svetom.