While I’ve focused the past few years on big stuff (energy, transportation, etc) I figured now was a good time to shift my focus…as I’ve run out of home energy efficiency projects.
The zero waste/plastic free movements are gaining traction and there’s now dozens of companies helping you ditch plastic and reduce shipping related emissions from your household goods like laundry detergent, soaps, oral care, etc.
Unfortunately I found no objective comparison reviews and nearly every product sports impossibly stellar reviews. So I decided it’s time to channel my inner love of the Wirecutter and Consumer Reports and start the Eco-friendly Cheapass Labs to test some products.
Does It Really Matter?
Our go-to laundry detergent weighs in at about 7lbs for 54 loads. But 54 pods in a cardboard box is only about 2 lbs. Assuming each travels 2000 miles by truck from the factory to reach me…we’re looking at about a pound of CO2 saved with the lighter pods. To put this in context you’d have more CO2 reduction by eating one ounce less beef. I know, really took the wind out of the sails here.
I do however think elimination of single use plastic is a big deal. It’s overwhelmingly not recycled (even if it gets into your recycle bin), it’s getting into oceans, releasing microplastics, keeping us tied to oil, etc. It’s hard to quantify these costs the same way as CO2, but they’re worrisome to say the least.
The thing to keep in mind is while each jug you buy is trivial, it adds up over a large group – a good estimate is there’s 768 million jugs used annually just by US households (128 million households using on average 6 jugs). That’s a lot of landfill each year just for laundry jugs.
Each detergent was tested using a Kirkland Signature white t-shirt stained with half a teaspoon each of ketchup, chocolate sauce, olive oil, red wine, and a tablespoon of compost rubbed in. The shirt sat for 30 minutes to let things set.
Each test shirt was then washed in a Maytag MHW5500FW front loader, normal cycle with steam for stains enabled, warm water, and soil level high.
The top performers were then run though loads of our family laundry and assessed subjectively for feel, scent, and general impression of cleaning (plenty of food stains from a 4 year old and poop from a baby).
Washing in Warm Water?!
I know the common environmentalist message is cold water is best. But an energy star washer like ours uses 14 gallons of water each load, assuming warm is mixed half hot and cold that’s just 7 gallons hot water. With the heat pump water heater that’s roughly a third a kWh of power (depends on the temperature of the garage). Of course that power is coming off a solar array…so I figure better washing results is worth zero environmental impact.
Interesting side note an old top loader filled with hot water off a conventional electric water heater would take 21 times more power and could be responsible for around 15lbs CO2 just from the water alone.
So if your goal is to reduce the overall environmental impact of your laundry the biggest gains may be in the settings, the washing machine itself, and how you make hot water – not the detergent.
One of the best known of the eco laundry pods is Dropps – you’ve likely seen their CEO in ads bathing or dancing. It turns out Dropps isn’t just marketing hype, on the objective test Dropps clearly beat all the competition and beat our benchmark laundry detergent (Seventh Generation Ultra Power Plus) on all the stains except the red wine.
After running though our household laundry we found Dropps to be extremely effective even faced with stinky towels, baby poop, and gym clothes.
Depending on quantity, variety, and subscription or not you’ll pay between 16-43¢ per load – so if you order right it’s pretty cheapass friendly. Dropps is B rated for safety by EWG, so they also have a lot of people and eco-friendlyness.
I was also impressed by the minimalist packaging – while many companies shipped a bag of detergent in a box, the shipping box unfolds to be the pods storage/dispenser. There was no excess space, wasted material, etc.
Another advantage of Dropps is the selection: multiple scents, baby/hypoallergenic pods, small loads pods, fabric softener pods, and oxi pods.
Note if you check out Dropps using our links that helps support our reviews. However our recommendations are never swayed by referral programs or lack thereof.
If you’ve spent any time online you’ve likely seen Bluelands ads for hand soap tablets. Blueland laundry tablets are 35¢/load (27¢ in larger quantities). Blueland laundry is not rated by EWG. Note these are tablets not pods, so no PVA wrapper if you’re trying to avoid PVA (which we don’t think is a problem).
Blueland was pretty middle of pack – not the worst but not close to the best. With the higher cost and no EWG rating it was quickly dismissed.
Admittedly if I’m joining a cult, I’d rather it be very, very dirty. But if cleaning is your bag, they have just the cult for you – they even give you free product for getting your friends to join the cult! I got the laundry tablets which are 47¢ each. Cleancult laundry is not rated by EWG. Worth note if you want to kick the plastic habit but still love liquid detergent, theirs is in paper cartons like milk.
As for the stain test Cleancult left all stains but dirt noticeable (though faded), with the high cost we can’t recommend drinking the kool aid of this cult.
Truman’s has slick designs and fun product names like “reporting for doodie” (toilet bowl cleaner) and “get a load of this” (laundry detergent). They have fairly high 48¢/load price, though you can save 20% with membership bundles. The pods are PVA pouches containing dry powder cleaner, packed in cardboard boxes.
Trumans performed the worst on the stained shirt test, leaving 4 stains still very visible on the shirt. If I didn’t have dirty clothes and wasn’t a cheapass…no, nevermind.
Upon recommendation of a few people I tossed in Tru Earth’s laundry strips to ensure at least one strip style laundry detergent got tested. Pricing varies 28-63¢ per load depending on quantity and subscription or not. Tru Earth laundry is rated a C for safety by EWG.
We found Tru Earth did overall a good job on the stains aside from the wine. But with a lower EWG rating and higher cost than Dropps, we didn’t find it compelling enough to recommend unless you’re super gung-ho about the sheet format.
Dropps is effective, affordable, safe for people and the environment, eliminates unnecessary plastic waste, and reduces shipping emissions with carbon neutral shipping. Given Dropps has a 30 day risk free trial, giving it a try is a no-brainer.