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Does Your “Green” Detergent Contain Hidden Petrochemicals?

Does Your “Green” Detergent Contain Hidden Petrochemicals?


Have you been reaching for the laundry detergents that label themselves “green” because you believe — based on the labels on the very products — that they contain no petrochemicals?  I have. So have many others. And many people are presumably as dismayed as I am to discover that some big “green” brands still contain as much as 38% petroleum-derived ingredients.

An analysis, carried out by the CBC, scrutinized three major “green” detergent brands: Sunlight Green Clean, Clorox GreenWorks and Purex Natural Elements. Of the three, only Clorox Green Works was found to be mostly “natural,” with 98% of its ingredients found to be plant-based. Sunlight Green Clean contained 62% plant-based ingredients, and Purex Natural Elements contained 70% plant-based ingredients. With the remainder of both detergents, over 30%, consisting of chemicals derived from petroleum.

Sunlight, at least, has never made any claims of being entirely natural – its label simply states that it “includes” plant based ingredients. Purex Natural Elements, however, does claim to be over 95% “natural.”

Part of the issue is that there is no legal definition for “natural” as it applies to products such as laundry detergent — so nothing prevents companies from labeling products as “natural,” implying plant-derived or otherwise less environmentally harmful ingredients, when they are in reality significantly petroleum-based. And while Purex defends its detergent by stating that it discloses the list of ingredients on every bottle (therefore it wasn’t hiding anything!), most laypeople are not chemists and are not able to distinguish a petrochemical on a label from a “natural” or plant-derived chemical.

Ultimately, while improving the non-petroleum based content of everyday items such as laundry detergent is an excellent step forward, both Purex and Sunlight appear to have engaged in significant greenwashing on these products in the hopes of duping the consumer.

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Photo credit: D. Sharon Pruitt on Flickr

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4:07PM PST on Feb 7, 2013

why not just use vinegar to clean?

1:23PM PDT on Aug 3, 2011


12:20PM PDT on Jul 17, 2011

Every company is jumping on the 'natural' bandwagon. This article is exactly right, a closer look will show nothing but greenwashing in almost every case.

1:22PM PDT on Jul 16, 2011

I never buy any household cleaner without first consulting, which tells me exactly which products are best for health, environment, and society, and rates them in order of the best for each category.

1:22PM PDT on Jul 16, 2011

I never buy any household cleaner without first consulting, which tells me exactly which products are best for health, environment, and society, and rates them in order of the best for each category.

8:39AM PDT on Jul 16, 2011

Hey Laurie; thanks for the heads up! I'll definitely check it out and I encourage others to follow Laurie's lead because if more of us would look toward 'manufacturing' our own products to whatever extent possible, manuacturers would have to be more transparent in what is in their products.

11:14AM PDT on Jul 15, 2011

Sounds like fraud to me....

3:49AM PDT on Jul 15, 2011

I wonder if which brands, if any, are truly natural? I have been using Parisienne Bio (i think that's what it's called) for a few months without really questioning if it, although maybe I should now.

8:32PM PDT on Jul 14, 2011

Can't trust the labels! What constitutes 'natural' nowadays?

3:29PM PDT on Jul 14, 2011

I just read an article about how to make your own (very inexpensive) laundry soap. If you are interested, look up laundry soap recipes on the web. There are several sites that tell you how to make it and MOST are quite simple. That's one of my weekend projects. I'm going to try it!

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