Laundry detergent Eco-laundry choices
Save money and energy while you wash
Save money and use less energy and water by following these tips.
- Wash full loads where you can, as half loads aren't as economical.
- Use the right detergent for the load: use powder for towels, sheets, bedding, pale clothes and coloured stains. Choose liquids for dark clothes, brightly-coloured clothes and grease stains. Use a Best Buy detergent for the best results.
- Don't use too much or too little detergent. Follow the manufacturer's instructions, but as a rule of thumb, use more for heavily-stained laundry in a hard water area and less for lightly-stained clothes in a soft water area.
- Wash at the right temperature. Wash at the lowest temperature that you can: 30°C or lower for delicate or barely-stained clothes, 40°C for more heavily-stained items and 60°C for towels and bedding.
- Pick the right washing machine. See our guide to washing machines to find an energy-efficient Best Buy washing machine.
- Use a Best Buy stain remover so you don't have to do a repeat wash.
Does concentrated detergent mean ‘greener’ cleaning?
Almost all the detergents we’ve tested carry some green logo or statement on their packaging, so it can be hard to differentiate between their green credentials at a glance.
Laundry liquids that are concentrated or double concentrated mean you only need a small amount per wash, so you get more loads washed with less packaging.
Both Surf Small & Mighty and Ecover Concentrated Bio and Non Bio state how much packaging and freight their products save. Ecover claims 54% less packaging and two-thirds fewer lorry loads were used in making its concentrated liquid than its 1.5-litre standard liquid. Surf claims that it has halved the amount of water, packaging and lorries compared with its old liquid.
All of the liquid detergents that we’ve tested come with recyclable packaging.
Environmental claims compared
The two best-known laundry liquids that make environmental claims are Ecover and bio D. See the Greenwashing files, where Which? investigates green and environmental claims from many 'green' cleaning products.
Washing without detergent
Leaving out the detergent altogether is the greenest option for laundry. The movement of water and clothes inside a washing machine is enough to release some dirt and freshen up a lightly-soiled load. However, water alone cannot compete with detergents – even the worst we've tested – when it comes to stain removal.
Bacteria and dirt will build up in your machine if you don't wash one load at a high temperature or use a detergent containing bleach once a month.
As giving up detergent altogether isn’t that practical, choose the lowest possible wash temperature and use the correct dosage to reduce your impact on the environment, or consider using detergent alternatives such as wash balls and soap nuts.
Using wash balls
Wash balls are plastic balls filled with ‘solid washing pellets’ that you put in your washing machine, instead of laundry detergent. Some come with a stain remover to erase tougher stains before washing. Wash ball manufacturers say they can replace regular laundry detergents and wash at temperatures between 30°C and 60°C effectively.
However, when we tried them out we found that they washed less effectively at 30°C than a variety of traditional laundry detergents. The worst were on par with water.
What do you get in a pack of wash balls?
This varies from type to type, but generally two wash balls, a bag of replacement pellets and a stain remover.
Do the stain removers make a difference?
In every case the wash balls removed more dirt with extra help from stain removers. The biggest difference was on fatty stains. Without the stain remover fat stains like butter remained barely touched.
How many washes do you get from a wash ball?
This depends on the wash ball. Some can be used 100 times, but one (Environmentally Friendly Wash Ball) promises to wash as many as 1,000 times before a refill is needed. The manufacturer’s claim is based on a lightly-soiled maximum wash size of 5kg, using one wash ball, and states this is dependent ‘upon cycle time and water conditions’.
How do you know when to replace the balls or pellets inside?
When the pellets inside reduce to about half their original size. Wait until the balls seem lighter than when you first bought them, if they’re a struggle to open.
How do you replace their contents?
Some wash balls undo by hand, while others require help from a screwdriver. Opening wash balls may be difficult for anyone with less than nimble fingers.
Top tips for getting the most out of wash balls
- Don’t over-fill your machine – the balls need room to move around to wash clothes.
- Wash balls need water to work, so don’t use a washing cycle that reduces the amount of water in the drum.
- Use a wash bag to protect your delicates from the rather brutal plastic balls.
- Do not use them on a boil wash or over 60°C, as this will damage them.
- Do not use wash balls in tumble dryers – if you have a washer-dryer, remember to take them out before the drying cycle starts.
- Rinse cycles aren’t necessary with wash balls, as there is no traditional detergent to wash away. This should save water and prolong the wash ball's life.