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Do You Use Eco-Friendly Detergent?

By Matt Hickman

Despite their massive energy- and money-saving appeal, American laundry loaders are still not all that hot on special cold-water detergent formulas.

Back in MNN’s infancy, I tackled the topic of laundering in cold water to help curb stained garment-related greenhouse gas emissions. A whopping 86 percent of the energy needed to wash a load of laundry comes from heating the water while 1,600 pounds of CO2 emissions could be stamped if a household only washed with cold water for a year according to the Sierra Club. More specifically, that post was about accusations of greenwashing against laundry detergent manufacturers like Procter & Gamble who claimed that their special formula cold-water detergents are green (which they are in an energy-savings sense) even though they contain petrochemicals and non-biodegradable ingredients (which isn’t so green at all).

So what gives? “For selling, it is much more effective to focus on stain removal and whiteness, performance and price,” Dr. Thomas Mueller-Kirschbaum of Henkel, the German company behind Persil and Purex, detergent brands with cold-water formulas tells the NYT. “In market research, when you ask consumers, they currently don’t see the immediate benefit of saving energy.”

Cold-water detergent industry leader, Tide Coldwater (a Procter & Gamble brand) has found that cold-water washing has indeed caught on with American consumers since the revolutionary product was introduced in 2005. But very slowly. Compared to regular Tide which boasts over $1 billion in sales a year in the U.S. alone, Tide Coldwater accounts for $150 million in annual U.S. sales. According to company studies, 30 percent of loads were washed in cold water when Tide Coldwater arrived on the scene in 2005. Today, that number hovers around 40 percent.

“If we can chip away, load by load, we can get to 70 percent,” said Dawn French, Procter & Gamble’s director of North America laundry products research and formula design.

Meanwhile over at Henkel, sales of that company’s cold-water detergents have actually declined by 16 percent in the last year on the American market.

My question for you: Do you regularly use or have you experimented with cold-water formula detergents like Tide Coldwater? Or are you a dedicated hot-water-washer? Have you found that these products, no matter how much energy they save, are simply no replacement for the stain-fighting powers of hot water?

And me? I’ve long been a cold-water kind of guy although I’ve been known to wash whites in warm from now and then using a non-cold-water formula … I’m pretty dedicated to ultra-concentrated liquid detergent from Method (easier to haul back and forth to the laundromat) accompanied by a splash of Ecover chlorine-free powdered bleach when necessary. I'm working on that line-drying routine.

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