(Originally published July 25, 2020, this review of green cleaning products has been fully UPDATED in October with product changes, more sustainability info and new discount codes!)
Plastic pollution can feel impossible to solve, but cleaning products are a pretty painless place to start. So after lots of testing, below are my favorite sustainable and plastic-free laundry and cleaning products that WORK (and which ones don’t).
Okay, I’m a travel blogger, not a cleaning guru, and I didn’t write this because I think cleaning products are fun, I wrote it because they’re easy to change. I don’t often write about things related to house or home, except how to escape one and which cocktails to mix in one.
But I’m nothing if not a good researcher and I love testing and comparing things.
And it takes time to figure out how not to be part of the plastic problem. And the climate problem. And the toxic-chemicals-polluting-the-environment problem.
Because I am part of those problems.
Despite having a master’s degree in sustainability, I was still using old-fashioned, plastic-packaged laundry detergent, dish soap, and cleaning products until I started researching this series of plastic-free product reviews.
Why? Because there was always something more fun to do. Until this year.
This is what you get when you leave a travel blogger at home for a few months!
Since I haven’t been traveling or planning trips, I had time to do all this research on plastic-free laundry and cleaning products – and now you don’t have to.
Never again do we need to buy plastic spray bottles, detergents and hand soaps from the grocery store thinking, “… at least I can try to recycle these.” (Because most plastic doesn’t actually get recycled, anyway.) So this is another small step in the right direction.
Jump to the full reviews here:
- TruEarth review – one of the easiest zero-waste swaps I’ve found!
- Cleancult vs Blueland review – with a NEW discount code for Cleancult, and a couple of problems I’ve had with Blueland.
- Dropps review – great for cutting open to use as a spot laundry treatment, and for their unique, natural fabric softeners pods. Plus, notes on the PVA “plastic” controversy, and another discount code!
- GuppyFriend review – laundry bags for filtering micro-plastics, how to make your clothes last longer, and what’s next!
- Comparison chart for laundry and dishwasher tablets. (Prices, shipping, scents and subscription info, all together in one chart.)
Or, Here’s the short list:
If you don’t want to read everything about eco-friendly cleaning, you don’t have to. Here’s what I recommend and will keep ordering:
- TruEarth laundry detergent strips are my favorite for simplicity. They’re the lightest weight (using less fuel to ship), which also makes them the best for travel. And they’re the only company I’ve tested that ships abroad – to 83 countries!
- If you use fabric softener, or need really heavy-duty detergent, go with Dropps. They make the only plastic-free fabric softeners (which I really like) and “oxi boosters” I’ve found.
- UPDATE: In the first version of this post, I was skeptical about the sustainability of Dropps’ PVA wrapper (also used in TruEarth and Cleancult products). I’m now pretty sure it’s not an issue.
- If you use a dryer, “dryer balls” make clothes dry faster (saving energy) and replace fabric softener (saving plastic and money). Win-win! I ordered them from Cleancult, which has the best price I’ve found.
- UPDATE: Any Cleancult link in this article gets you 20% off your first order! If the discount doesn’t apply automatically, use the code TILTEDMAP20.
For Hand Wash:
- The greenest option is Cleancult’s bar soap – which feels moisturizing and honestly lathers better than any bar soap I’ve ever used. It’s a cheap, easy, zero-waste swap.
- If you want liquid, both Cleancult and Blueland make natural, eco-friendly hand wash in bottles designed to be refilled indefinitely. Cleancult‘s is a gel. Blueland‘s is a foaming soap that I think is the most eco-friendly option (because the refills are just lightweight tablets). They’re both effective and I’d recommend either. [Hand soap details here.]
- UPDATES: Cleancult just added several new scents for their liquid hand soap (and for their bar soap) which makes me more into this product. (I wasn’t a fan of the lavender, but liked the rich consistency. And their refills doubled in size and went down in price.)
- Blueland has started a collaboration with the sustainable women’s clothing brand Reformation. It hasn’t meant any substantive changes to their formulas, but they offer their hand soap and a few other products in a different color bottle with an exclusive scent.
For Washing Dishes:
- Cleancult and Blueland both make plastic-free, refillable dish soaps. Cleancult’s is a liquid soap, which I also use for washing my hands without drying out my skin! Blueland’s is a powder that’s good for scrubbing (but not for hand-washing).
- UPDATE (October 2020): Cleancult just reformulated their dish soap to make it sudsier and a little less drippy, added new scents and made it cost much less! I’ve tried the new formula and hardly notice the difference – in a good way.
- UPDATE (December 2020): Blueland has apparently reformulated their dishwashing powder, which I used to love – it’s now so fine that it puffs into the air and makes me cough (a lot) every time I use it. I won’t be reordering.
- For dishwasher pods, I couldn’t tell any difference in the results from Cleancult vs. Blueland vs. Dropps. I’ll keep ordering from Blueland because they’re unwrapped, unscented, and cost less. Dropps are another good option, and they’re the only brand that offers both scented and unscented pods. [Dish soap details here.]
- UPDATE: Dropps has reduced the price of their dishwasher pods. If you subscribe (even for the smallest quantity) they’re now the least expensive option on this list. (28¢ each)
For Cleaning House:
- I recommend Cleancult’s non-toxic, refillable, all-purpose cleaning spray. (Blueland makes one too, which I liked until the bottle snapped apart.) Cleancult’s formula also smells more natural, seems like a stronger cleaner, and the bottle is definitely more sturdy (and attractive, IMO).
- UPDATE: Cleancult just reformulated this to make it less streaky, added new scent options, and reduced the price of refills. (I really like the original Orange Zest scent. The only streaks I’d seen from the original were on a glass stove top.)
- Blueland makes the only plastic-free window and glass cleaner I’ve found. It works just as well as Windex, but without the plastic! (Other brands make dehydrated refill tablets, but they’re often packaged in plastic envelopes. Blueland’s refills come in compostable paper.) So I’ll keep ordering the plastic-free refill tabs, but wouldn’t recommend the bottle. [See my review below for why.]
These brands all have pros and cons for sustainability, and I explain them all in the reviews below – but they’re all much greener than the “traditional” products they’re replacing. They’re non-toxic, not tested on animals, and plastic-free.
Here’s more on what I liked and didn’t like about each product:
TruEarth – Laundry Strips
This Canadian company makes plastic-free laundry detergent strips that are one of my favorite discoveries of this whole project, and probably the easiest of all zero-waste swaps.
Update: I’m not the only one who thinks so – TruEarth was just listed as the second fastest growing start-up in Canada.
How laundry strips work:
I really nerded out about these little paper-like strips of detergent, about the size of a name tag, because they’re a brilliant and super-efficient idea. You just toss one strip in the bottom of your washing machine (or stuff it in the detergent tray of a front-loading machine) and start your load as usual.
And my clothes came out perfectly clean, so I’m converted. TruEarth has a lot of sustainability advantages, but the biggest laundry-related advantage is that it’s easy to use exactly how much you need. You can tear a strip in half if you need more or less, whereas the solid laundry tablets and liquid pods are all-or-nothing.
UPDATE: In November, they announced new, concentrated, “Platinum” strips for extra dirty clothes (they say they’re good for sweaty work-out wear). I’ve always just added an extra half-strip for those loads, but these could be worth a try.
This is some of the most minimal packaging I’ve ever seen – instead of buying bottles of laundry detergent, or even plastic tubs or plastic bags of detergent tablets, these arrive at your door in a cardboard envelope no bigger than a thick letter (with enough detergent for 32 loads of laundry). It just has a shipping label on the outside.
Plus, there are no parabens, phosphates, dyes, bleach, or a whole list of other ingredients. They’re vegan, not tested on animals, plastic-free and very, very light weight to ship. (They say 94% lighter than an equivalent amount of liquid detergent.)
The standard is $19.95 for 32 strips (62 cents per strip), which sounds like a lot. However, the subscription makes a lot of sense – it brings the price down to $12.95 (40 cents per strip with a subscription).
(You can order a pack with as few as 8 or as many as 384 strips. But strangely, ordering 384 at a time only brings the price down to 39 cents each.)
Shipping & Subscriptions:
The website makes it seem like you might only get free shipping on subscription orders, but I called to confirm. It’s free shipping on any order, to anywhere.
And they do ship everywhere! (Well, they sent me a list of 29 countries where they already have shipped, and 83 where they can ship. So almost everywhere.)
For the 30% discount, you can sign up for deliveries every one, two, three or six months, or once a year, and can cancel or delay shipments whenever you want. (The six-month option doesn’t show up in the normal check-out, but you can access it here, on TruEarth’s FAQ page.)
TruEarth laundry strips come in fragrance free or Fresh Linen scent (or “Baby,” which is also fragrance free).
To be honest: I wish I could tell you that Cleancult is just better than Blueland in every way. I wish that because they have an affiliate program, which means I can make a commission on Cleancult orders, while Blueland does not, so I don’t make any money if you order from them.
But it’s a little more complicated than that, and both brands make certain products I prefer.
Blueland’s refills are less expensive, although they don’t seem like they’ll last as long. But their dissolvable tablet system really seems like the best and most innovative solution for sustainability – it means much less shipping weight for the refills. So even if you go through the product faster, it matters less when the footprint is so minimal.
But Cleancult’s bottles are definitely sturdier (and more attractive, I think) and their products are thicker and foamier.
How does Blueland work?
You buy one reusable acrylic (plastic) bottle for each type of cleaning product, and (in theory) you never throw it away. Then you just order refill tablets from Blueland. When you finish your glass-cleaning spray, for example, just refill the bottle with warm water and throw in a new tablet.
I was about to publish this post with this paragraph:
I haven’t personally had any problems, but some reviews mention the Blueland bottles breaking. Problems are probably few and far between, but the whole point is to avoid cheap things that break and have to be replaced.
But then – literally the day I was going to publish this – my husband picked up one of the spray bottles, and it cracked apart, exactly as I’d seen in another review. I guess problems being “few and far between” was wishful thinking.
I’m so disappointed, because I was excited about the really low-impact refill system. I’m looking forward to Blueland changing the bottle design, because there’s just no way that this happened to two bloggers and not to anyone else. (Another disappointment: They haven’t responded to multiple emails I’ve sent about the bottle issue.)
Despite the problems, I’m still excited about their tablet concept, and I’m still a fan of Blueland’s hand soap.
When I first tried the brand this spring, they offered just four products: hand wash, glass cleaner, multi-surface cleaner, and bathroom cleaner – so I ordered them all. They’ve since added dishwashing products (which I’ve tried, and I do like – especially since they don’t involve their breakable bottles) and laundry tablets.
Or you could just order just either company’s refills and use your own bottles, although you never know until you try whether the pumps will work well with a product that has a different viscosity. This is definitely what I recommend for Blueland’s window cleaner. (The cleaner works well and the packaging is compostable paper. Just skip the fragile bottle.)
How does Cleancult work?
You buy one heavy-duty, frosted glass and silicone bottle for each type of cleaning product, and you never throw it away (so far so good on these). Then Cleancult ships you premixed, liquid refills in cardboard milk cartons, on your own schedule.
UPDATE: Cleancult just doubled the size of their refills from 16 oz. to 32 oz. (and increased the price from $7 to $10). So it’s a much better deal, and you get more product for the packaging. But they also made the refills resealable. At first I was worried about the change for sustainability, but overall, these are good changes: The screw tops are made of plant-based bioplastic, and the packaging is still 100% recyclable through their free mail-in program. (I wish they were dehydrated products with next-to-zero packaging, but most Cleancult products work better than the tablets I’ve tried.)
Blueland vs Cleancult: How to choose?
Go with the one you think you’ll actually keep using, long-term, whether that’s for the price tag, or because you like the looks of one bottle more than the other.
At the end of the day, either system is far better than buying normal brands that are packaged in disposable plastic (even the natural, supposedly eco-friendly brands are full of plastic packaging). And either one saves you money in the long-run.
As I mentioned above, I’m sticking with Cleancult for most products (especially anything involving a bottle). Both companies have made a lot of changes in 2020. In my opinion, Cleancult products have mostly gotten better, while Blueland’s have gotten worse.
But for me personally, either is better than dealing with homemade recipes. I’m trying to make my life simpler with these zero-waste changes, not do science experiments in my kitchen with orange peels and baking soda and vinegar. But that’s just me.
Cleancult vs Blueland for Sustainability
Like most comparisons in sustainability, which company is better depends on what you’re measuring:
Both brands are cruelty-free (Leaping Bunny certified). Blueland is vegan, while Cleancult doesn’t specify.
Cleancult has carbon-neutral shipping (via offsets), while Blueland does not – but their light-weight products mean fewer emissions from shipping to begin with.
Packaging & Refills:
They both ship in plastic-free, recyclable paper and cardboard packaging.
Cleancult ships liquid refills (AKA, they ship water, instead of concentrated tablets like Blueland. It does seem like a waste to ship all that extra water weight, when given an alternative.) And the Cleancult refills come in milk cartons, which contain a bit of plastic and aren’t recyclable everywhere – but they do offer a free, mail-in recycling program for all of their packaging.
Cleancult’s dishwasher tabs are wrapped in PVA (which I’ve learned a lot about writing this article). Blueland’s tabs have no PVA.
Blueland’s refill tablets come in tiny paper wrappers that are both compostable and recyclable (but they’re #7 for recycling, which is definitely not recyclable everywhere). If they do end up in a landfill? Blueland’s packaging is just a lot less.
Cleancult bottles are definitely more sturdy, although they are heavier (they’re made of frosted glass, instead of plastic).
With either brand, you remove a repetitive source of plastic waste from your life – one you probably won’t miss. I’m sticking with Cleancult for the cleaning sprays, because of their higher-quality bottles that won’t become garbage anytime soon.
Here are some details on the individual Cleancult and Blueland products I’ve tried:
Cleancult vs Blueland: Hand Soap
Cleancult’s hand soap is a liquid-gel, and it lathers more richly than Blueland’s, which is a dehydrated tablet system, and comes out as a foam. However, after trying everything from both brands, Blueland’s hand soap is their only product I recommend without reservation.
For Blueland it takes 2 to 4 pumps of soap to get a good lather (two is enough for me, four for my husband, who apparently has big, dirty hands). Even if that seems like a lot, it’s doesn’t really matter when each 9 oz refill costs $2 or less, and you’re not throwing away the bottle.
I prefer the Blueland foam, the pretty glass bottle, and the fact that their refills are only light-weight dehydrated tablets, so I’ll keep ordering that. But Cleancult’s gel soap and dispenser are also great – no complaints about them.
But the simplest option, and the closest to “zero” waste, is Cleancult’s bar soap. It comes in lots of scents, doesn’t feel too drying on my skin, and honestly lathers better than any bar soap I’ve ever used.
Hand Soap Scents:
Blueland hand soap also comes in multiple scents, whereas right now Cleancult only has lavender scent. (Although they told me they’re adding new products and scents, so that could change soon.) Neither has an unscented option.
UPDATE: Cleancult just added three new hand soap scents, which makes me more excited about this product. (I loved the rich lather, but wasn’t a big fan of the lavender scent.) And they doubled the size of their refills – which means both less packaging per ounce, and a lower price per ounce! (Refills are now $10 for 32 oz, instead of $7 for 16 oz.)
Cleancult vs Blueland: Dish Soap
Both companies make tablets for the dishwasher, and a dish soap for hand-washing dishes.
Both dishwasher tablets worked perfectly well, as did Dropps’ dishwasher pods. I literally can’t tell any difference in the results between the three brands. Keep things simple, and go with whichever one you’re planning to order multiple products from.
For washing dishes by hand, Blueland’s dish soap is a powder, while Cleancult’s is a gel – which is also great for hand washing in the kitchen, as it doesn’t dry out my skin.
Note: Don’t expect either to suds quite like normal dish soap – because they don’t use SLS (sodium lauryl sulfate), a skin irritant that’s in tons of products because it helps with foaming but not with actual cleaning. (There’s more about SLS at the beginning of my article about shampoo bars, too.)
Honestly, I tried both and I really don’t have a preference, and I’m going to continue ordering and using both. The Blueland powder lathered and cleaned well, even though I was skeptical at first.
UPDATE (Oct. 2020): Cleancult announced a new dish soap formula that was supposed to make it sudsier, as well as a tad thinner, to prevent it from clumping up in the spout and dripping. Which it did do a little bit (although not enough to be a problem). The original was so thick that it was hard to use a small enough amount for small jobs.
I tried the new formula, and it is indeed a little thinner, although I don’t notice that it suds more. To me, it’s about the same, not substantially better or worse. I still like it and will keep ordering! (Plus, it now costs less!)
UPDATE (Dec. 2020): Unfortunately, Blueland has changed their powdered dish soap formula. When I ordered it this summer, I really liked it. So I reordered and found they’ve made it a much finer powder, which floats into the air when I pour it out – even very slowly and carefully – and it makes me cough! More than one little cough, but a whole coughing fit every time I use it! (And I don’t have asthma or any kind of lung sensitivities.)
I’ve asked Blueland for info about this change, and I’ll note here if I hear anything back. For now, I don’t recommend their dish powder. Stick with Cleancult’s liquid soap.
I did really like the Blueland container, which is made of silicone and seems indestructible (unlike their acrylic bottles). Or you could just put the dish powder in an old spice shaker bottle, as one of my readers emailed me to say she did. I just wish they would go back to the older formula that didn’t choke me!
The Cleancult bottle is really nice looking, solid, and now comes in lots of colors.
Blueland’s dish washing powder and dishwasher tabs are both fragrance free. Cleancult’s both have a lemongrass scent. (And I can’t really understand why you’d want dishwasher tabs scented, but maybe you do?)
UPDATE: Cleancult dish soap (which I also use for my hands, as it isn’t drying on my skin) used to be available only in lemongrass, as well, but they recently added three new scents AND doubled the size of the refills. (Making them cost much less: They’re now $10 for 32 oz.)
Cleancult vs Blueland: Cleaning Sprays
Blueland’s all-purpose and bathroom cleaners both work well for basic cleaning, but I don’t think either are great for heavily filthy stuff – more like maintenance cleaners. More importantly, as I mentioned above, one of my Blueland bottled broke after very little use, which means I won’t recommend these until they change the design (which I really hope they do).
I prefer the Cleancult option for this one. Their all-purpose cleaner seems to be a more heavy-duty cleaning spray. It works great and leaves a natural smell I actually want in my kitchen.
UPDATE: I only wish I’d waited to order it NOW, because they just released new scents and larger refills that cost less and give you more product for the amount of packaging. It’s a new formula that’s designed to be less streaky, too. (The only place I had noticed streaks before was on a glass stove top – definitely not a deal breaker, as it was comparable to any other cleaner – so I’ll be interested to see if the new formula improves that.)
Only Blueland makes a refillable window cleaner. It works really well, doesn’t leave streaks, and the refills are way cheaper than buying bottles of Windex! They’re the only company I’ve found that makes refill tablets in compostable, paper packaging – not a plastic envelope. I’ll keep ordering the refills, but I recommend just using them in a bottle you have at home. (Just make sure you use the right amount of water for the tablet.)
Laundry: Cleancult vs Blueland, Dropps & TruEarth
For plastic-free laundry, I tried four brands and they all worked well. Truly, I couldn’t tell the difference when I inspected my clothes, and they all worked just as well as liquid.
As I said above, I’ll keep using TruEarth and keep some Dropps on hand for stains and for fabric softener (I cut open the pods and use the liquid to pre-treat). [My TruEarth laundry review is above, and my Dropps review is below. Right here I’ll just focus on Blueland and Cleancult.]
Blueland makes fragrance-free laundry tablets, and they’re the only ones that don’t use PVA (a slightly controversial ingredient, which I explain below). Cleancult also makes unscented tablets.
UPDATE: Cleancult has stopped making their laundry tablets and replaced them with a liquid detergent, which comes in lots of scents (including fragrance-free). I’m going to try it, and update this review here (although I still think TruEarth strips are the most eco-friendly option).
If you use a dryer, “dryer balls” do two things: Make clothes dry faster (saving energy) and replace fabric softener (saving plastic and money). Cleancult has the best deal on wool dryer balls. (They’re $10 for 3 from Cleancult, versus $22 for 4 at TruEarth, or $25 for 3 at Dropps.)
But because I almost never use a dryer (both to save energy, and to keep my clothes in better shape for longer), I use Dropps’ fabric softener pods. They’re the only plastic-free fabric softener option I’ve found, and they work really well and smell great (although they don’t leave a strong scent on clothes).
Cleancult vs Blueland: Prices & Shipping
Blueland costs less. If you buy just one kind of cleaner, the initial bottle and one tablet cost $12, and every refill tablet is $2 or less, depending on how many you buy at a time. (Either way, it’s cheaper than buying normal Clorox and Windex at the store.)
Cleancult refills are about $7 each.
UPDATE: Cleancult recently (October 2020) doubled the size of all their refills – making them a much better deal, and meaning you get more product for the amount of packaging! They used to be 16 oz for $7; now they’re 32 oz for $10.
See my chart below below for all of the laundry and dishwasher tablet prices.
Cleancult ships to the US and most US territories. (Puerto Rico, Guam, the US Virgin Islands, and Saipan.) Their shipping is carbon neutral, and it’s free if you order three items.
Blueland only ships to the US. Free shipping on orders over $35.
Most Cleancult products are scented with essential oils, which makes them fresh and natural smelling. (Their liquid laundry soap comes in a fragrance-free option. Everything else is scented.)
Blueland’s scents are more subtle, but I find them a more artificial smelling. Their glass cleaner, dish soap, and dishwasher tabs are unscented; everything else has fragrance. The Blueland hand soap is the only product (from either company) that has multiple scent choices, including seasonal options.
UPDATE: With Cleancult’s October, 2020 updates, almost everything now comes with lots of scent options.
How to Order Cleancult and Blueland:
Plus, you get 20% off your first Cleancult order (of any amount!) with the code TILTEDMAP20.
(I’m a Cleancult affiliate, which means using my discount code helps me earn a commission from your purchase – at no cost to you!)
Blueland is not on Amazon. You can order Blueland directly through their website. (That’s not an affiliate link – so I don’t make any money if you shop through it – but it is a “referral link,” which will eventually earn me a few free refill tabs. I don’t have a discount to offer on this one right now – sorry!)
Dropps Review – Laundry & Dishwasher Tabs
This Pennsylvania-based company has more laundry products than I could possibly test: fabric softeners and scent boosters, natural “Oxi-booster” for super dirty clothes, sensitive skin, baby-specific, and small pods for small loads. They also do dish washer tabs that work just as well as the others I’ve tested (which is just as well as any non-eco-friendly, grocery store brand).
I tried the unscented dishwasher pods and the “Stain & Odor” laundry pods in Clean scent. They both cleaned perfectly well. For the laundry, I thought Dropps left clothes slightly more scented than other brands.
Even if you normally use another laundry pod or strip, Dropps are great to keep on hand (instead of a plastic jug of liquid detergent) for when you need a spot treatment: Just cut open a pod and squeeze the liquid on the stain.
Dropps Price Comparison & Shipping:
With 30% off on any subscription order, Dropps can be the least expensive detergent on this list, but only if you do a lot of laundry. Like an industrial amount. They offer three different quantities – 56, 140, or 210 Dropps at a time, and the price they advertise (“from 19 cents per load”) are only if you have 210 pods delivered every 4 months. That’s almost two loads of laundry every day – but, you can pause or cancel a subscription at any time without penalty (even after one delivery).
Don’t forget to use any Dropps link in this article and the code DROPPS15 for another 15% off any order.
If you buy the smallest quantity as a one-time purchase, they’re 43 cents each. (This is all more clear if you look at my price chart below!)
Shipping is always free and carbon neutral.
There are fragrance-free options for every Dropps product, and the laundry pods have several scent choices.
Despite all the PVA-related confusion below, Dropps does a lot of sustainability things right. Their shipping is carbon-neutral, they use minimal, cardboard packaging (no plastic bags or boxes), and the detergents are mostly plant-based.
When you Google “plastic-free laundry detergent,” Dropps are right at the top. But as I realized after ordering, there’s some controversy about their plastic-free status.
The catch is that they use PVA (polyvinyl alcohol, also called PVOH), which is a petroleum-based film that the pods are covered in. It’s plastic. (Cleancult also uses PVA for their laundry and dishwasher tabs, and TruEarth strips list it as an ingredient.)
But doesn’t that just dissolve?
Yes. Maybe? I’m not sure, so ended up doing a lot more research on this.
There are many different types of PVA that dissolve in different ways and are used in tons of products (including food, cosmetics, fishing nets… the list goes on). The PVA film that dishwasher or laundry tablets are wrapped in should disintegrate, but only when there are certain microbes around (which are added by city water treatment plants. I couldn’t find any information on whether PVA biodegrades in rural homes that use septic tanks, where no special microbes are added.)
There’s also debate about how much of it actually breaks down in water treatment plants. That’s why Blueland’s new laundry pods are “naked” tablets with no PVA covering. They say more than half of PVA never dissolves and is a common water pollutant.
Basically, Cleancult and Dropps say the PVA they use dissolves well; Blueland says it’s possible that no PVA actually dissolves the way we want it to, so it’s better to avoid it.
So it’s possible that some plastic from Dropps and Cleancult pods get washed into rivers and lakes. Or it’s possible that PVA is totally safe. Honestly, there just wasn’t a lot of info out there about this, which is frustrating.
Note: I’ve asked all of these companies for more info about PVA. If any of them send me something useful, I’ll update this here.
Update: More on the Science of PVA:
Someone did send me something useful. I emailed some questions about this to Dr. Karen Iveson, Dropps’ VP of R&D. She cleared up two things:
- No, PVA does not dissolve into petroleum or microplastics.
- On the topic of septic tanks and microbes, she added this: “There is a significant body of scientific research dating back 50 years that describe a large variety of microbial species that break down the monomer molecules. Water treatment facilities and septic tanks are all rich in bacteria that break down organic materials very effectively.”
So it’s probably safe for the environment, even if you have a septic tank.
Then I called my sister-in-law to chat about this, because Friday night in a pandemic, and because she’s a chemical engineer.
She confused me with a lot of chemistry talk and emailed me diagrams of molecules, and the conclusion I was able to pull out of it all was this:
- True, PVA does not break down into microplastics (good!).
- But it does break down into something (ugh). And whatever that something is, we can’t know what effect it’s going to have out in the environment.
But of course, we can’t know what effect almost anything will have out in the environment, and we still have to do laundry. Why can’t things just be simple? At this point, my head was sort of spinning, and I was remembering why I don’t love chemistry.
The one thing we do know is that even if PVA isn’t perfect, it’s better than buying laundry detergent in plastic bottles. If you’re still reading this far, I know – that’s a completely unsatisfying answer. But when even a chemical engineer says (and I paraphrase) “I don’t have any reason to think it’s a problem, but I don’t have any proof that it’s not a problem,” well that’s when I know that I probably have bigger fish to fry.
My conclusion: There’s a good chance Dropps (and all the other brands that use PVA) are perfectly safe for the environment, so I have no problem with them. If you want to be 100% cautious on the issue and avoid PVA, stick with Blueland for laundry and dishes (but I’m going with TruEarth for laundry, because I think overall they’re a more sustainable choice).
You can order directly through their website and use the code DROPPS15 for 15% off. (Even on subscription orders, which are already 30% off.)
Dropps are also available on Amazon.
If you’re getting detergent pods elsewhere, but want to order laundry bags (I explain why below) with plastic-free packaging and carbon-neutral shipping, Dropps is a great option.
GuppyFriend Review – Laundry Bags that Filter Micro-Plastics
Speaking of plastic going down the drain, GuppyFriend bags are designed to stop micro-plastics that break off of our clothes from ending up down the drain and in oceans. (Here’s the company’s website, and here’s a sustainable retailer where you can shop for them and save 10% with the code TILTEDMAP10.)
I already use normal laundry bags for almost everything I wash – anything even remotely delicate goes in a bag, and the bag goes into the washing machine to keep clothes from getting jostled too much and stretching out. This keeps clothes in better shape for longer, which means I buy less. The bags are also great for travel, for keeping dirty clothes separate in my suitcase. (You can order laundry bags from Dropps, or these that I use from Amazon.)
But the GuppyFriend is different. It’s not made of loose mesh like the other bags I use, but a tightly woven nylon that feels almost like it wouldn’t let water through, but it does. It’s designed to filter micro-plastics, which break off of any synthetic material in the washing machine. After all, that’s what most synthetic fabrics are – they’re petroleum based, ie. plastic.
It also prevents those synthetic fibers from breaking in the first place – it was tested by Patagonia and others, and the tests showed 86% less breakage. (There’s more info about this and lots of other details on how it works in their FAQ.)
This is exactly why I’ve always used laundry bags, and now someone has proven that I’m not making it up! My every-day bags also keep clothes from falling apart, but the GuppyFriend certainly does a better job.
Price & Shipping:
Profits from the GuppyFriend go to a German non-profit called STOP! Micro Waste. So it’s a great cause but… The bags are $35 each, plus $5 for shipping to the US, and $10 to Canada if you order directly from the company. Shipping is free in Europe.
So, considering that the Guppy Friend bag has similar dimensions to my regular laundry bags (it’s 20 inches by 30 inches, or 51 by 76 cm), and I use at least 3 or 4 bags in every load, that means I’ll need to spend… About $150 on these bags?
I do believe in investing my money on quality and sustainability. But… really? I feel like this prices a lot of people out.
You can also order Guppy Friend from Earth Hero, one of my favorite online retailers with top sustainability credentials, and save 10% with the discount code TILTEDMAP10.
Note: GuppyFriend emailed me that the cost of the material “increases exponentially” with increasing density of the fibers – that super smooth material I mentioned. Which makes sense. That explains why these bags are both so much pricier and so much better at filtering broken fibers than normal bags. If it’s in your budget, I do think they’re a good eco-friendly investment. Otherwise, pick up some normal laundry bags to keep your clothes in better shape longer, and try to avoid buying new synthetic materials.
For now, I’m strategically washing only a few synthetic items per load in my one GuppyFriend bag. But long-term, I’m trying to limit the synthetic items in wardrobe and not buy any new ones.
That’s what I’ve been working on for a couple of years, but finding affordable athletic gear and non-wrinkly, travel-friendly clothing made with 100% natural fibers is a challenge. If you can suggest any brands, please let me know in the comments below! (And maybe this will be a topic for a future blog post!)
UPDATE: I’ve found a couple of recycled athletic wear brands that have great sustainability credentials, and I’m planning to try them soon: Girlfriend Collective (which makes basics in a huge range of sizes, and are not only recycled but recyclable) and Wolven Threads (specializing in lots of fun, unique patterns and cuts).
These aren’t natural fibers, but athletic wear that’s not made of virgin plastic is definitely a step up in the right direction!
If you know of others, please let me know and I’ll include them in a future comparison post!
Laundry & Dish Tabs Comparison Chart:
|Price||$20 for 32 strips||$15 for 32 tabs||$14 for 40 tabs||$24 for 56 laundry pods (dish pods cost less)|
|Subscription price each||40¢||47¢||24¢ to 32¢**||30¢ (less if you order more)|
|Subscription frequency||Every 1, 2, 3 or 6 months||Every 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6 months||Every 1, 2, 3 or 4 months||Every 4 months|
& ships everywhere!
|Free with 3 items (ships to US & territories)||Free over $35 (ships to US only)||Always free (ships to US only)|
|Scents||Many||Lemongrass (dishwasher tabs only)||Both fragrance free||Many|
|Back up to my |
|TruEarth Review||Cleancult Review||Blueland Review||Dropps Review|
** Blueland refills are cheaper if you order more at a time (that’s why I list a price range). And these prices include 10% off on all Blueland subscription orders.
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