Could consumers do away with detergents?

There can be no doubt that innovation in environmentally-friendly products is currently a driving force in laundry care across developed markets. Aiming to tap into current consumer demand for products that minimise harm to the environment, a growing number of laundry care products that place environmental concerns at the forefront of their marketing are hitting the shelves. From compact formats to low temperature detergents, manufacturers are playing the environment card.

However, for consumers for whom a product’s green credentials rank highly as a purchase driver, the claims of mainstream manufacturers to be environmentally- friendly may well leave something to be desired. In light of this, a number of alternatives to traditional laundry care products, which do away with detergents altogether, are currently attracting attention from consumers who find multinational manufacturers’ green claims just don’t wash.

Eco Balls promise money savings

Eco Balls are perhaps the most well-known and established of the alternatives to laundry detergents to date. The products, which are available on-line and in specialist stores, are priced at around £30 for a pack of three balls, which the manufacturer claims will clean effectively for around 1,000 washes. Eco Balls contain pellets made from mineral salts that during the wash cycle produce ionised oxygen, which, combined with the movement of the balls, lifts dirt and grime from the load.

Because there is no need to rinse out any detergent, a shorter cycle and a lower temperature wash is sufficient. Despite the initial outlay for the product being relatively high, the manufacturer claims that in the long term consumers will save money as the balls are long lasting and energy and water costs are also reduced. In addition to the environmental and cost benefits, Eco Balls lack the chemicals found in many mainstream detergents, leading the manufacturer to claim that the product is suitable for babies and those with sensitive skin.

A detergent that grows on trees

Soap nuts are another alternative to traditional detergents that have become increasingly available as internet shopping has taken root. Soap nuts are grown largely in Central Asia and the shell contains saponin, a natural detergent that creates mild suds when it comes into contact with water. The product has been used for centuries for cleaning in Asian societies and has more recently become popular with eco-minded consumers.

To use the product, four to eight shells of the nut should be added to the laundry in a bag. The nuts can be reused until washes, and 500g of the nuts, which retail at around £7 on-line, are estimated to last for around 300 washes, making the product much cheaper than conventional laundry detergent longevity of both is as marketers claim. Of all the alternative products available, it is the only one that can currently claim to be totally natural and organic, a factor that is sure to prove a selling point to some.

No bounce in dryer balls

While Eco Balls and soap nuts provide an alternative to laundry detergents, alternative environmentally-friendly products have also made inroads into fabric softeners in the form of dryer balls. To use, two dryer balls must be placed in the tumble dryer, which should then be used on its regular setting. Manufacturers claim the balls soften fabrics during drying without the need for dryer sheets or in-wash fabric softeners.

The product claims to lift and separate the laundry in the dryer, while also retaining the heat and transferring it to the clothes as they tumble, speeding up the drying process and resulting in a shorter drying time and therefore less money spent on electricity. The dryer balls retail at around £8 on-line and in specialist stores and are guaranteed for five years of use – a substantial cost saving on regular fabric softeners.

Consumers will need convincing

While many consumers with staunch environmental principles are already firm fans of these ethical cleaning alternatives, the vast majority will no doubt take more convincing to opt for these environmentally-friendly alternatives.

As has already been evident in the case of manufacturers such as Ecover and Seventh Generation, which started out as niche environmentally-friendly manufacturers long before the green trend reached the mainstream, the biggest hurdle to establishing and growing the market share of green products is convincing consumers of their efficacy.

Understandably consumers are often unwilling to fork out for a product, particularly those with high start-up costs such as Eco Balls, which may not deliver the results they have come to expect from evermore technologically advanced laundry care products.

In light of the limited marketing budgets available to the manufacturers of these niche products, for the foreseeable future it is likely that the vast majority of consumers will be happy to stick with mainstream laundry care manufacturers whose efforts to become more environmentally-friendly, be it through green product lines or green tweaks to established brands, should be enough to convince the average consumer that they are doing their bit for the planet.

For those for whom the environment ranks higher on their list of concerns, the likes of Ecover, Method and Seventh Generation detergents will likely be the next port of call.

Inspiration for future innovation?

However, over the longer term, should the green trend continue its rapid progression into the mainstream, products such as the Eco Ball could perhaps provide inspiration for future innovation from mainstream laundry care manufacturers – adding a trusted brand name to the likes of the products outlined above would certainly go a long way to convincing consumers of their effectiveness.