SueCarr-new-smBy Sue Carr

I’ve been using the same laundry detergent for a couple of years now. It’s from Costco, so the price kicks butt, and I love, love, love that it’s environmentally responsible. I know it is, because it says so right on the label— “Environmentally responsible laundry detergent”—and surely they couldn’t print that on the label if it wasn’t true. Right?

Actually, wrong.

To say that FDA regulations on “eco-friendly” product labels are rather subjective and open to broad interpretation would be a gross understatement. Green labels can be generated by manufacturers, distributors, retailers, or even marketing executives (yoi!).

greengoodhousekeepinganimal-welfaregreenguardThe EcoLabel index maintains a running list, currently 446 strong, of third-party eco-labels applied to products meeting certain qualifications—“Animal Welfare Approved,” “Green Good Housekeeping Seal,” “Greenguard” — but each bears its own individual set of qualifications for what constitutes “green.”

And not a single one of these appears on my detergent (double yoi!).

KirklandLaundryDetI became suspicious of my detergent after Mrs. Green posted a video on my Facebook wall that gives a humorous, but all-too-true, look at how the “natural” label ends up on so many food products today. (I seriously recommend you check it out.) I thought, “Surely I wouldn’t be so easily duped.” But just to be sure, I looked up my “environmentally responsible” detergent on the Environmental Working Group’s website.

Their grading system gave it a great big red “F.” So much for environmental responsibility.

I also learned that shockingly few fabric softeners make the grade by EWG standards. After doing some research, I came to learn this from Thrifty Fun:

“According to the Department of Chemistry at McGill University, studies have shown that when liquid fabric softener is added to the rinse cycle, certain fabrics become up to 7 times more flammable. The fabrics most at risk are flannel, terrycloth, and fleece (especially when made of cotton). They have a greater surface area (and therefore hold more fabric softener) due to their soft fluffy texture. Liquid fabric softener should never be used on these types of fabrics or on children’s clothing, even if the fabric has been treated with flame retardants, because fabric softener reduces their effectiveness.”

WHAT?!? How on earth did I not know this? Did you know this? Shouldn’t everyone know this? (A friend of mine uses both liquid fabric softener AND dryer sheets. I’m surprised she hasn’t spontaneously combusted.)

The fact is, our cleaning routines are so ingrained in our minds that we never give them another thought. We’re so used to the way we’ve always done laundry that we never consider that maybe this isn’t the way we should do laundry.

Well, I for one am taking drastic steps. Faux “environmentally responsible” detergent will no longer pollute my routine. From now on, I will be making my own detergent and fabric softener. (You can learn how, too, at Just follow this link.)

I know, some of you are thinking, “Crazy woman. That’s, like, one step away from digging a bunker in the backyard.” Admittedly, I had a similar reaction the first time I heard that some of my friends and family made their own detergent (sorry, guys). But in researching this topic, my frugal side took my eco-friendly side to task. I just can’t stomach the vastly higher prices I’ll end up paying for truly “green” detergents, so frugality wins. It’s homemade detergent and fabric softener for us. I’ll plan to post an update once I’ve tried it out.

The moral of the story, kids: Don’t be “greenwashed” by bogus green labels. Educate yourself on how your products are labeled, and search for eco-friendly choices certified by reputable organizations.

Happy green cleaning!

Sue Nelko Carr is a freelance writer, editor, blogger and a full-time mother, trying to live a greener life in Pittsburgh, PA.