July 30, 2016

Analyzing My Current Cleaners: How Greywater Friendly Are They?

Continued from part 1 "Of Soap, 
Detergent, & Greywater"

My recent greywater research is part of a homestead greywater feasibility study and focuses on two things: analyzing the greywater safeness of the products I currently use, and looking for locally available, affordable alternatives if needed. In this post I'll share what I've learned about the products I use. I try to be conscientious about what I use, so I was hoping they'd also be safe for greywater usage.

I focused on my three main concerns: pH, sodium, and boron (although read part one to see why I'm only nominally concerned about pH and boron.) There may be other problems with these products, for example health and environmental concerns, but in context this post only focuses on those three because of how they effect my greywater.

The biggest problem with analyzing cleaning products is ingredient labels, or rather lack of. Very few manufacturers give a detailed list of actual ingredients. Mostly they use advertising terms instead, things like "natural," "biodegradable" or "phosphate free." They rarely tell what's actually in the product. Thanks to the internet, I found much of this information online.

Following is a list of the products I use, their ingredients, anything else I learned about them, cost per use if applicable, and any concerns I have.

Laundry. I use either homemade laundry detergent or Charlie's Liquid Laundry Detergent. I don't use laundry softeners, stain removers (other than rubbing the stain with a bar of soap), or bleach.

Homemade laundry detergent: 
  • washing soda (sodium carbonate)
  • borax (boron)
  • and either Fels-Naptha laundry bar or Zote bar soap
  • Fels-Naptha 
    • sodium tallowate (beef tallow), sodium cocoate (coconut oil), sodium palmatate kernalate (palm kernel oil), and/or sodium palmate (palm oil)
    • water
    • talc
    • dipentene coconut acid, palm acid, and/or palm acid
    • peg-6 methyl ether
    • glycerine
    • sodium chloride (salt)
    • pentasodium pentetate and/or tetrasodium etdronate
    • titanium oxide (whitener)
    • tricloroban (antibacterial agent)
    • fragrance
    • acid orange 24 and yellow 73
  • or Zote 
    • Sodium tallowate
    • Sodium cocoate
    • Fragrance (citronella oil)
    • Optical brighteners
    • Dye (pink and blue bars only)

Cost per load: about $0.10.

Laundry water pH - I'm out at the moment so I don't know. Probably basic because based on what I read, liquid soaps and detergents tend to be neutral, solid soaps (bars and powders) are alkaline.

Concerns: Even without knowing exactly what all these chemicals are, I see "sodium" popping up everywhere, plus the boron. The whiteners, antibacterials, and coloring agents in the bar soaps are also a concern. If I do continue to make homemade laundry powder, I'll likely switch to homemade soap.

Charlie's Liquid Laundry Detergent
  • Water
  • Sodium carbonate (washing soda)
  • C12-15, Pareth-2 (biodegradable vegetable and mineral sourced surfactants)

Cost per load: for the 1-gallon size, less than $0.13

Laundry water pH - 7 (neutral), although the straight product is highly alkaline.

Concerns: The sodium of course. Also, there is some argument around the internet about the C12-15, Pareth-2. These are used in some Seventh Generation products which might lend a sense of credibility, but, on the other hand, Seventh Generation products are not considered greywater safe. I would like to further investigate the criticism over the surfactants.

Dishwashing. I've been using old-fashioned non-concentrated, Simply Clean original scent Dawn. Dawn is made by Procter & Gamble, who boast that "Dawn helps save wildlife," because it is used to safely bath animals rescued from oil spills. (Click that link for more information.) Sounds good, but does being safe to bath animals mean Dawn is safe to feed plants?

Finding an ingredient list was not easy. The only thing the label tells me is that it contains biodegradable surfactants and no phosphates. I finally tracked down a P&G MSDS for Dawn Simply Clean Original and discovered it contains this:
  • Sulfuric acid
  • mono-C10-16-alkyl esters
  • Amine oxides
  • C10-16-alkyldimethyl Poly(oxy-1,2-ethanediyl)
  • alpha-sulfo-omega-hydroxy-
  • C10-16-alkyl ethers
  • sodium salts
The hazard warning on that safety sheet is that it can cause eye irritation.

pH - neutral

Cost per use - I haven't tried to figure that one out

Concerns: although the amount of sodium appears to be small, my biggest question is whether these chemicals are petroleum based (as are many synthetic chemicals).

Cleaning. I use vinegar, dish soap, elbow grease, hydrogen peroxide, and a DIY scrubbing powder that I've really liked. Unfortunately it contains equal parts of:
  • table salt (sodium chloride)
  • washing soda (sodium carbonate)
  • borax (boron)

All huge no-nos! While small amounts of the washing soda and borax may not be too bad, pouring table salt on my garden doesn't seem like a good idea. The other scrubbing powder I keep on hand is Bon Ami Powder Cleanser. It contains:
  • Limestone
  • Feldspar
  • Surfactant from coconut and corn oil
  • Soda ash (washing soda or sodium carbonate)
  • Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate)

Concerns: Soda ash and baking soda are listed last on the label, so at least I know they contain less sodium than my homemade scrubbing powder.

Bath Soap. I've used Ivory bar soap for a long time, recently found Clearly Natural bar soap, and also use some homemade soaps.

  • sodium tallowate (beef tallow) and/or sodium palmate (palm oil)
  • water
  • sodium palm kernelate (palm kernel oil), and/or sodium cocoate (coconut oil)
  • fragrance (in the aloe scented bars)
  • sodium chloride (salt)
  • glycerin
  • coconut acid
  • palm kernel acid
  • tallow acid
  • palm acid
  • citric acid
  • sodium citrate
  • tetrasodium (water softener)
  • aloe barbadensis leaf extract

Clearly Natural Soap
  • Glycerine
  • sodium stearate and sodium oleate (saponified coconut, palm and/or palm kernel)
  • decyl glucoside (vegetable-derived surfactants)
  • propanediol and sorbital (humectants)
  • sodium citrate
  • Fragranced versions contain a blend of natural aromas and essential oils

Homemade soaps - These basically contain fat and lye, which undergo a chemical process called saponification to make what we know as soap. According to the Caveman Chemist (interesting article here) saponification produces fatty acids, the names of which are all sodium somethingorotherate. The bottom line is that homemade soaps contain sodium and are alkaline (although aging the bars has something to do with how alkaline).

Concerns: are the same as for everything else, but honestly, I don't think I'm doing terrible bad on this one.

Shampoo - I just buy the junky stuff for dry hair because it's cheap. Ditto for conditioner. Shocking, I know.

Miscellaneous - Then there are all the little things that go down the drain, which may or may not be of concern. I'm not listing all of them, but am discovering that once I started analyzing this way, I realized that anything that goes on our bodies, ends up getting washed off.

  • Body care: Things like facial care, salves, and lotions. I have very dry skin so I like to keep lotion around. I make some of my own but also buy Burt's Bees products (of which some are considered greywater safe by the experts).
  • Deodorant: Yeah, even that gets washed off with a residue going down the drain. I've been using a deodorant stone for years. These are made of mineral salts (back to the salt again), although the synthetic ones are not pure.
  • Toothpaste: Another one I wouldn't have thought of. My current toothpaste is also homemade. I got the recipe from this website
    • 1/4 cup eggshell powder (I use shells from hard boiled eggs, drying thoroughly)
    • 2 tbsp coconut oil (which is liquid in summer and solid in winter)
    • 1 tbsp baking soda (sodium bicarbonate)
    • a few drops of essential oil if desired (usually peppermint)

All in all, I'd have to say I don't think I'm doing too badly. One thing I'm learning is that there are no perfect cleaning products.

Interested in seeing what's in the products you use? You can either try to track them down with numerous searches like I did, or try these sites (which I discovered after all my research).

They don't contain some of the newer natural products that are out, but they're a good starting point for doing your own research.

In my next post I'll share what products I can buy locally that are more greywater friendly. Click here to read it.


Tewshooz said...

Wow, have you over thought this!

Recycled Cottage & Garden said...

You might look into soap nuts for laundry washing.

Stefan said...

just a quick note on the mineral deodorant you're using: there has been a heated debate over in germany, that aluminium in deodorants (usually the mineral in those "natural alum" sticks) is supposed to cause breast cancer. as soon as that hit the news, companies started to produce their stuff without alum, so that you can often find a brand name in two variants, with and without alum (funnily enough that doesn't seem to matter over here in ireland, because I haven't seen one of the aluminiumfree products over here so far!). and I agree that it seems very difficult to live a life free of cleaning chemicals of some kind - I couldn't even make most of them myself, because I wouldn't be able to find the ingredients for this. for shampoo though you could use soapwort leaves (or roots):)

Leigh said...

I you think this one is over thought, wait till you read my next one, LOL.

Leigh said...

I have been looking for them, but I can't find them locally. I understand they can be used for DIY shampoo too.

Leigh said...

Yes, I'm becoming aware of the aluminum issue as I do this research. Funny, but I wasn't actually looking at that; it's just been a useful by-product of my current research. In the US, there isn't even an official acceptance that aluminum is carcenogenic. US products are allowed to contain "acceptable" amounts. Very little is advertised as aluminum free.

Bryan said...

Have you thought about salt-tolerant plants in and around the first stage of your greywater wetlands? There's plenty (even edibles!) where I live in the desert southwest, many are hardy to well below freezing, and are drought-tolerant/low-water-needs as well. I was recently reading a book on native Egyptian plants that discussed how Date palms were sometimes irrigated with brackish water and almost fell out of my chair.

Amanda said...

Dawn's claims about being "safe for wildlife" are based mostly on their being extremely effective for cleaning crude oil off oil-slicked wildlife and rinsing off cleaning. It's also reasonably cheap, which is huge for wildlife rehabbers, who do not have big budgets. As far being safe in the way you are thinking, for plants, soil, and maybe even ingesting if any stays on plants, I would have serious doubts. Have you ever run into Dr. Bronner's "Magic" Soaps? They're Castile soaps, vegetable-based, and depending on how much you dilute them (which can quite a cost savings) can be used for everything from washing your face and hair to your dishes. "Dr." Bronner was a religious nut, which makes the labels hilarious reading, but he and his descendants make great soap. I'm a huge fan because since I began using it - just because I liked the lavender scent, not because I was expecting great things - my psoriasis has completely cleared up and has never returned. I suspect because it is one of the few soaps out there with no petroleum products.

Theresa said...

I know it's not cost savings but for years I've used only Jason shampoo's of different varieties and all natural deodorants, Schmidt's and one from etsy called Kokomo cream. Both work well. I did not have good luck with the salt stones. It gave me a horrible rash. Like you I have very dry skin. Vit E oil and Vit.C cream mixed together make a wonderful nourishing face cream. We use a lot of vinegar for general cleaning

Leigh said...

We aren't ready to do the bed so no, I haven't researched plants for it yet. One challenge is that it is in pretty dense shade. Would love to have date palms(!) but I doubt they'd like our cold winter very much.

Leigh said...

Any soap or detergent will cut grease and since P&G donates all that Dawn to the marine wildlife center, of course they'll use it, it's free. And P&G get the tax write off and a trendy advertising slogan. Can you tell I'm not impressed, LOL

I used to use Dr. Bronner's peppermint liquid soap all the time. I haven't been able to find it locally however. I have thought about making my own castile soap with olive oil, but thinking is as far as I've gotten on that one.

Leigh said...

I've seen Jason's products from time to time, so I'll have to look around. The others I haven't heard of, but I like your E & C idea for a face cream. I have made some of my own too, but do like Burt's Bees products.

Sue said...

I make my own soap to put in my homemade laundry powder, and it works great. I started doing this because I can't stand all the fragrances and other "stuff" in the commercial soaps. I worked out the cost and my laundry powder is about $0.03 per load, which is a great bonus.

I also make my own bath/facial soap, and it works great too. Love that it's fragrance-free and cheap cheap cheap. My favorite bath bar is just coconut oil and lard. Plain and simple.

Leigh said...

I like simple ingredients for homemade soaps too. They can get really expensive to make when all those fancy oils are added. I don't even mind a plain lard soap, although it suds less without the coconut oil. I've found coconut oil for a good price at Big Lots, which is great because I use it as my only cooking oil (liquid).

That's an excellent price for your homemade laundry powder, you must get your washing soda and borax pretty cheap.

Kathy said...

Some of the issue is about how much product(s) is being used with each use, how often, and total for the household per day/week/month/year. If your grey water is going straight to plants, then the plants need to be tolerant varieties. If you're using a holding tank with a nozzle & hose, then you have the option of spreading that use around to trees, shrubs, non-edible plants elsewhere. Love that you're researching all this. Keep posting about it! Thank you!

Leigh said...

My goal is to keep it as simple as possible. (I try to keep everything as simple as possible ;) Considering how quickly greywater can become blackwater, we've already ruled out a holding tank because it would require filtering, which would require cleaning out the filters, which is more work! LOL. I figure if I can decrease the amounts of unwanteds that go down the drain, that will help considerably, especially sodium, since my soil is already too high in that. The research is really helping, and I hope others find it useful too.

Cozy Thyme Cottage said...

Thanks for all your hard research. Interesting but also discouraging. Nancy

Leigh said...

I found it a bit discouraging as well. Lots of people are becoming more conscientious about the products they use, but the choices seem to be against us.

Jake said...

On your homemade items, if you used potassium hydroxide instead of sodium hydroxide (similarly for carbonate and bicarbonate), you could cut down on the sodium content there. The potassium versions are more expensive, but I'm not sure how much cost it would add to your recipes. (Or if it would affect the flavor of your toothpaste.)

On the other hand, if you were making your own lye from wood ashes, it would be mainly potassium-based. :-)

Leigh said...

I read about using potassium hydroxide based soaps for that reason, but hadn't thought about the other potassium based products! I should have,considering all the work I put into How To Bake Without Baking Powder. :) The rationale is that plants can utilize the potassium but not the sodium, which causes problems. Of course it's on my list to try wood ash soap! People prefer sodium hydroxide so they can make bar soap, but liquids are supposed to be better for greywater because of their neutral pH. Commercial liquid soaps all contain sodium lauryl (or lauryth) sulfate, however, so homemade would truly be best for using greywater on plants.