Are Detergents Biodegradable?

Have you tried to imagine how washing will be without detergents? You know how awfully difficult and tasking it will be. With detergents, washing and cleaning are easier, faster, and you can achieve a sparkling clean job.

Different people use detergents for different purposes, besides the common purpose, which is cleaning. The major difference between soap and detergent is that the former is produced from organic materials while the former is from synthetic materials.

However, there is an issue with the disposal of detergents. Although detergents are very useful in our everyday lives, we have to be very careful with how we dispose of them. It is imperative to know if detergents have any adverse effects on the environment.

In this blog post, we will look at the environmental effect of detergents as well as how to use them well without posing a threat to the safety of the environment. Dive in!

Do Detergents Biodegrade?

If you have been wondering what the fuss about biodegradable products is, here is why; one of the most effective ways nature disposes of our waste is through biodegradation. If all the materials and products we use are non-biodegradable, our planet will be filled with waste, which will be disastrous.

With the right conditions and environment, a biodegradable product will be broken down by microorganisms. The conditions that propel the breakdown of waste are sunlight, moisture, and weather. Microorganisms will flourish when these conditions are right.

There are biodegradable detergents and non-biodegradable detergents. Although most of the detergents used today are non-biodegradable, there are efforts to increase the production of more biodegradable detergents.

The only way to differentiate biodegradable detergents from the non-biodegradable variants is by the ingredients. Both detergents contain chemicals, but biodegradable detergents contain a larger percentage of organic products.

The chemicals used mostly in biodegradable detergents are dyes, optical brighteners, and artificial fragrances.

If you happen to see any of these ingredients, it is a non-biodegradable detergent; Petrochemicals, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Phosphates, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, dyes, Sodium Coco Sulfate, and chlorine.

You should know that it is almost impossible to find a detergent that is hundred percent biodegradable. Biodegradable detergents are usually branded as eco-friendly, all-natural, or plant-based. Detergents that contain non-ionic and ionic surfactants are unlikely to be biodegradable.

Are Detergents Bad For the Environment?

Detergents have become an integral part of our lives, and it will be impossible for us to get rid of them. Every day millions of detergents are being sold and used worldwide, and this leads to the question, what are the environmental impacts of detergents?

When we are washing, we are never bothered about what becomes of the wastewater. All we are concerned with is the clothes we are washing; when we add detergent into the laundry machine, we don’t think of the impact on the environment, only how clean our clothes will be.

There is an unsaid belief that products as innocuous and common as detergent do not pose any threat to the environment. We believe this without even considering if it has been proven to be accurate or otherwise.

Detergents pose a lot of threats to the safety of the environment, from the chemicals used to produce the detergent to the final waste after use. Non-biodegradable detergents that contain phosphate tend to create algae blooms when disposed of in freshwater.

These algae bloom use up all the oxygen in the water (the process is referred to as eutrophication), thereby posing a significant threat to the health and life of aquatic organisms. This also causes disbalance in the ecosystem.

This happens because nitrogen and phosphorus in the detergents stimulate and vitalize the excessive growth of algae and other aquatic vegetation. You might be wondering how detergents can get into freshwater.

When you wash your car, pet, vehicle, driveway, house, or even recycle the wastewater from the washing machine, if the detergents get into the streets mistakenly, they will end up in the closest waterway.

Another way detergent negatively affects the environment is the packaging. Most detergents are sold in non-recyclable and non-reusable packaging. With the number of detergents sold daily, the packaging ends up in landfills, thereby causing more pollution.

Surfactant, an integral material used in the production of detergents, is a chemical that reduces the surface tension of both water and oil. These chemicals are what make stains come off clothing and other items being cleaned.

When the surface tension of water is reduced, aquatic organisms absorb phenols, pesticides, and other pollutants in the water. When this happens, the endocrine systems of the animals are affected, and their breeding rate is reduced.

So, if you are wondering the reason for the decline of aquatic organisms, our use of detergents is one of the causes.

Surfactants are very toxic to water bodies and aquatic life, and when they break down, they become toxic byproducts.

When surfactants end up in freshwater, they break down the protective layer coat of mucus in fishes that protect them from bacteria and parasites. The fishes are unprotected and prone to infection and diseases.

Do Detergents Expire?

We all do a lot of cleaning; it is almost impossible to go a week without washing anything. Well, nothing wrong with that. While some people prefer to buy household items when they are on sale, others prefer to purchase them when they need them.

Whether you buy detergent when you need it or when it is on sale, there is a question of how long it will remain usable. Do detergents expire? Do they spoil after a long time? And can they still be used after it expires? We will answer these questions now.

Detergents do not expire; they do not spoil, neither do they deteriorate. However, after being stored for a long time, they lose some of their effectiveness in cleaning. The toxicity of detergents does not increase even after they lose their effectiveness.

Some claim that the best time to use a liquid detergent is after it has exceeded its expiration date. They say it is most effective at this period; on the bright side, the manufacturer does not specify that the detergent will break down after expiry or the content will fall apart.

Liquid detergent is usually affected by moisture, so if you hope to use it after a long time, you need to keep it away from extreme temperatures. At extreme temperatures, the detergent will break down, and there will be clumps in the bottle.

So, if the liquid detergent has exceeded its expiration date while exposed to extreme temperatures, you would not be able to use it. Powdered detergent, on the other hand, does not expire, so it remains usable and effective.

Why Detergents are Effective in Hard Water?

You ought to know that there are two types of water, hard water, and soft water. This may come off like a surprise, and you might be wondering what the differences between soft and hard water are.

Let’s dive right into it and see why detergents are more effective in hard water than soft water.

Hard water is water containing a substantial amount of dissolved minerals, like magnesium and calcium. On the other hand, soft water is treated water that contains only one ion, which is sodium.

When detergents are used in hard water, the magnesium and calcium salts in the detergents dissolve in the water, so it works better. Although all detergents work well in hard water, you should know that only synthetic detergents are more effective in hard water.

Detergents also produce more lather in hard water because they don’t form insoluble precipitates with magnesium and calcium ions. Using more detergent in hard water does two things; it cleans your clothes better and prevents dirt and mineral deposits from accumulating in your washing machine.

Examples of Non-Biodegradable Detergents

We mentioned earlier that there are biodegradable and non-biodegradable detergents. The major difference between these two detergents is, biodegradable detergents are organic and can be broken down by microorganisms into organic materials without releasing any toxin or causing harm to the environment.

We will look at some of the worst detergents you can purchase.

One of the most toxic detergents is Tide Laundry Detergent. This detergent contains 1,4-Dioxane, used as a solvent. This causes drowsiness, vertigo, anorexia, headache, and irritation of the nose, eyes, lungs, and throat in humans.

If a detergent can cause this much harm to humans, imagine how toxic it will be to microorganisms that break down objects. It is best to keep this detergent away from your home and also dumping sites.

Others include Arm & Hammer Toss ‘N Done Ultra Power Paks, Home Solv 2X Concentrated, Xtra Plus OxiClean, Woolite Everyday, and Trader Joe’s Liquid Laundry HE.

Do Detergents Affect Plant Growth?

Since detergents are among the necessary products we use every day, it is imperative to know their effects on the life surrounding us, i.e., plant and animal life. We need to know if it is good or bad for the health and wellbeing of these living organisms.

Detergents contain volatile substances and chemicals that negatively affect the normal growth of plants. Scientific researches prove that a low concentration of certain detergents might be beneficial for normal plant growth.

So, how do detergents affect the growth of plants?

Detergents raise the alkalinity of the soil, causing damage to the structure of the soil. This isn’t good, especially if the plant in the soil requires a more acidic environment to thrive. When there is increased alkalinity, the plants die.

Some detergents contain high concentrations of bleach, and when this type of detergent finds its way to the soil, it kills off the good bacteria in the soil that are essential for plant growth.

Another way detergent affects plant growth is by increasing the soil’s pH level, electrical conductivity, and salinity. When there are imbalances in these, the soil physiochemistry is altered, and plants will struggle to thrive in such soil.

Do Detergents Act as a Disinfectant?

There is a myth that cleaning agents, like soap and detergents, can also work as disinfectants. Detergents and disinfectants are very different, and they perform different functions.

A detergent cannot act as a disinfectant; it cannot get rid of viruses, bacteria, and fungi, from any item or surface. If a detergent is also labeled as a disinfectant, it would be able to get rid of germs to a particular level, but not completely.


Without detergents, cleaning would be a tiresome activity. Lucky for us, there are different brands of detergents available to choose from. However, it is essential that we use these products with the safety of the environment in mind.

Everything has an effect on the environment, it can either be positive or negative, and we need to do our best to reduce our impact on the environment.

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About Rinkesh

A true environmentalist by heart ❤️. Founded Conserve Energy Future with the sole motto of providing helpful information related to our rapidly depleting environment. Unless you strongly believe in Elon Musk‘s idea of making Mars as another habitable planet, do remember that there really is no 'Planet B' in this whole universe.