Cold Water Works

July 01, 2007
July/August 2007
A version of this article appears in the July/August 2007 issue of Home Energy Magazine.
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Business-minded people eagerly await the latest issue of Fortune magazine, and the more literary among us look forward to reading the latest fiction in the New Yorker or Atlantic Monthly. Here at Home Energy, some of us salivate over seeing a fresh copy of the Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN), a publication of the American Chemical Society, in our mailboxes. (Of course, we like “normal” magazines too.)

We especially like it when C&EN has a green-related cover story, as it did in the January 29, 2007, issue (“Going Green,” p. 13). This story reports on how chemists are creating a new generation of laundry detergents that work well in cold water, use less volume than traditional detergents, and contain fewer materials that are hazardous when they go down the drain and into the nation’s water supply. The C&EN article shows how the public—you and I—the government, and Wal-Mart can help shape our economy and move it in a more efficient and sustainable direction.

As a sign of the times, Proctor & Gamble recently took out an ad in the New York Times Magazine touting the green benefits of its laundry detergent, Tide Coldwater. The ad claims that if everyone in New York City washed in cold water for a day, it would save an amount of energy equal to that needed to light the Empire State Building for a month.

And Wal-Mart is responding to the pressure put on it by consumers and the government to sell efficient, healthy, and sustainable products. Wal-Mart has singled out 20 chemicals harmful to the environment that it wants the companies who manufacture its products to avoid using. For example, many manufacturers use nonylphenol ethoxylates, or NPEs, as surfactants in cleaning products. NPEs are known to break down into toxic and not-very-biodegradable byproducts during the wash. NPEs are on the Wal-Mart no-go list, and so some companies are substituting NPEs with less-toxic and more-biodegradable chemicals.

Henkel, a European detergent maker and Proctor & Gamble competitor, uses 35% natural, renewable soaps in its laundry detergents. Henkel’s new laundry detergent, Persil Color, cleans clothes well at low temperatures, and its automatic dishwashing detergent, Somat 7, cleans well at 104ºF (40ºC), as did a previous detergent at 131ºF (55ºC). Add up the savings from laundry and dishwashing, and pretty soon the power company decides it doesn’t have to build a new power plant in your city after all.

As consumers—and face it, we are all consumers—we can feel good about the fact that our opinions on everything from dishwashing soap to cool roofs matter to those who create the products that we purchase. And even if you won’t run out and subscribe to C&EN—especially when your precious subscription dollars just have to go to Home Energy—believe it when the advertising on the box of laundry detergent says that you can use less of it in cold water—and it will get your clothes just as clean.

Jim Gunshinan is Home Energy’s managing editor.

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