Managing soaps and detergents

Many soaps, detergents and other cleaning products contain chemicals that can’t always be removed when wastewater is treated. These chemicals can end up in our local waters, where they can harm fish and aquatic plants.

About surfactants

Surfactants are the key chemical ingredient in soaps, laundry detergents and personal care products. If it makes suds, it has surfactants.

Surfactants increase cleaning power, but can be harmful to fish and other aquatic life. Not all of the surfactants in wastewater are removed during the treatment process.

Use less (and still get good results)

Nearly all cleaning products are designed to work in medium to hard water. Our region has soft water with few minerals in it. This means you can use less than the manufacturer’s recommended amount and still get good results. Use less, save money and put less strain on the environment.

  • Soaps, detergents and other cleaning products: Use half of the manufacturer’s recommended amount.
  • Personal care products (shampoo, conditioner, etc.): Most of us don’t measure our shampoos and conditioners, so it’s easy to use more than we need. Start by using the amount actually recommended on the product and see if you can reduce from there. Conditioners are a good starting point, as they typically contain more harmful surfactants.
  • Dishwashing: Instead of handwashing, run a full dishwasher load and use less detergent. It’s more efficient, saves water and puts less surfactants down the drain.

Reducing chemicals from laundry

Laundry products are one the largest sources of surfactants in our homes. To reduce laundry-related chemicals:

  • Use half the recommended amount of detergent (you should still get clean clothes).
  • Replace bleach with one cup of baking soda in the wash cycle.
  • Use non-chlorine, chlorine-free or hydrogen peroxide bleaches.
  • Replace fabric softener by adding ½ cup of vinegar to the rinse cycle.

How to choose safer cleaning products

  • Read labels and look for products low in phosphates, chlorine, dyes and perfumes.
  • Avoid products with these symbols:
    Avoid products with these symbols
  • Try making your own natural cleaning products. Natural cleansers work well and are less toxic, less expensive and better for you and the environment.

Outside your home

Anything that goes into a storm drain goes directly into the nearest body of water. Don't let soap from car washing and other cleaning activities go into storm drains. Find out more.