Lately my social media feed has been awash with ads for laundry strips. It’s definitely not because I love laundry (who does?)—it’s because I’m always looking for ways to use less plastic. And switching to laundry strips, which come in small cardboard packages instead of giant plastic jugs, is a simple way to avoid unnecessary plastic packaging.
There are now several companies making laundry strips, so I decided to test them out. Here’s everything you need to know about laundry strips and whether they are the right choice for you—and the environment.
What exactly are laundry strips?
Laundry detergent strips are ultra-concentrated sheets of liquidless laundry detergent that dissolve in water. Each strip is pre-portioned to deliver the exact amount of detergent needed for a load of laundry. No pouring, no spills. Because laundry strips are lightweight and mess-free, they are super convenient for travel and take up way less storage space than detergents or pods. Most importantly, laundry strips are plastic-free.
The problem with plastic
My family of four goes through a lot of laundry. We do at least five loads a week: sheets, towels, whites, darks, and delicates. That’s 260 loads of laundry a year—and a lot of plastic waste. If every 25 loads uses up a 1-litre bottle of laundry detergent, we’re easily throwing out 10 plastic jugs a year.
Sure, we put our plastic jugs in the blue bin—but there’s a good chance they won’t actually be recycled. According to a study commissioned by the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change Canada, only about 22 percent of Canada’s plastic packaging waste makes its way to recycling facilities. Of that, a mere 15 percent gets recycled into new products. The rest either piles up in landfills or litters the environment. According to Ashley Wallis, plastics campaigner with Oceana Canada, plastic packaging accounts for 47 percent of Canada’s plastic waste.
Globally, the numbers are even grimmer. Researchers estimate that 8300 metric tons of virgin plastics were produced as of 2017. Only nine percent had been recycled. Twelve percent had been burned, and a whopping 79 percent had accumulated in landfills or littered the environment.
Even if every bit of discarded plastic was recycled, the manufacture of plastic still contributes to climate change.
“Ninety nine percent of plastic is made from fossil resources like oil and gas,” says Wallis. “It’s estimated that without action by 2050, plastics will account for ten to thirteen percent of our global carbon budget (as per the Paris Agreement).”
They use natural ingredients
When detergents go down the drain, they make their way into our waterways and drinking water, where they don’t biodegrade—instead lingering and accumulating in the ecosystem. Many are considered highly toxic to aquatic organisms.
If you’d rather clean your clothes with natural ingredients, laundry strips are a good choice. They are made with plant-based, biodegradable ingredients that are gentle on sensitive skin and safe to use with septic systems.
They are plastic-free
Since laundry strips are liquidless, they can be packaged in cardboard or paper—which is more readily recycled than plastic. Plus the packaging itself is made with post-consumer recycled content.
Every packet of laundry strips replaces a plastic jug of detergent. Comparing apples to apples, a 32-strip packet of Nature Clean laundry strips replaces a 1.8 L jug of Nature Clean laundry detergent—which does 30 standard loads.
Wallis points out that plastic pollution can’t be solved by individual action alone—that we need systems-level changes, including stronger bans on unnecessary and harmful single-use plastics. But until then, it’s up to individuals—and industry—to pave the way.
“Over time we should absolutely be looking to phase out all unnecessary plastics,” says Wallis. “And when industry demonstrates what’s possible, without plastic, it helps create space for government action.”
They have a smaller carbon footprint
Cutting out plastic means cutting down on carbon emissions. Not only is plastic made of petrochemicals—which come from petroleum—but manufacturing and shipping virgin plastic emits greenhouse gases.
And since laundry strips are much lighter and more compact than liquid detergent, they are easier to ship—reducing fuel consumption and emissions from transportation.
How do you use laundry strips?
Laundry detergent strips dissolve in either hot or cold water. Whether you have a top-loading or front-loading washer, simply toss a strip into the drum at the beginning of the cycle. They work in all types of washing machines, including high-efficiency machines. For handwashing, tear a strip in half, dissolve it in water, and add your laundry.
Laundry strips are designed to wash a regular, lightly-soiled load. If you’re doing a smaller load, you can use half a strip. For large or heavily-soiled loads, you can use two strips.
Do laundry strips work?
With a three-year-old and a five-year-old, I have some pretty filthy laundry. I’m talking peed-on, ketchup-smeared, woodchip-encrusted, muddy puddle-splattered, marker-stained laundry. And all the brands I tested did a great job of cleaning it.
Unlike some pods or powder detergents, the laundry strips dissolved completely without clumping or leaving a residue. They don’t create suds like traditional detergents, but all those bubbles are just for show—they don’t clean any better. And they’re also a no-no for high-efficiency machines.
I normally use unscented detergent, since I’m sensitive to smells and have kids. But since I was given some scented samples, I was curious to try them. When I first opened the packages, I found the smell a bit strong, but that’s because they are so concentrated. After the laundry is done, the smell is barely there. Even when I used two strips for a big load of towels, they came out smelling fresh and clean—not perfumey.
I also love the fact that when my family went away to a cottage for a couple of weeks, I could toss a packet of laundry strips in my bag—without them taking up much space or spilling. They came in handy when I had to handwash my daughter’s favourite outfit, and when it was time to take a load to the laundromat.
Laundry strips to try
Here are some Canadian brands that are biodegradable, vegan-friendly, safe for septic systems, and packaged in recycled paper or cardboard.
Made in Canada, Good Juju makes plastic-free shampoo and conditioner bars as well as laundry strips. All of their products are plastic-free: they ship in post-consumer recycled envelopes and boxes with recyclable kraft paper tape and GreenGuard certified stickers. The online shop is carbon negative: for every order placed, they buy carbon offsets and donate a portion of sales to support carbon reduction initiatives.
Good Juju Laundry Strips (Unscented or Summer Rain), $14.99/30 strips
Nature Clean is a familiar Canadian company that makes a wide range of home cleaning and personal care products. Their laundry strips are formulated in Canada and made in China. They have been allergy tested and dermatologist tested and found to be safe for sensitive skin. You can purchase them online or find them at most grocery stores or pharmacies.
Nature Clean Laundry Detergent Strips (Unscented or Wildflower), $10.99/32 strips
Kind Laundry was founded in Toronto by Angie Tran and Bernard Law, who wanted to offer an eco-friendly laundry detergent that reduces plastic pollution. They worked with their manufacturer in China to formulate detergent strips without unnecessary fillers or surfactants, using zero-waste packaging. Their laundry strips have only five plant-based ingredients, each carefully chosen to be super effective and gentle on the most sensitive skin. They also make wool dryer balls and stain remover bars.
Kind Laundry Detergent Sheets, $19.95/60 sheets