By Sherry Listgarten
I don't believe in laundry stripsUploaded: Mar 7, 2021
I don’t believe in laundry strips. Is something wrong with me, and what does this mean for our chances of dealing with climate change?
Can these paper-like strips possibly clean the laundry?
It’s fair to say that I have a bias against laundry strips and I’m not sure why. I’m not the only one who harbors prejudice against paperlike laundry detergent. The strips are flimsy, to begin with. This reviewer confesses “To be honest, I really doubted a 2-inch x 4-inch strip weighing under 3 grams would get the job done.” The problem isn’t just that they are delicate, it’s also that they are eco-friendly. An article for sanitation professionals quotes a property manager as saying “If it’s green I’m not interested. That green stuff doesn’t work. I want the good, strong stuff.” No less than the Harvard Business Review cites a study that demonstrates that “when people valued strength in a product—a car cleaner, say—they were less likely to choose sustainable options.” (1)
This looks like a product that will get the job done.
This looks like the top-ranked detergent that it is.
I could also get behind this.
Another highly ranked detergent.
And probably this, assuming it fits on the shelf and isn’t too leaky.
Same detergent, less plastic in the packaging.
Or even this. In fact, it’s in my closet, and I use it except not with cold water. (I can’t tell you why.)
A fairly well-ranked and environmentally friendly laundry detergent.
But this little cardboard envelope of 32 loads’ worth of strips? I keep reaching past them. Maybe I hate laundry so much that I don’t want to have to redo a load if the strip doesn’t work? I don’t know. For whatever reason, the well-intentioned gift sits in my closet unused.
Why am I so sure that these don’t work?
The thing is, I’m wrong. They do work. They may not be the most effective laundry detergent on the planet, but according to these impressively thorough detergent reviewers, they are in the “top third” of all detergents. Furthermore, I’m not even sure I could tell the difference between the top-ranked detergent and these. (The reviewers use an optical scanner or something to measure the differences in stain removal.) On the environmental side, the strips are clearly much more efficient to store and to ship, which means a nice reduction in transportation emissions.
What’s not to like? I don’t have an answer, and that bugs me.
In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter all that much which laundry detergent we use. But it does matter how we choose to get around, how we heat our homes, and what we choose to eat. If many of us are irrationally dismissive not only of laundry strips but of other “new” technologies like EVs, heat pumps, or plant-based “meat”, or even of low-tech energy savers like scooters or attic fans, then our transition to a sustainable economy is going to be much harder and slower than it needs to be. We should be embracing these unfamiliar ways of doing things. And that goes double for the professionals we interact with, like car salespeople, HVAC installers, restaurant proprietors, and electricians.
I’m going to try one of these strips next time I do the laundry, and with cold water no less. Ask me about it a week from now! In the meantime I’m curious if you have similar hangups, or have witnessed similar, and what you think is behind it.
Notes and References
1. They go on to add that “some men associate sustainability with femininity, leading them to avoid sustainable options” (like laundry strips), but I’m not sure how many of those men do laundry to begin with. After all, the paragon of masculinity, Jack Reacher, just throws out his clothes when they get dirty.
2. This is a review of some of the main eco-friendly laundry detergents.
3. Both WebMD and the Environmental Protection Agency have information about certifications for environmentally-friendly cleaners, but they focus more on health and safety than on emissions.
4. There is now a “platinum” version of these Tru-Earth laundry strips, “designed to fight the dirtiest clothes” and “perfect for stinky workout gear”. That has to be enough to get me over the hump…
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