Laundry Sheets: Why Ditch the Liquid?
Can Green Washing Be a Good Thing? Not greenwashing—as in making misleading claims about a product's environmental impact—but green washing, as in making your laundry practices more environmentally friendly. With Americans laundering more than 35 billion loads a year, cleaning up our cleaning practices could hugely benefit the environment.
An approach that's catching on in North America is using detergent-infused strips or sheets in place of traditional powdered or liquid laundry detergents. Advocates say these lighter, easier-to-transport products can trim carbon emissions and reduce the number of plastic laundry jugs that end up in landfills each year.
According to their manufacturers, they also contain less toxic ingredients than traditional liquid or pod-borne competitors, making them healthier for humans and the environment.
What Is a Laundry Sheet?
Laundry sheets or strips are composed of cleaning agents pressed into a flexible sheet that dissolves in water. Most are sold in recyclable or compostable cardboard boxes or sleeves.
These products may be having a moment, but they aren't new. They've been used for years in Europe and Asia. One popular US brand, Sheets Laundry Club, licenses a patent developed—but never launched—by home products giant Kimberly-Clark in 2003. "Twenty years ago, the demand wasn't there," said Parks Thompson, VP of the brand for Sheets. Now, however, it is.
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Are Laundry Sheets Environmentally Friendly?
Because they are lighter and less bulky than liquid and powdered competitors, makers of laundry strips say they can reduce the effect that distributing them has on the environment.
For example, in its advertising, sheet brand Tru Earth compares the 40 grams of liquid detergent needed to wash a laundry load to the weight of a strip—3 grams—to claim a 94% reduction in transportation fuel consumption and carbon emissions, lowering the product's embodied energy impact drastically.
But representatives of other brands interviewed said such reductions were hard to quantify. Makers also say laundry strips are kinder to the environment because they don't use chemicals such as phosphates, which can cause algae blooms that threaten aquatic life or synthetic surfactants that enable pollutants to penetrate and endanger waterways.
How Much Waste Do Laundry Sheets Eliminate?
In making their environmental case, sheet manufacturers point to the estimated 1 billion plastic laundry jugs discarded in the US annually, only 30% of which are recycled. It makes sense that switching to strips can eliminate many of these, but how many is unknown. Thompson estimates his brand, which claims 90,000 customers, has kept a little over half a million plastic jugs from entering landfills since launching in December 2019.
Are Laundry Sheets Healthy?
In addition to touting their reduced environmental impact, laundry strip manufacturers stress that their products contain safer ingredients than traditional detergents.
In addition to phosphates, most sheets eliminate ingredients found in some traditional laundry detergents such as bleach, parabens, and formaldehyde. Nor do they contain dioxane, a likely carcinogen implicated in kidney and liver damage recently banned by the state of New York. Common laundry-strip ingredients include coconut-based surfactants and polyvinyl alcohol (PVA), a plant-based polymer used in eye drops.
Eliminating the water used in liquid detergents means makers of laundry sheets don't need to add preservatives, says Angie Tran, co-founder of Kind Laundry. The company's formula also shuns additives such as colorants, foaming agents, and optical color brighteners. "We try our best to only have ingredients that are intentional," she says. Kind uses only five ingredients in its sheets, including Tea Tree oil, a plant-based degreaser that Tran says has natural antibacterial properties. She said the company is continuing to work with labs to develop ingredients that boost cleaning safely.
Still, you won't want to let your toddler take a bite. "At the end of the day, they're still chemicals," Tran says, adding that laundry sheets carry safety warnings similar to other detergents. "But in terms of ingredients that impact the environment, it's much safer," she says.
What Are Other Benefits of Laundry Sheets?
Because they're compact, laundry strips take up less storage space. They are easier to carry than jugs of liquid detergent or boxes of powder. Users report they're less messy because they eliminate sticky spills. Because they are premeasured, they have less potential for overuse, a chronic problem with liquid detergents. Their slim profile also makes them ideal for traveling.
And most laundry sheets do not contain animal products or engage in animal testing. Several are certified by the cruelty-free program Leaping Bunny.
Do Laundry Sheets Work?
Consumers generally give laundry strips high marks in online reviews. They cite the convenience and health benefits and report that they clean well. The website reviewed.com tested Tru Earth strips and found they removed 63.7% of tested stains, making them competitive with a leading eco-friendly liquid. In an unscientific at-home test, Kind Laundry, Sheets Laundry Club, and Tru Earth strips got moderately dirty loads clean and, although scented, left behind far less fragrance than traditional detergents.
Negative reviews mostly cite instances where the sheets have not fully dissolved, clinging to clothes or the inside of the washers. This issue seems to be most common for users of high-efficiency front-loading machines. To remedy this, some makers suggest embedding the sheets in the clothes or tearing them into pieces and loading them in the washer's detergent dispenser.
How Long Do Laundry Sheets Last?
The shelf life of laundry sheets ranges from one-and-a-half to about two years. That compares to a year for sealed liquid laundry detergent and about six months once it's opened. Powdered detergents, when kept dry, last indefinitely.
Do Laundry Sheets Cost More Than Liquid Detergent?
Yes, laundry strips generally cost one-half to more than twice as much as traditional detergent per load. Tran says 90% of consumer complaints relate to cost, although her brand's sheets are not the priciest on the market.
As a comparison, a box of Kind Laundry sheets purchased on Amazon for $16.95 will clean 60 loads for $0.28 each. A bottle of Tide liquid, purchased online for $12, will clean 64 loads at $0.19 each – assuming the user doesn't use more detergent than recommended. Kind estimates a single or couple will use 6 to 12 boxes of her product a year, a household of three to four people between 12 and 18 boxes, and one of more than five people 24 to 36 boxes.
All the leading sheet brands offer subscriptions, with discounts of 15 percent or more and free shipping. Some also provide savings for buying in bulk. At Kind, this can bring the per-box cost to $14.95.
What Are Some Popular Brands of Laundry Sheets?
With the popularity of laundry strips growing, new brands are coming on the market regularly. In some cases, sheets made by the same manufacturer are sold under different names. Canadian-based Dizolve, for example, makes Tru Earth and other sheets in North America. Other brands, like Kind Laundry and Sheets Laundry Club, source their products from China. Comparing ingredients and the cleaning performances of several brands may be the only way to determine whether the one you choose is a unique product. Popular brands include:
What Are the Drawbacks to Laundry Sheets?
At present, it's hard to find laundry sheets on store shelves. But that may be changing. Tran says Kind is discussing distribution through Target and Whole Foods, and the brand is sold at some eco-friendly retailers. Sheets Laundry Club is sold at Camping World and Canoe World stores – the product's lightweight and compactness makes it a favorite among the RV crowd, says Thompson – and that company is also in talks with Target.
In the meantime, many brands of laundry strips are available online through large retailers and their own brand websites.
With still more products expected to enter the market, it could be laundry sheets will soon put a whole new spin on the way we wash our clothes.Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2021-10-22T18:30:28+0000
Debra Judge Silber
Debra Judge Silber is a Connecticut-based journalist who writes on home design with an eye toward practices that support our health and our planet. She is a former editor at This Old House, Fine Homebuilding and Inspired House, and has written for a number of other publications.