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Does your washing up liquid contain phosphates?

Phosphates are illegal in the UK, but what are they and why shouldn’t they be in your washing up liquid or detergent?


Reading Time: 2 minutes

By Cleanipedia Team

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Need to know:

  • Read the label: Phosphates are no longer present in most major detergent brands, like many of those manufactured by Unilever.

  • Phosphorous occurs naturally in the environment.

“What are phosphates? Are phosphates bad? Are they in my detergent? Where can I find a phosphate free detergent?”

If you have recently had this train of thought while purchasing or using cleaning products, you are not alone. With this introduction to phosphates, their impact on the environment, and the role they play in your home cleaning, you will soon be able to talk about phosphates with the best of them!

What Are Phosphates?

First, a brief science lesson so we’re better equipped to take on the issue of phosphates and the environment:

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Phosphorous is a naturally occurring mineral and a vital nutrient of life on earth. It is one of the most common substances in our environment. Phosphates are part of every phase of the life cycle, consumed by humans and animals in the form of plants and eventually returned to the environment through decomposition and waste.

Phosphates are chemical compounds created when phosphorous combines with oxygen. This compound has an incredible range of uses from cleaning (it helps to soften hard water) to baking to medical care.

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Are Phosphates Bad for the Environment?

The focal point of the argument against phosphates in cleaning products revolves around what happens when a high concentration of phosphorus gathers in a body of water. While normal levels act as a nutrient for aquatic life, too much phosphorous can cause eutrophication, where the plant life in a lake, pond, or stream overgrows and limits the amount of oxygen the animal and plant life receives. This is commonly referred to as an ‘algae bloom’. Essentially, the plant organisms in the water are over-fed and grow faster than the water can regulate itself.

This situation is naturally reversed over time by the power of Mother Nature, but major cleaning brands took note. Leaders in the market decided that the best (and really, only) solution was to find a replacement ingredient and stop contributing to unnatural phosphate levels as much as possible to allow the ecosystem to self-regulate.

Phosphate-free Living

With more sustainable ingredients in everyday washing up liquid, we are ensuring a better CO2 profile and a smaller footprint on the planet. Most companies in the UK and the EU have sustainable growth ambitions and have created websites detailing every ingredient, their impact on the environment, and the brand’s commitment to safety.

This is the same information we take into consideration when suggesting cleaning techniques and supplies to you. In the case of ingredients, knowledge is a responsible source of power!

Originally published