How Dirty Girls Get Clean

A yellow chick and a bottle of Oasis laundry liquid

I have been making my own laundry soap for a while and while it is not completely environmentally friendly, it is moving in the right direction (and good golly it is affordable to make!). I worry about the amount of chemicals I use in the house and the amount they pollute the environment so I have been slowly removing and limiting what I use. Unfortunately my homemade laundry soap is not greywater system friendly. I also realized that my toothpaste is not greywater friendly even though it is all natural and even washing my hair with baking soda is bad for the soil. So how is a dirty girl supposed to get clean?

First off, what soap items do you use and which do you need to replace? Here is my list:

Dishwashing detergent

Laundry soap

hand soap

body wash

bar soap



  • I am still using up the bulk naughty dishwashing detergent than I am going to switch to Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap.
  • For now I am going to keep making my own powdered laundry soap but I am looking into using a natural castile bar soap instead of the Fels Naptha. Once I get a greywater system in place I am going to switch to one of the biocompatible soaps in this article.
  • I still have a stockpile of liquid hand soap and then I am going to switch to Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap.
  • For body wash I use Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap. (Do I sense a theme here?)
  • I have been given some bar soap I am going to use up and I have some lovely more natural bar soaps that I consider a luxury item that I will be sad to give up, but when the time comes, if I cannot find an okay bar soap I will just use Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap.
  • Oh baking soda, I love how you clean my hair but not how you salinate the environment. I figure I can wash my hair in a sewer tied drainage system rather than greywater tied plumbing. I honestly do not like using liquid castile soap on my hair.
  • As with shampoo, I figure I will brush my teeth in a system not tied to greywater plumbing unless I can come up with a better system.


As it stands now I use the water caught in my bathroom sink to flush my toilet. Until I had to cut back on the laundry I do I was using cloth toilet paper.  (I will go back to this technique again.) For now I am using mostly cloth sanitary napkins. Why am I doing this? Well I realized water and waste added to my water does not just magically disappear down the drain. All the things we add to water goes some place and has to be processed. Unfortunately that process cannot take all of our additions safely out.

I totally did not know about soil salination or the difference between biocompatible and biodegradable so this was an amazing learning experience diving into the dos and don’t of greywater gardening. I may not be there yet, but these ideas lead to a healthier life for everyone right now! Do you want to make a switch to a more environmentally friendly way to get clean? Here are some great resources to get you started.

Brad Lancaster, bless his soul, is an amazing man making a difference in the desert landscape of Tucson, Arizona and beyond. On his site he gets into how to have a healthy and integrated, sustainable water system. He has many great resources on his site and in his books. Here is the link on greywater compatible soaps.

Oasis Biocompatible cleaners. Need I say more? I think their site is self explanatory and I look forward to using their products. Check them out!

Finally I want to post and link to the Ecology Center‘s website. This was an in depth and informative guide to help me find soil safe and environmentally healthy alternatives to get clean. Avoid getting distracted by tongue twisting, confusing lingo and get the facts on going green.


Wastewater that is discharged to the greywater system ends up in the garden soil and can either be beneficial or harmful to soil, water systems, and plant life. A common problem with improper use of greywater systems is salt build up in the soil which is hard to remedy and will negatively affect plant health. Toxic discharge, such as paints, hair dyes, or harsh cleaners, should never enter the greywater system, and should instead be routed through the municipal sewer. These substances can not only kill plants, they can also kill soil life and water life and persistently remain in soil. The greywater system should have a three-way valve, which allows wastewater to be routed back through the sewer as needed.

Note: water from the kitchen sink and toilet are considered blackwater, not greywater, and should not be recycled in the yard, but should be sent through the sewer system. Shower and bathtub water, however, are considered greywater, so greywater-friendly cleaning products should be used for cleaning shower and tub.

The effect of certain cleaning product ingredients depends in part on what type of greywater system is in place. If the greywater is going into the soil through a mulch basin (“terrestrial”), Nitrogen (N) and Phosphorus (P) ingredients are not a problem and in fact end up as soil nutrients. This is the case for the “laundry-to-landscape” type system, which is allowed in Berkeley without a permit. If the greywater is passing through a freshwater wetland (“aquatic”), however, N + P can lead to harmful algae growth and should be avoided. Conversely, Sodium (Na) is much more harmful to soil health than it is to a wetland system. A detailed chart of these variables can be found in Art Ludwig’s book Create an Oasis with Greywater.


Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P), Potassium (K), and Sulfur (S) are okay for greywater going directly into the soil / mulch basin.


  • boron/borax (toxic to plants)
  • sodium and ingredients with the word “sodium” in them*
  • chlorine bleach (acceptable alternative: hydrogen peroxide)
  • sodium perborate
  • sodium hypochlorite
  • peroxygen
  • petroleum distillate
  • alkylbenzene
  • water softeners (contain sodium chloride or potassium chloride)
  • anti-bacterial soaps & cleaners
  • “whiteners”, “softeners”
  • enzymes (enzymes in biological washing powders break down protein or fat stains on clothes)
  • titanium oxide
  • chromium oxide
  • artificial colors; FD&C colors
  • synthetic fragrance
  • artificial preservatives
  • no toxic waste down the drain!!

*Note: Rainfall can help reduce salt build-up in soil, but we get relatively little rain in the San Francisco Bay Area, so it is advised to keep sodium out of greywater whenever possible.

Tip: liquid soaps tend to contain less sodium than powdered soaps — lean toward liquid laundry products.

Here are some examples of more- and less-suitable cleaning products for use with greywater systems (many available at Ecology Center store, Berkeley Bowl stores, other natural grocery stores):



  • Oasis laundry liquid
  • Bio Pac Laundry Liquid
  • Biokleen Laundry Liquid
  • LifeTree Laundry Liquid
  • Ecover Laundry Wash (some salt)
  • Mountain Green Laundry Detergent
  • Vaska Herbatergent


  • Lullwater Soap Nuts Seventh Generation (enzymes)
  • Citra Suds (sodium chloride)
  • Planet (salt, sodium carbonate/washing soda)


  • Tide (enzymes +???)**;
  • All (perfume, brightening agent, colorant, +?);
  • Arm & Hammer (baking soda, water softener, optical brightener, +?);
  • Woolite (?);
  • Ivory Snow (enzymes +?)

**Note: Question marks indicate that these products do not list all of their ingredients on their labels. This is a common practice with most of the major conventional brands. It may be safe to assume that many of them contain artificial colors and scents, among other things. Avoid products that do not list ingredients!

Other Laundry Products:


  • Clorox (chlorine bleach)
  • Borax


  • Biokleen Bac Out (sodium percarbonate, enzymes)
  • Biokleen Oxygen Bleach Plus (sodium sulfate)



  • Oasis dishwash/all-purpose cleaner for handwashing dishes, body & shampoo
  • Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps (liquid)
  • Aubrey Organics Shampoos


  • Kirk’s Castile bar soap (may have some sodium)


  • Dial liquid handsoap (sodium laureth sulfate, sodium chloride, antibacterial agent, cocamidopropyl betaine (synthetic surfactant), +?)

Note: The Skin Deep database can help you find out what chemicals are in your body & beauty products.



  • Oasis dishwash/all-purpose cleaner for handwashing dishes, body & shampoo
  • Ecos: Creamy Cleanser; Parsley Plus; Furniture Polish; Window Kleener; Floor Kleener; Carpet Shampoo


  • Bon Ami (it is biodegradable and has no perfumes, dyes, chlorine, or fragrance, but does contain sodium carbonate)
  • Ecos: Shower Kleener (sodium gluconate, sodium citrate)
  • Dr. Bronners: Sal Suds (sodium laurel sulfate)
  • Citra Dish (sodium chloride)
  • Ecover Dishwashing Liquid (sodium laureth sulfate, sodium chloride)


  • Ajax (sodium carbonate, bleach, fragrance, color);
  • Comet (bleach, +?);
  • Ajax (?);
  • Ivory (?);
  • Palmolive (?);
  • Joy (?);
  • Dawn (?)