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May 22, 2018  |  Login

Use Phosphate-Free Soaps

Buy soaps and detergents that are phosphate-free and protect the quality of fresh water bodies.

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Next time you’re in the supermarket purchasing soap, laundry, or dishwashing detergent, check the labels before you buy.  Using soaps that are phosphate-free is important for protecting the health and purity of our nation’s fresh water lakes, rivers, and streams.

Phosphorus (in the form of phosphate) is an important ingredient in many soaps and detergents due to its powerful cleaning abilities.  Its strength as a cleaner, however, is now seen as far less important than its damaging effects on fresh water bodies.  Though a critical nutrient for plant growth, too much phosphate added by pollution can wreak havoc on a lake by causing algae to grow faster and more abundantly than is healthy for the water.  Not only will this make the water unpleasant in appearance, it emits a bad odor, makes swimming difficult, and makes filtering the water for drinking more complicated and expensive.  Excessive algal bloom can also be devastating to fish in rivers and lakes by restricting their supply of oxygen.  

Many state governments have already taken action to introduce statewide phosphate bans in soaps and detergents.  Washington was the first of these states, implementing a ban that will by 2010 limit the allowable amount of phosphate in dishwasher detergent sold in the state to a negligible amount.  Numerous states have followed suit, but in areas where a ban is not being enforced, it is important that we are more careful in selecting our soaps.  Look for high-quality phosphate-free brands such as Seventh Generation, EcoVer, Bi-O-Kleen, Mrs. Meyers, and Trader Joe’s Brand to protect the health of our beautiful lakes and rivers.


Take Action / Next Steps

• Visit to learn more about and find out where to purchase some of the eco-friendly cleaning supplies mentioned above


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1.Ebeling, Ashlea. [08 June 2007] “Environmental Activists Get Under Your Sink.” Available from: [29 July 2008]

2.Lake Champlain Basin Program. [December 2005] “Phosphorus-Free Automatic Dishwashing Detergents.” Available from: [29 July 2008]

3.MacIntosh, Helen Suh. [27 March 2007] “Ask TreeHugger: What’s the Dirt on Phosphate-Free Soaps?” Available from: [29 July 2008]

4.Smolen, M. D. “Phosphorus and Water Quality.” Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service. Available from: [29 July 2008]

5.Wilkes University Center For Environmental Quality. “Total Phosphorus and Phosphate Impact on Surface Waters.” Available from: [29 July 2008]

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