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What's the Difference between Biological and Non Biological Washing Powder? How to choose the right laundry detergent

What a dilemma

We’ve all been there - standing in the laundry isle of the supermarket staring at all the different washing powders. Shelf after shelf with colourful labels all promising to get your laundry squeaky clean.

But there is a problem - not only do you have to choose the right laundry detergent brand at the right price, but you also have to understand whether you need a biological or non biological washing powder, which option cleans whites better, or removes stains but not the colours of your favourite t-shirt.

Plus you need to consider the environmental impacts of your choice and if you have family members with sensitive skin you have to think about their needs too. What a dilemma.

The best choice for colours without any major stains is non bio liquid from bottle or liquid tablets

The best choice for colours without any major stains is non bio liquid from bottle or liquid tablets

The difference between Biological and Non Biological Washing powder

The major difference between the two products is that a Biological washing powder contains enzymes, whereas the non-biological powders don’t. Both products contain bleach to remove stains like grass, but because not all stains can be bleached, the manufacturers add enzymes to the biological washing powder.

The enzymes are great for removing fatty or protein based stains such as blood and egg, but may also fade the colours of your laundry. The enzymes are thought to cause skin reactions in people with sensitive skin, so people who have allergies usually stick with non biological products.

The best choice for whites is biological powder or tablets

The best choice for whites is biological powder or tablets

The best choice for sensitive skin is any non bio type product

The best choice for sensitive skin is any non bio type product

A Quick overview of the Pro’s and Con’s of Biological vs. Non Biological Washing Powder Products

Biological Washing Powder

  • Contains both Enzymes & Bleach for stain removal
  • Not so good for sensitive skin as the enzymes could cause a skin reaction
  • Better at removing all types of stains
  • Harder on colours which may lead to fading
  • The enzymes in a biological wash powder may take longer to disperse within the environment, but the temperatures for washing can be lower than for a non-biological powder.

Non Biological Washing Powder

  • Contains bleach for stain removal
  • The better choice for people with sensitive skin
  • Gentler on colours, but less effective on fatty stains
  • The non-bio powder needs a higher temperature to get your laundry clean, which uses more electricity and water

Now you know the basics, but hold on - there is more!

Laundry powder manufacturers know how to keep themselves busy and come up with new products every week. Here is an overview of what you can expect from some of the most common types of laundry products:

Non Bio Washing Powder or Tablets

  • Contains Perfume, Bleach, Surfactants, Polymers & Builders (softners)
  • Good for naturally occurring stains such as sweat, bark, grass, mud
  • Good for sensitive skin

Non Bio Washing Liquid (bottle & liquid tablets)

  • Contain Perfume, polymers, Surfactants, Builders & enzymes but NO Bleach
  • Good for your colours, but removing stains from your white t-shirts will be very difficult without the bleach

Biological Washing Powder or Tablets

  • Contain all components to get your clothes clean. Bleach, Perfume, Enzymes, Polymers Builders & surfactants.
  • The best choice for your whites & very pale clothing
  • After ten or so washes you will start noticing the detrimental effects the powder has on the colours
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Andreas on August 26, 2012:

From a comprehensive study ("Enzymes, detergents and skin: facts and fantasies") presented in the British Journal of Dermatology:

"By considering the actual exposures in consumer use and exaggerated product usage, it is concluded that the irritating and allergenic hazards of enzyme raw materials do not translate into a risk of skin reactions, either irritant or allergic. Investigations of numerous individuals with skin complaints attributed to laundry products demonstrate convincingly that enzymes were not responsible. Indeed, enzyme-containing laundry products have an extensive history of safe use. Thus, the supposed adverse effects of enzymes on skin seem to be a consequence of a mythology".

Mary Roark from Boise area, Idaho on June 09, 2011:

Good detergent information to know for the laundry. Especially for choosing detergents for those with skin sensitivities.

lilibees on June 08, 2011:

Great information useful very useful Voted Up and Useful!

Linda Liebrand (author) from San Francisco on May 22, 2011:

Thanks for your comment Sangre & glad I could help! :-)

Sp Greaney from Ireland on May 22, 2011:

This question came up in my house this week. Your hub was very useful and had all the answers I needed.

Linda Liebrand (author) from San Francisco on May 22, 2011:

Thank you for your comment Steph :-)

Steph Harris from Cambridgeshire, United Kingdom on May 22, 2011:

Interesting and useful article, voted up and useful.

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