Crooked Stump

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A biotech startup is hoping to bring a little eco-friendly product mojo to a relatively untapped corner of the market: laundry detergent.

Dirty Labs’ product is non-toxic and made from bio-based enzymes that rapidly biodegrade once washed down the drain.

Traditional detergent technology has changed little over the last century, according to Dirty Labs. A typical mix of cleaning chemicals—including methy-lisothia-zolinone and benzi-sothia-zolinone—can harm the environment.

Further, 1,4-dioxane, which can be found in many laundry detergents, is a likely carcinogen according to the EPA.

These petroleum-based chemicals are washed straight down the drain, cannot always be removed by water treatment plants or filters, and can permeate all the way into our groundwater sources.

Dirty Labs estimates that Americans manage to do 40 billion loads of laundry every year: the vast, vast majority of which will include at least one of these three ingredients.

“Our team of chemists, biologists, and environmentalists have raised the bar for safety and sustainability by eliminating all California Proposition 65 chemicals of concern and EU listed fragrance allergens for a truly clean ingredient list that’s also readily biodegradable,” reads their website.

“I think that as a consumer, you put your laundry detergent in the washing machine, it washes your clothes, and then it’s gone, and it’s something that’s not very visible to people,” explains Dirty Labs CEO and co-founder, David Watkins, to Fast Company. “But when you start to address the big picture here, all of these chemicals are going into our wastewater system… there is a big accumulation of these things in the environment.”

While more and more bio laundry detergents are reaching grocery store shelves each year, Dirty Labs defines itself by its “unique, enzyme-driven cleaning technology,” Phytolase, which it says delivers the “exceptional cleaning power” of conventional detergents, without the toxic chemicals.

That Dirty Labs formula is ultra-concentrated, designed to work well in cold water, and is available at a cost of 25 cents per load of laundry—$19.00 for 75 loads.

It’s ironic that we would dirty our planet just to clean our clothes, and that’s why Watkins— who foresees a wave of state legislation on the restriction of harmful cleaning chemicals—wants to get out ahead of the problem.

“I think that legislation is one thing that’s going to force companies to look at better alternatives,” Watkins told Fast Company. “We’re trying to get ahead of that and say, ‘Look, we think that we’ve got the technology to do this today. And here’s a smarter solution in general.’”