Residential - Tips & tricks - Toxic algae infestation: how to avoid it?

The phosphates found in many house cleaning products are largely responsible for environmental issues like the proliferation of toxic blue-green algae in lakes. However, it’s fairly easy to avoid using products that damage the environment. Many manufacturers sell products that contain little or no phosphates. What’s more, you can forego using certain chemical products altogether by replacing them with natural, environmentally friendly products. 

Phosphate-free cleaning products

Some products are phosphate-free and advertise themselves as such. If the label does not specifically say “phosphate-free,” then it’s a good bet that the product contains some level of phosphates. Below are a number of phosphate-free products:

Laundry stain removers
Spray ’n Wash
Tide to Go (instant stain remover)

Liquid laundry detergent
La Parisienne
Merit Selection

Powdered laundry detergent
Force 3, Merit Selection

Bathroom cleaners
Easy Off BAM
Scrub Free

All-purpose cleaners
Windex Multi-Surface

Glass cleaners
Merit Selection

Toilet bowl cleaners
Merit Selection (liquid and block)
Toilet Duck (liquid and block)

Liquid dish soap
Merit Selection
Lemon Fresh Sunlight
Sunlight Green Apple

Soap pads
Scotch Brite Never Scratch

Source: Colloque écocitoyen portneuvois, March 2006.

Dishwasher detergent: a special case
The phosphates present in dishwasher detergent can vary enormously. A few brands are phosphate-free (see list further below), but can be hard to find. As for the phosphate levels in most major brands, they can vary from less than 1% to more than 10%. Of the brands available on the supermarket shelf, consumers can opt for those that contain the lowest amounts.

To help you out, we’ve listed brands in order of increasing phosphate presence:  

  • Palmolive gel 1.6%
  • ElectraSol gel 3.7%
  • Wal-Mart gel 4.0%
  • Pure Power gel 4.0%
  • Sunlight gel 4.3%
  • ElectraSol powder 4.5%
  • Sunlight powder 4.5%
  • Cascade liquid 5.0%
  • Cascade Complete liquid 5.0%
  • All powder 5.1%
  • Pure Power powder 5.3%
  • Hannaford powder 5.3%
  • Shaw’s powder 6.0%
  • Wal-Mart powder 6.3%
  • Cascade PureRinse powder 6.4%
  • Cascade Action tablets 8.0%
  • ElectraSol tablets 8.7%
  • Sunlight tablets 8.7%
  • ElectraSol gel and tablets 8.7%

A few phosphate-free brands

  • BioVert liquid (Quebec brand)
  • Bi-O-Kleen powder
  • Citrus Magic gel
  • Ecover
  • Method products in general
  • Seventh Generation powder
  • Shaklee Basic-D powder
  • Sun & Earth tablets
  • Trader Joe’s

Source: Greenpeace

Environmentally friendly replacements
There are also easier, more economical and more ecological ways to clean the house, using products like:

Sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) – Perfect for polishing surfaces, softening fabrics and removing certain kinds of stains. Can also be used as a deodorant and toothpaste.
Sodium crystals – Cleans grease and stains, disinfects
Lemon juice – Gentle bleaching agent; good glass cleaner
Soap (that doesn't contain detergent) – Good for washing natural fabrics like cotton, silk and wool
Vinegar – Effective for dissolving mineral deposits and grease; makes windows sparkle effortlessly. Adding a cup of vinegar to the wash helps keep colours bright.
Borax – Has antiseptic qualities

Public Health Agency of Canada
Service de l’environnement, Ville de Montréal