Plastic-Free Product Reviews

When I reviewed some products from Grove Collaborative last summer, I promised reviews of plastic-free deodorants and toilet bowl cleaner, coming soon….  Here they are, along with plastic-free hand soap, dishwasher detergent, and dishwashing powder!

I’m sad that two of these are negative reviews, but if my criticism of a specific product keeps you from trying that one and thus increases the ratio of positive to negative experiences in your plastic-reducing journey, that’s a good thing.  Overall, I’ve had a lot more positive than negative experiences with environmentally friendly products, both in this array and in the hundreds of others I’ve tried over the past 25 years.

Why should you choose plastic-free products?  Because plastic is an environmental and health nightmare and recycling plastic is not the solution, so we need to reduce our use of it to situations for which it really is necessary.  We as shoppers are presented with tons of unnecessary plastic in the form of products and packages, many of which are used only for a short time.  Manufacturers need to take responsibility for the impact of their products and packages!  But they’re reluctant to do that when plastic is selling really well.  Our role is to demonstrate that there’s a demand for plastic-free products and that we refuse to buy the plastic ones!

Three of these products (the ones that aren’t Blueland brand) are available from Grove Collaborative.  If you want to buy from Grove’s website/app as a new customer, use my affiliate link to get yourself a discount and get me one, too! 🙂

Two different approaches to plastic-free deodorant

Tom’s of Maine, which has been making plant-based deodorant for decades, now offers a cardboard package that can be composted in your yard, composted in a large-scale composting program, or recycled with other cardboard packaging.  (I haven’t yet tried composting one of these, but I can see no reason why it wouldn’t get eaten by earthworms like other cardboard items do.)

Peach makes plant-based deodorant in an aluminum cylinder compatible with their refillable aluminum deodorant applicator.
Tom's and Peach deodorant casesWe like both of these!  The deodorants are as good as other natural deodorants, and the packages are easy to use.  Both are small, convenient for traveling.

Tom’s applicator does not have a crank to move the deodorant stick upward as you use it.  You just push it up from underneath with your thumb, and you may need to hold it while applying to prevent it from sliding back down.  That isn’t particularly cumbersome, and the tube is short enough that adult hands can do it.  However, I recently hurt my right thumb such that I can’t use it separately from my fingers, and that does make this deodorant difficult to use!  So I wouldn’t recommend it for children, people with very small hands, or people with thumb problems.

I love the Coconut Lavender scent of Tom’s!  My partner Daniel is trying their Rugged Coast scent, and we like that, too.  We think that the “natural strength” labeling of this product is humorously accurate: It is as effective as other natural deodorants, which means that you want to apply it thickly, you may need to reapply (or even wash/alcohol-wipe your armpits and then reapply) after exercise or when you go more than 24 hours between showers, and if you’re switching from a synthetic chemical deodorant you may go through an adjustment period…but it does work to control sweat odor (and add pleasant, mild fragrance) for many hours of a typical day.

Peach makes a similarly effective product.  It is a little softer than Tom’s, so (especially in hot weather) it can sludge over to the edges and gunk up the inside of the cap.  Just wipe it off with a bit of toilet paper!  The aluminum case rotates at the bottom to raise and hold up the deodorant (like a typical solid deodorant’s plastic case) and when you’ve used up the deodorant, you just rotate the inner cylinder to unlatch it from the base, and click in a new one.

Peach deodorant cases are available in 4 colors, and the refill sticks are available in 4 scents, but you can mix and match to try different scents in your favorite color case.  I’m using the Coconut Jasmine–funny how they don’t make a peach scent–and my 17-year-old Nicholas is using Cedarwood Eucalyptus.  He likes his.  I think Coconut Jasmine smells okay, but it’s too baby-powdery for my preferences, so I’m going to try a different scent when I get a refill.

Both the cases and the refills are packaged in compostable/recyclable cardboard boxes.  The aluminum cylinder around the refill is recyclable along with aluminum beverage cans.

Blueland foaming hand soap

We’ve been refilling hand soap foamers with concentrated soap and tap water for almost a decade, using liquid soap.  That works well, but the liquid soap still comes in a plastic bottle, and liquids are heavy and bulky so use a lot of fuel when they’re transported from factory to store to home.  Adding water to concentrated liquid soap reduces these problems, but we can reduce them even more with dehydrated soap in a plastic-free package!

dropping tablet into bottle of waterBlueland makes plant-based hand soap tablets that dissolve in water such that one tablet makes a full foamer of really nice, moisturizing, good-smelling soap.  It’s even a little soapier than it has to be, so when the foamer gets low, I half-fill it with more water and shake to use up the soap efficiently.  All the scents we’ve tried have been pleasant; I especially like Iris Agave.

Blueland also makes a glass-and-metal foamer, but you can see in the photos that I’m just refilling a “disposable” plastic foamer from method brand soap–these last for years, so we may as well wear them out before we buy new ones!
soap tablet dissolving in foamer bottleEach soap tablet is in a paper wrapper with a silvery lining.  It’s supposed to be compostable, but these are so small that we tend to throw them in the bathroom wastebasket rather than carry them to the compost bin.  The individual wrappers make them great stocking stuffers to nudge your extended family toward greener options!

The soap tablets are not cheap, typically about $2 each, whereas you can refill a foamer with less than $1 worth of Dr. Bronner’s liquid castile soap.  So we’re continuing to use liquid soap some of the time but buying more hand soap tablets whenever we order from Blueland–which we do when it’s time to get more of this next product:

Blueland dishwasher detergent

This is also a concentrated tablet.  Simply place it in the detergent compartment of your dishwasher.  It works very well and does not make strong sneezy vapors like some dishwasher detergents.

The tablets come in a big pouch similar to the little wrappers of the hand soap tablets, and I have tried composting this one.  The silvery part breaks down more slowly than the paper; I still see it in the bin after about six months, but I expect it will break down eventually.

That pouch is not waterproof, and you want to store the tablets in a dry place so they won’t melt until you use them.  Blueland sells a metal box for this purpose, but I didn’t buy one, just tucked the pouch of tablets into the empty screw-top plastic jar from Biokleen dishwashing powder (also a great product, reviewed here!) . . . and then, just as I was ready to order my third refill pack of tablets, Blueland offered me a free dishwasher tablet tin!  So we’ll be trying the official tin soon.

Daniel has been happy with Blueland’s laundry detergent tablets, too, but I’m not writing a full review of them because they’re only available unscented and I prefer scented laundry detergent, so Daniel uses these on his laundry only.

Blueland dishwashing powder detergent

We didn’t try Blueland’s powdered soap in a shaker for hand-washing dishes, but my extended family did.  Here’s my father’s review:

It’s designed for this way of washing dishes–put powder on dish cloth (or sponge), then scrub the plate.  My customary way of doing dishes is different–put dishes and soap into hot water and let it work on the grease and crusts for a while, then wipe the plate clean.  Also, the powder is very fine and makes a cloud in the air that causes me to sneeze and cough!

I also use the “soak dishes in soapy water” method rather than the sponge method for washing dishes that can’t go in the dishwasher, so I think this is not the right product for me or my dad.

He then gave the powder to my brother, whose assessment was, “It doesn’t work well on its own.  I have to supplement it with another detergent.”  Luckily, there are many effective plant-based liquid dish detergents on the market!

Seventh Generation toilet bowl cleaner

new can of toilet cleanerThis powdered cleaner, which foams when it comes into contact with water, comes in a steel canister which can be recycled along with food cans.  It has a lid that you pull off, and then the inner can top has slots through which you shake out the powder.

The cleaner itself is a fine product.  We were skeptical because it’s unscented, but it did a good enough job of controlling toilet odors when used weekly.  Nicholas, who is responsible for cleaning our toilets, felt that this worked as well as the liquid cleaners he typically uses, but the “foaming action” does not seem to have any special cleaning effect–you do have to scrub with a toilet brush.

badly dented and scraped canThis plastic-free package design needs work!!!  We bought two cans (one for each bathroom) and both of them were difficult to open because the lid just fits very tightly and does not have a little lever for pushing it off (as cans of Kiwi shoe polish have).  One can got so dented in the struggle to open it the first time that we couldn’t get the lid back on again, so we shook the powder into a jar and recycled the can.  The other one was a struggle every time until it was about 90% empty, at which point Nick battled it for about 15 minutes and gave up!

A year after we purchased, I see that the product images on the manufacturer’s website show a different can.  Maybe they’ve redesigned it for easier opening?  If you’ve tried the white can and found it easy to open, let me know!

What are your favorite environmentally friendly cleaners?  Check out more plastic-free product reviews from Pittsburghers Against Single-Use Plastic!

4 thoughts on “Plastic-Free Product Reviews

  1. I recommend 20 Mule Team Boraxo Powdered Hand Soap. This is an old-fashioned product that just does the job. It is a mixture of borax crystals and other surfactants. It is not only excellent at cleaning dirty or greasy hands, it also works well as a body soap. It removes built-up dead skin and leaves you feeling “squeaky clean”. It comes in a cylindrical cardboard shaker. You can also buy it in a 5-lb box for refilling smaller dispensers. Boraxo is not suitable as a hair shampoo because it removes too much oil.

  2. I’m not clear on what we’re supposed to do with Blueland’s silicone “forever shaker” now that we’re not planning to use it for dish powder. I can’t think of any other powdered products we use that don’t already have their own shakers, and silicone is not recyclable. Maybe someone on our Buy Nothing group has a use for it.

    • That’s a great point! I was wondering what the shaker is made of, since the webpage for the set (powder and shaker) didn’t seem to mention that, and it looks like plastic. I guess Blueland decided that a metal shaker would not work for dishwashing because it would get too wet, and they consider silicone “plastic-free”. (That’s always seemed strange to me because silicone feels like a plastic.)

      Anyway, I hope you find someone who can repurpose the shaker!

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