ECOS detergent provides an award-winning clean without toxins

Groundbreaking green cleaning company continues innovating, nabbing a NEXTY Award for its new Ultra Concentrated Laundry Detergent. Find out why.

Keith Loria, Contributing Writer

May 17, 2024

6 Min Read
ECOS detergent provides an award-winning clean without toxins
ECOS / New Hope Network

Rooted in Greek heritage, ECOS, which translates to “home” in Greek, has been a pioneer in environmentally conscious cleaning solutions for more than 55 years.

Inspired by ECOS’s founder, Van Vlahakis, who witnessed the detrimental impact of toxic chemicals firsthand upon immigrating from Greece to Chicago in 1953, the company’s commitment to blending ancient wisdom with modern sustainable chemistry ensures the creation of safer cleaning alternatives for all.

“Van grew up on the island of Crete and was very much inspired by the many different cleaners that his mother would use that were more natural—things like lemon, vinegar and olive oil—to clean the home,” says Jenna Arkin, chief innovation officer at ECOS. “He came to America with $23 in his pocket, looking for a better opportunity. He was living in homeless shelters and putting himself through school and built a career in chemistry.”

Vlahakis started working as a dishwasher in Chicago, Illinois, and made friends with some of the restaurant owners, telling them that he had a degree in chemistry and could make cleaners that were cheaper and contained fewer toxic ingredients.

That was in 1967 and was the genesis of Earth Friendly Products becoming a go-to company for cleaning solutions. In 1989, the company started focusing more on consumer products, and that’s when ECOS came along.

Related:These 8 brands won the People's Choice and Editors' Choice NEXTY Awards

“We took everything we learned in terms of commercial cleaning and created a consumer-friendly line, and that was the birth of the brand,” Arkin says. 

Arkin studied biochemistry at the University of California, Berkeley and joined ECOS 14 years ago as a chemist. 

“There is so much opportunity and new things to think about at ECOS,” she says. “Leading our innovation team and coming up with designs for safer chemical formulations that will make a difference to consumers is what makes me so excited to come to work every day.”

Kelly Vlahakis-Hanks, ECOS president and CEO, in the brand's manufacturing facility in Cypress, California. Credit: ECOS

Making green cleaning affordable

From the beginning, the company’s philosophy has always centered around creating safer products.

“I think the industry has changed, and along with that, the way we talk about that has changed,” Arkin says. “In the past, it’s been very much about being environmentally friendly, and over the last decade, I have seen it’s also about being people friendly. To have something that’s safer for you and your family is the No. 1 priority.”

Now under the leadership of Kelly Vlahakis-Hanks, president and CEO, ECOS continues to champion clean chemistry for a healthier planet. The company has four sustainable manufacturing hubs across the U.S. and offers more than 120 plant-based products worldwide.

Related:This NEXTY Award winner 'gives a crap' about sanitation equity

From pioneering the first phosphate-free automatic dish gel to becoming the first company to attain the trifecta of carbon neutrality, water neutrality and TRUE Platinum Zero Waste certification, ECOS is dedicated to daily innovation, striving to offer affordable, safer cleaning solutions and promote sustainable business practices.

“We really pride ourselves on positioning the brand as an affordable brand,” Arkin says. “One of the things that makes us unique is that it’s easy to make a better product that’s safer, but that usually comes with an extreme premium. Our philosophy is that to make an impact, you have to make green cleaning affordable for everyone.”

Designed with sustainability and waste reduction in mind, ECOS' lightweight laundry sheets are packed into plastic-free packaging. Credit: ECOS

That means having products sold in places like Walmart and Costco, with entry-level pricing so more people can have the opportunity for safer homes.

“You can get an effective clean without spreading toxins all over your home,” Arkin says. “Consumers are becoming more forensic and research everything, and that’s great for us. We want people to question the products they use.”

Most people learn about the ECOS brand through the laundry detergent, but the brand has a portfolio of top-to-bottom cleaners for the whole house.

“We also have a lot of specialty cleaners, but over time, we are seeing that’s becoming less and less important to consumers,” Arkin says, explaining that things like car cleaning products aren’t as popular as they once were. “We’re moving away from the niche products as people want to buy one product that’s more utilitarian and good for a lot of different uses.”

Striving for more sustainability

The company’s recent innovation focus has been on reducing the carbon footprint of products, looking at everything from material compaction to getting more loads onto each truck to take freight off the road.
“We’re light-weighting, we’re taking out water where we can, and we’re taking out plastic where we can,” Arkin says. “For example, our liquid-less laundry detergent sheets, which [are] one sheet per load—by taking all the water out, we can avoid using plastic as well.”

One of the company’s newest products, launching this year, is its Ultra Concentrated Laundry Detergent, which is still a liquid but is five times more concentrated than its classic formula. For this product, ECOS won a NEXTY Award for the Best Natural Living Product at Natural Products Expo West 2024.

“It was such an honor,” Arkin says. “It’s 78 loads in just 16 ounces, and it’s our first foray into aluminum, so the packaging is infinitely recyclable. Two pumps per load, and you can also use it directly on your clothes as a spot-stain remover, so it’s more utilitarian than a classic detergent. We can’t wait for it to hit shelves this spring.”

Packaging remains one of the biggest challenges in the cleaning products industry, and one that the company spends a lot of time and effort improving.

“Really, everyone is thinking of ways to do better with packaging, whether that be refill systems, concentration—there are a lot of ways the industry is working on the problem,” Arkin says.

Family is also a big theme throughout the company, with people who have been part of the team for 30 or more years. ECOS is unique in that it’s family-owned and -operated and not focused on short-term profitability, but instead playing the long game to make strategic investments and let the business grow naturally.

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About the Author(s)

Keith Loria

Contributing Writer

Keith Loria is a freelance writer and father.

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