Europe took steps Thursday to ban phosphates from laundry detergents in little over a year in a bid to clean up its rivers, lakes and marine waters.

A European Commission proposal said the ban aimed to reduce phosphates found in waste water which, when discharged, can cause algae to grow at the expense of other aquatic life - a phenomenon known as "red tides" or "green tides" that scientists call "eutrophication."

The ban, to apply from January 1, 2013, will not affect detergents used for automatic dishwashers or by professionals as technically and economically feasible alternatives are not yet available across the European Union.

Phosphate-free washs "will ensure that European citizens benefit from an increased water quality," said Antonio Tajani, the Commissioner for industry.

Phosphates came into wide use half a century ago because they soften hard water and help to suspend dirt, but when carried into waste systems are hard and costly to break down.

EU experts said pollution due to phosphates was 60 percent caused by laundry detergents, 30 percent dish-washing agents and eight per cent industry.

Detergents are estimated responible for 16 percent and 24 percent respectively of phosphates in the Danube River and Baltic Sea.

Some EU states have already slapped restrictions on phosphates in detergents but the measure may hit hardest among newer east European states where small producers are involved.