In The Wash: Natural Products For The Laundry

by Emily on January 29, 2011

Laundry. Maybe the word conjures up images of white sheets fluttering on a clothesline. Maybe it reminds you of one more chore you have to do before you finally get to relax for the day. It probably doesn’t make you think of the chemicals filling laundry detergents and other cleaning supplies. But it should.
Image credit:  Natasha C. Dunn on Flickr

Cause For Concern

Chemicals are everywhere in the laundry; that includes everything from scouring agents meant to clean to scents added to the detergent. A recent University of Washington study revealed just how many chemicals are emitted by common laundry products: acetone, the active ingredient in paint thinner and nail-polish remover; and other chemicals like chloromethane and 1,4-dioxane (ScienceDaily.com). Chlorinated bleach, used to whiten clothes in addition to its properties as a disinfectant, also comes bearing possible health problems. One study noted that chloroform and carbon tetrachloride concentrations significantly increased during the use of bleach containing products. And all to whiten clothes and provide a fresh scent.

But what does all of this mean for consumers?

Well, there is a reason why one of the most common skin irritants is laundry detergent because of all the chemicals. If your skin is sensitive and reacts to these chemicals, you might end up with chapped skin, or even welts and hives; breathing in those chemicals can aggravate conditions like asthma (AssociatedContent.com). Is it any wonder, given that the chemicals in laundry detergent are in our clothes and our bed sheets? While these products may offer white and pleasant smelling garments, the chemicals you might be exposed to may not be worth it.

Cleaning Without Chemicals

Some companies have agreed that getting clothing clean is not worth the exposure to chemicals. Because of this, there are several options available for laundry detergents that have drastically reduced the amounts of synthetic chemicals in their product or have done away with them entirely.

  • Bio-D – This company makes laundry products that are all biodegradable, natural, and cruelty-free.
  • Biokleen – This company produces products that have no animal products, are cruelty-free, and are non-toxic.
  • Ecos – This company makes plant-based, cruelty-free cleaning products and has received praise from PETA and Natural Home Magazine for their business practices and products.
  • Method – This company produces laundry detergents that are plant-based and made from ninety-five percent natural and renewable ingredients. They also utilize recycled plastics in their packaging.
  • Seventh Generation – This company, specializing in natural cleaning products, offers several options for plant-based, cruelty-free laundry products like dryer sheets or detergents. Their products are prevalent enough that you can even find them in stores like Target.

Homemade Clean

Dr. Bronner's Soaps

If you want to make homemade laundry products, there are plenty of recipes out there for you to try. Most homemade laundry detergent recipes ask you to use a few specific ingredients: bar soap, borax, and washing soda. The best vegan option for bar soap is Castile soap, which is derived from olive oil; Dr. Bronner’s soaps are a good option. Borax and washing soda are also vegan-friendly; borax is a naturally occurring ore of boron, and washing soda is generally made with the ashes of plants. As a safety note, while using borax and washing soda you should wear gloves and take care not to ingest the ingredients. For recipes, try this list of ten from Tip Nut or this recipe from Bonzai Aphrodite.

For bleach-free ways to whiten your clothes, there are a few different methods you can try. Hydrogen peroxide works well as a whitening agent; you can put a spray lid on your bottle and use it to remove stains. Lemon juice also works well for whitening clothing. Try adding about a cup to your wash cycle to boost the effects of your detergent or mixing it with other ingredients for a gentler alternative to bleach; you can find one such recipe at Grit.com and another at Herbal Recipe Journal. All of these will whiten clothing without chlorinated bleach.
Despite the many chemicals in normal laundry detergents, you can get your clothes clean with fewer health risks and fewer chemicals. With a little work and know-how, you can keep toxic chemicals out of your laundry and away from yourself.

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