Safer, Non-Toxic Laundry

The Problems
Laundry products like scented detergents and fabric softeners are blamed for many symptoms including dizziness, breathlessness, asthma attacks, fatigue, bowel symptoms, joint pain, rashes, mood changes and learning problems. Have you noticed how they’ve become stronger and more fragranced? Why are companies making their products this way? Do we want everything to have a scent these days? And do freshly laundered clothes really have a bad smell without the addition of fragrance?

Dryers should be vented to the outside to avoid breathing in laundry fumes, and most are. However, even a walk outside can lead to being bombarded with these products, leaving many of us with instant migraines, mental confusion and gasping for air. Numbness, confusion and altered gait mean our central nervous system’s being affected. Clearly, these products need to be used with more caution, in spite of commercials encouraging their use in more and more places not even associated with laundry.

Where Can We Find Ingredients?
The good news is that laundry doesn’t have to be a toxic activity and the first step is knowing what is in these products. Reading labels, finding ingredients, checking MSDS sheets and contacting companies can be really helpful. There are web sites where we can learn what is in household products. Too often, you won’t find them listed on packaging since manufacturers don’t have to. Yet, isn’t it a good idea to know what we’re constantly breathing in and absorbing through our skin all daylong? Our clothes, even out of the dryer expose us to fumes. With a list of ingredients in hand, we can avoid problematic ingredients and choose safer ones.

Separate Marketing Claims from the Facts
When reading containers, be careful. Claims like “green, environmentally friendly” or “eco” don’t necessarily go far enough for those of us concerned about health. A company can call their product environmentally friendly just because they’ve been formulated for use in cold water. Or, they can make a smaller container and call it eco-friendly. That may be true, but that doesn’t change the fact that many of their ingredients are making people sick. “Now With _____” can mean that one natural ingredient has been added but the rest of the ingredients might still be synthetic.

What’s in Common Laundry Products?
Anne Steinemann, an environmental researcher from the University of Washington just released the results of a study which found the following:
* 6 best-selling items (three air fresheners and three laundry products) contained nearly 100 volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

*None of the VOCs were listed on any product label.

*10 of the VOCs are regulated as toxic or hazardous under U.S. laws.

*3 of the ten are classified as hazardous air pollutants.

What about Unscented Laundry Products?
Some people may find that an unscented version of popular products may ease symptoms but I recommend going one step further and choosing truly non-toxic laundry methods which provide relief to skin and lungs.

How to Eliminate Static
Static electricity is only an issue in loads that have synthetic fabrics in them. Dry natural fibres together and there is no cling. I’ve also heard that if you wash the same fabrics in a load, there won’t be rub, therefore, no static. I can tell you with certainty that if you wash cotton towels and jeans and shirts together, you won’t get cling. Who knew? This is just one of the illusions I’ve let go of, being raised on TV. The illusion is that all clothes from the dryer create cling.

If I do a load and have one acrylic sweater along with cotton clothes or other natural fibres, I’ll leave the sweater to dry on a rack overnight. The cotton clothes load in the dryer will not have static cling, so no need for a product to remove it. Another option is re-useable cloths like these. They have be used a few times before becoming activated. However, being made out of polyester, a petrochemical, are not tolerated by all. A tip I’ve heard about but not tried is to crumple a piece of aluminum foil and add to the dryer to reduce cling.

Softening Clothes
I don’t use anything to soften my clothes but for those who want to, there are natural liquid fabric softeners that can be added to a load.

The Least Toxic Options
For truly non-toxic laundry, try adding 1/2 cup of vinegar or a 1/2 c. of baking soda to the rinse cycle to soften clothes. Use the dryer to see if the heat does the trick. Use washing soda (sodium carbonate), the raw ingredient in many detergents along with borax and a soap. This site has many recipes to try. Or, just buy detergent that is made from all-natural, non-toxic ingredients. Head for a health food store and poke around then check online for ingredients that are safest for you.

Instead of chlorine bleach, use hydrogen peroxide or “oxygen bleach”. Use caution, though. It’s strong.

There are so many options and finding a combination of products that work without the VOC’s is a formula for good health. Spending time to find the right products for you is worthwhile.

Copyright Lynn Argent, 2008.

About Lynn

Blogger, talkcaster and teacher.
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3 Responses to Safer, Non-Toxic Laundry

  1. Patricia says:

    I make my own homemade powder detergent that contains washing soda, baking soda, Zot soap, and Borax. It not only cleans beautifully, but for me, an animal rescuer, it takes care of all those nasty smells that can come along with animals and their accidents. If you wash a lot and would like to save money and use a wonderful product, get the recipe from It’s the first powdered recipe on their page of 10 laundry detergent recipe’s.

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