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Clean Green Laundry Routine

04.18.13 Clean Green Laundry Routine

laundry line

Many years ago, out of the blue, I developed the itchiest rash I had ever experienced. It was like a switch turned on and my skin (mainly my arms and legs) felt on fire. In order to not scratch them like mad, I resorted to slathering on all sorts of anti-itch creams, aloe, benedryl. But the itching persisted and I became more and more filled with anxiety. Hives? I had had a bout earlier in my life..maybe that was it. Dust mites? My mom was convinced that I was experiencing an allergic reaction to mites and a good dust mite mattress cover would solve this itching crisis. Bedbugs? I had just moved to NYC...

There was no time to hypothesize. I went to my family doctor. His first question: "Did you change laundry detergents?" And then he added, "Did you use a dryer sheet?"

I did. 

And that realization was a big one. The mindlessness of tossing in a dryer sheet, just because. It wasn't something I had thought to reconsider. I thought this "step" was necessary rather than worth questioning or worth considering an alternative. And looking at the ingredients of a laundry detergent? Never. Needless to say, the new laundry products were the culprits. The detergent residue along with some version of "springtime fresh/mountain air" fragrance did not agree with my skin. 

It's interesting that having a baby is the first time many folks do start considering what to use when washing clothes. We're instructed in baby classes to wash all of our baby's new clothes in mild detergent (like Dreft) so our baby's tender skin can be protected from harsh chemicals. The irony of course, is that this particular baby laundry detergent is made with various toxins and scented with "fragrance" that can be made from this very long line of chemicals.

LAUNDRY SOAP: Clean laundry doesn't need to have a strong scent to be clean, even if nostalgic dryer vents make us think so. Artificial scents like Mountain Breeze and Island Fresh come from a chemical cocktail that is petroleum based. And this residue stays on your clothes (and skin) and possibly absorbed into your bloodstream. If you like a scented detergent, opt for one with essential oils. It's also good to recognize what is NOT the detergent. Here are a few key ones to avoid:

SLS/SLES (synthetic surfactant, detergent and emulsifier):Used for it's foam building abilities and effectiveness at cutting through grease and becasue it's inexpensive. But easlit absorbed into body tissues and strongest concern is the potential contamination with 1.4 dioxane.

1,4 Dioxane: this chemical is a byproduct of the process ethoxylation (increases water solubility). Also listed as PEG or ingredients ending in "eth," "oxynol," or "polyethylene," "polyethylene glycol," "polyoxyethylene."

NPE's (nonylphenol ethoxylate): an inexpensive nonionic surfactant that when absorbed through the skin behaves as an endocrine disruptor, as the body recognizes this as estrogen.

Phosphates: Phosphates are used in deteregents becasue they are effective at breaking down dirt particles and removing stains by softening the water, creating more suds and enhancing the cleaning power of the detergent. However, phosphates are dangerous for our waterways, increasing algae growth and suffocating marine life. Phosphates also tend to be left as a residue on all things cleaned, leading to skin irritations and worse.

Synthetic fragrance: Phthalates can be inhaled and also absorbed through the skin and considered probable carcinogens by the EPA. Choose naturally scented detergents with essential oils.

Since manufacturers aren't required to list exact ingredients on the label, most toxic ingredients are listed on the product's material safety data sheet, although there still is the loophole of "trade secrets," protecting manufacturers from disclosing proprietary information (even from the government and poison control centers).

Instead, look for these key words on labels: Phosphate-free, biodegradeable, nontoxic, solvent-free, chlorine-free and preservative-free. Also, detergents that are made with plant-derived surfactants instead of petroleum based, and no synthetic fragrance/perfume or bleach listed. Nellie's Laundry Soda is made coconut oil based surfactants and sodium silicate. Ecos Laundry detergent is also made with coconut oil surfactant and purified water. The lemongrass scented version has essential oils.

BRIGHTENERS: Stain-lifting solvents often produce harmful fumes and can irritate skin and eyes. These solvents are also often made from petroleum which biodegrades slowly, if at all, and of course are washed down the drain into our water supply. You don't want to be fooled by optical brighteners - chemicals that trick your sensory perception into thinking your clothes are whiter. But optical brighteners leave a residue of chemicals on your clothing working to reflect ultraviolet light and the appearance of brighter color.

Nellie's Oxygen Brightener is an environmentally safe, biodegradeable and hypoallergenic oxygen brightener. You can also use it to pre-soak or hand wash heavily soiled clothes. Use is an all-purpose stain remover too! Unscented, Chlorine-free and very effective!


DRYER AIDS: Adding wool dryer balls to your dryer will help soften your clothes without the use of synthetic chemicals found in dryer sheets and plastic dryer balls.. They help your clothes tumble dry faster by increasing the circulation, cutting the drying time by up to half! So easy to use, just toss 2-3 balls in at the beginning of the cycle and keep reusuing for years. Made from natural wool that's been hand felted.

Instead of that tacky feeling on the chemical-laden conventional dryer sheet that has no ingredients list available, you can feel good about tossing in a known material to fluff up your clothes: wool. Add a few drops of lavender or lemon essential oil to the wool for a light scent. 

Are you making efforts to clean up and green your laundry routine? Anyone make their own laundry detergent? Please share your laundry tips in the comments below!

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