Conventional laundry products contain a range of chemicals that trigger skin and eye irritation, cause allergic reactions and asthma, damage the environment, and may have harmful long-term effects. Scientists suspect that some of these chemicals cause cancer; others disrupt the endocrine system and interfere with the reproductive health of both humans and wildlife. But most of these chemicals haven’t been tested for their long-term effects on humans. Look for these natural components in your green laundry products.
- Surfactants made from corn, coconut, and soy create gentle sudsing action and have much less impact on the environment and human health than the most commonly used surfactants, alkyl phenol ethoxylates (APEs), which are classified as endocrine disruptors.
- Instead of chlorine, look for hydrogen peroxide, which breaks down into water and oxygen, or sodium percarbonate, made by combining hydrogen peroxide with the nontoxic mineral sodium carbonate–they both brighten whites as effectively as chlorine. Chlorine irritates the lungs, eyes, and mucous membranes. Even at very low concentrations, bleach can inspire respiratory disorders, asthma attacks, and even neurological and behavioral effects.
- Seek products which use natural essential oils and citrus oils. The chemicals that give non-natural laundry detergents, fabric softeners, and dryer sheets their “fresh” scent are synthesized from petroleum and can irritate skin, cause allergic reactions, trigger asthma, and harm the nervous system. Some ingredients used in fragrances are also known carcinogens and contain phthalates.
- Instead of dryer sheets, use wash-cycle natural fabric softeners which contain vegetable-based softeners and essential oils to make clothes soft and fragrant. Some of the chemicals used in conventional dryer sheets (chloroform, camphor, and ethyl acetate, for instance) appear on the EPA’s Hazardous Waste list and can cause nervous system disorders. And because dryer sheets enter the scene after the rinse cycle, the chemicals permeate clothing, sheets, and towels, meaning we’re exposed to them for long periods of time.
Next: Natural stain removers