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Clean Clothes, Happier Planet

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Laundry Products
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

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Read more: Allergies, Conservation, Home, Non-Toxic Cleaning, Reduce, Recycle & Reuse

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Melissa Breyer

Melissa Breyer is a writer and editor with a background in sustainable living, specializing in food, science and design. She is the co-author of True Food (National Geographic) and has edited and written for regional and international books and periodicals, including The New York Times Magazine. Melissa lives in Brooklyn, NY.

155 comments

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12:41PM PDT on Oct 24, 2013

already doing a lot of this

11:37AM PDT on May 27, 2012

To remove sweat stains from the under-arms of shirts and blouses, wet garment stain before washing and rub in a bit of toothpaste.
Launder as usual - that is, on machine settings appropriate for the material.

May have to be repeated if the sweat stain is extensive, but usually that will take care of it. (And the toothpaste "smell" only lasts a few minutes.)

1:41AM PDT on Oct 3, 2011

Thanks for the tips!

1:13AM PDT on May 23, 2011

This post should be appreciated. Thanks for sharing this information. mosquito hat

5:30PM PST on Feb 2, 2011

this turning down the thermostat on your h/w heater is for the birds!! I want HOT water not lukewram water in my shower and when I wash my dishes by hand......save money? If your h/w heater is electric, like mine is, TURN IT OFF at the circuit breaker when not in use!! I turn mine on about 20-30 min. before I need water and save up to $50 on my elec. bill!!

8:20PM PST on Jan 31, 2011

Thanks.

12:04PM PDT on Jul 21, 2010

Great tips. Thank you!

6:47PM PDT on Jul 11, 2010

Thank you

10:42AM PDT on May 24, 2010

Some of the stain removal methods were new to me. Thanks!

7:55PM PDT on May 19, 2010

merci

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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