Laundry. When living at home, this is not such a big deal. You can do your laundry every day, if you want to. You can leave it in the washing machine for an extra hour before transferring it to the dryer. You can take your own sweet time.
In a dorm, laundry is not like this. It is hell. First of all, it costs three dollars to wash and dry a load of laundry. So you do not wash your laundry every day. Secondly, there is little time and therefore keeping up with doing laundry once a week is difficult. So you end up with two or three huge loads every couple of weeks. Thirdly, you have to have a good two hours set out when you can watch your laundry like a hawk.
With only six washers and eight dryers for a dorm of approximately 300 people, laundry becomes a complex process in which you must watch to see exactly what time your laundry is done, remove it, and put it in the dryer immediately. Otherwise, your laundry will get thrown out of the machine so that the next person can start their load before someone else steals it.
It’s highly stressful.
Point being, laundry is not fun. But everyone must do it, and so we all head down to the basement with our laundry detergent, bleach, and dryer sheets to keep our clothes extra clean and static-free. And toxic.
Yes, that’s right. Laundry detergent is probably not as safe for your health as you might have assumed. First of all there’s the whole fragrance thing. That scent on your clothes is nothing but synthetic chemicals that might give you migraines, asthma attacks, skin or eye irritation, and allergic reactions. I, personally, get a headache as soon as I step into the laundry room, a place filled with various scented detergents and dryer sheets at all times.
But the scent isn’t the only problem. Think about what else laundry detergent does, other than make your clothes smell “good”: they brighten, and they clean. This means that detergent is full of chemicals and cleaning agents called surfactants. Some of the worst for your health include “optical brighteners” and colorants. What’s so bad about these chemicals? Well let’s go one by one. But first imagine all of these laundry products going into lakes and rivers.
Some surfactants degrade into a muck that lasts a long time in the environment (read: slow to biodegrade) and is not only highly toxic to aquatic organisms but may disrupt their metabolism, reproduction, and growth. (Does this come back to us in our drinking water?)
Laundry colorants aren’t so good either—we’re talking the possibility of cancer and changing our DNA. Yes, our genetic information. And some are coated with a heavy metal for more toxic affects including harming fetuses.
And optical brighteners? They are suspected of developmental and reproductive harm.
Now, don’t worry, there are toxin-free detergents! Optical brighteners, fragrance, and colorants are all missing from products with the label FREE and CLEAR, and endocrine-disrupting surfactants are missing from green detergents. For as long as I can remember, my family has been a fan of detergents labeled FREE AND CLEAR, from green brands such as Seventh Generation or Ecover. This has always done the trick. At different times we’ve also used Seventh Generation’s lavender detergent, made from plant-based essential oils instead of petroleum-based scents. These seem like a ridiculously good alternative to endocrine disruption (but that’s just me).
Note to self: No detergent bursting with chemicals = no chemicals seeping into your skin. Buy detergents labeled FREE and CLEAR.
Lily Berthold-Bond grew up in a chemical-free zone and has struggled her whole life to understand and accept this non-commercial lifestyle. Now a freshman at Tufts University, she has embraced her green life and hopes to share its possibilities with the rest of her generation.