By the time laundry day comes around, you’re probably more concerned with cleaning your son’s Spider-Man jammies and your daughter’s favorite purple shirt than you are with the chemicals swirling around in your washing machine. But switching to natural laundry solutions means clean clothes and better health for both your family and the planet. Plus, making the change won’t compromise the quality of your laundry load—your clothes will be as clean and durable as ever.
The down and dirty truth is that traditional detergents contain synthetic optical brighteners as well as surfactants (which are wetting agents such as emulsifiers, dispersants and foaming products that reduce the surface tension of water). They also have fragrances that pollute our waterways, do not readily biodegrade and can cause skin allergies. Other common laundry chemicals, including alkyphenols, aromatic hydrocarbons and chlorinated compounds, are probable human carcinogens and hormone disruptors. Many, such as petroleum distillates, naphtha and naphthalene, are petroleum-based, so they deplete a nonrenewable resource, create pollution during manufacture and burden wastewater. Natural laundry solutions not only reduce the amount of chemicals and toxins that come into contact with your family, but they also help protect local water supplies.
It’s simple to detox your laundry. Swap traditional detergents, bleaches and softeners for natural options. Our guidelines will help you purchase green laundry products, our recipes will help you make your own cleaners at home.
Greening your laundry will also help you save money by using fewer, more concentrated products. Plus, you can utilize ingredients you already have at home, such as baking soda, distilled white vinegar and lemon juice.
Green Laundry Solutions at the Store
You can easily make your own fabric softener and whitener, but when it comes to laundry detergent, your best bet is a good commercial green cleaner, such as one made by Shaklee, Sun and Earth, Ecover, Earth Friendly, Mrs. Meyers, Arm & Hammer or Seventh Generation.
To distinguish the real deal from the hype, read every label. Don’t be seduced by words like nontoxic, eco-friendly, natural and organic—these are not legal certifications, so they don’t necessarily mean anything. If you see a series of long, unpronounceable chemical names, chances are the product that contains them isn’t green.
Unlike food products, items such as laundry detergents cannot be certified organic, so consumers should read labels and choose accordingly. As a general rule, a truly green product’s packaging should include some or all of these words and phrases:
• Biodegradable (in less than a year).
• Plant based (or botanically based).
• No phosphates (which pollute rivers and streams).
• No chlorine (this potent environmental pollutant is the chemical most frequently involved in household poisonings).
• No petroleum.
• No fragrance or synthetic dyes.
• Cruelty free (not tested on animals).
CLEAN CLOTHES, DIY-STYLE
Fabric Softener: Add ¼ cup of baking soda—which also works as a brightener—to the wash. When using liquid detergent, add the baking soda during the wash cycle; when using powder, add the baking soda during the rinse cycle.
Whiten & Brighten: Pour 1 cup of lemon juice in a bucket half full of water and soak clothes overnight. Or add ¼ to 1 cup of washing soda (a more powerful form of baking soda) to each laundry load during the wash cycle.
Fragrance: If you want to add fragrance, do so during the drying cycle. Put a few drops of essential oil on a cotton cloth, and toss it into the dryer with wet clothes.
Treat Grease Stains: For best results, treat stains while they’re fresh. Cover the oily spot with a mixture of Borax and warm water and let it sit—20 minutes for a light, fresh stain, and two hours for a heavy, set stain—then rinse with cold water.
Remove Perspiration Odors and Stains: Spray full-strength distilled white vinegar on underarms and collars of shirts before washing.
Linda Mason Hunter is a pioneer in the green living/healthy home movement and coauthor (with Mikki Halpin) of Green Clean.
Kiwi magazine is ideal for families interested in a healthy lifestyle. They cover the latest in natural and organic products, nutrition and wellness. You’ll find information on social and environmental issues that touch your family as well as parenting advice from leading experts. And, of course, there’s fun stuff like kids’ fashions, reviews on kids’ media, toys and games. We’ve even thrown in some information for pampering parents, too. Subscribe now and Kiwi will make a donation to World Vision.