Green Girl Turns the Tide on Laundry

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 eitherówe’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.

Dinged by Dryer Sheets
Fabric Softeners: Easy Greening

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.

By Lily Berthold-Bond


Debbi Ryan
Deb Ryan5 years ago


Debbi Ryan
Deb Ryan5 years ago


Jennifer C.
Past Member 5 years ago


Patty B.
Patty B5 years ago

@ Lisa P. Altho' the outlay for making your own seems a lot..the batch will last a LONG time .Your suggestion of Castile soap and baking soda would clean your clothes .Baking soda is used as a cleanser so why not use it in your laundry . I forgot about the lavender laundry sachets at Trader Joe;s .Going to buy them today...along with a bottle of Green Fin wine which is organic and a bargain @ $4,00. ( I owe my neighbor a bottle since he always has wine when I visit. Trader Joe's is great !SO much cheaper than Whole Foods .
Wish I could hang my clothes outside but I live in a windy desert where sometimes I have to spit out dust .Ugh....and remember never to wear white.

Patty B.
Patty B5 years ago

I never heard of soap nuts before today .
But I think I will stick to making the simple dry detergent which is more portable to the laundermat.

Shalvah Landy
Past Member 6 years ago

I used soap nuts until I got to thinking that since your supposed to put it in with the laundry, the laundry is going through all stages with the soap nuts, so there actually is no rinse, and so I decided to stop using them.
I do wonder like Linda mentioned about the products used by others, on my laundry, but I´m worried about washing not drying as I only line dry!
Lisa and Mariana wrote about using straight baking soda only and that is something I was thinking to try out.
Thank you all!

Jacob Herrmann
Jacob Herrmann8 years ago

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Amy W.
Past Member 9 years ago

Linda, I have a similar problem, since I live in an apartment building and must use the washers and dryers provided in the laundry room. I always have to wait 'til no one else is using smelly laundry products, so my exposure to other peoples' laundry products is greatly reduced. I read about using undiluted white vinegar to wipe out the dryer before using it. Both of the dryers are connected to a common vent, so I decided I was going to be sure that I would be drying two loads of laundry at once, because if I'm using one dryer and someone else is using the other dryer and using smelly dryer sheets the residue will get on my clothes. Well, if others can't use the dryers while my clothes are drying, that should reduce the chances of their fabric softeners getting onto my clothes. Also, there is no chance of hanging up my clothes to dry, because there is nowhere to hang them out to dry.

Caralien S.
Caralien S9 years ago

After not having much luck with soapnuts the first few tries, I read that they could be pulverized and used without the bags. So I put on a air mask, dropped a bunch into the coffee grinder, and eventually filled up an 8oz jar with the powdered berries (you really need the air filter mask, as the particles will make you choke).

Starting the machine on hot, bubbles actually formed with 3 teaspoons of powder! Then I switched the water to cold to fill the machine while adding clothes. And yes, it works (after 3 months of disappointing results with the whole berries in cloth bags).

I also added to my jar a few drops of lavender EO to each layer of the powder. It has a bit of a vinager smell otherwise, which does dissipate in the wash.

For white clothes, I'm alternating with Eco powder, but the soap nut powder is really working for me.

I haven't used fabric softener in years because it irritates my skin, and hang dry what I can, but I'm a convert to soapnuts now and will be pulverizing my remaining sacs of soapnuts as gifts for my relatives who have just had babies.

I'm not a seller, but am now really happy with soapnuts. I've read that it can be mixed with hot water the night before to make a liquid detergent, but that takes more preparation (I may try it in the future, though).

Kathy W.
Kathy W9 years ago

I make my own fabric softner with baking soda,water,vinegar and lavender essential oil.