I’m convinced that I do twice as many loads of laundry in summer as I do in winter. It’s not because I want to (although I do love my clothesline) it’s because there are more dirt, dribble, sweat & grass stains on our clothes than other times of the year. In our house there is little hope of wearing something more than once.
Staying on top of the dirty clothes pile takes effort, but it can also be quite harmful, for you and the environment.
Most mainstream laundry detergents are derived from petrochemicals that pollute our waterways and they’re not that great for people either. Detergents leave a chemical residue on your clothes and bedding, residue that you absorb through your skin. To make matters worse, most detergents and laundry aids are heavily scented with artificial fragrances that contain phthalates, which are potential hormone disruptors. They can cause headaches and aggravate allergies and asthma too. Phthalate residue is formulated to linger on your clean laundry (smell it and you’ll know for sure). So you absorb that residue as well. It’s just a little each time but week after week a little becomes a lot since these chemical residues build up over time.
Stain removers and bleaches are harsher than detergent so the above scenario gets compounded. Many contain neurotoxins and carcinogens. Fabric softeners are alarmingly toxic too. All of these substances account for the majority of household poisonings among children.
There are many ways to make your weekly (or daily) laundry chore more eco-friendly and a lot healthier for you and your family. Here are just a few:
Choose an eco-friendly laundry detergent. Down East, Nature Clean and Seventh Generation all make detergents that are unscented, effective and HE compatible.
Boost the cleaning power of these detergents with borax. It’s a naturally occurring mineral salt that works as a whitener, brightener, fabric softener and deodorizer. Look for it in the laundry aisle (Mule Team is the brand, with great retro packaging.) Add equal amounts of borax and laundry detergent to your wash water. It needs time to work its magic; let your laundry soak for 15 to 30 minutes before you start the wash cycle.
You could also use washing soda, in the same ratio. It needs to be dissolved in hot water first.
Take advantage of the sun - it's the world’s greatest bleach. Or chose oxygen bleach.
Consider non-toxic stain removal. Treating the stain quickly is the key to effective, non-toxic removal. Try soaking the item in a mixture of ¼ cup borax to 2 cups of water then launder as usual. Lemon juice and salt gets rid of rust stains (I’ve tried it). Sprinkle the stain with salt and squeeze lemon juice over it. Put it in the sun or let it sit overnight and then wash as usual. Hydrogen peroxide mixed with water gets rid of blood stains (I have tried that too).
Make your laundry life easier and don’t buy white clothes for your kids.