Laundry day… again. You mean to clean your clothes, but thanks to substandard labeling laws, all you're really doing is swishing your dirty clothes in a vat of warm water and toxic chemicals. It was quite the disturbing experience to dig into the toxic chemicals I draped over my body that don't rinse out of clothes during the washing and drying process! I was so put off that I just can't keep the information to myself, and needed to provide you with help identifying toxic ingredients in your laundry products, and walk you through how to safely switch to healthier options.
Why is this important? Because YOU need to be INFORMED about what you put on and in your body. Without being informed, you cannot give informed consent. You may not know your laundry is more harmful to your body and your family than the crud you're trying to wash off. When you clean you clothes, they should truly be clean, and not some toxic waste of expensive “marketing promises.”
Your hard-earned money should not be spent making you and your family sick!
Common Laundry Product Ingredients:
Here is a bit of what I learned in regards to toxic ingredients in laundry care products:
Linear alkyl sodium sulfonates (LAS) are synthetic anionic surfactants. During production, LAS releases carcinogenic toxins into the environment that can also cause reproductive harm. Because they are very slow to biodegrade, they are an environmental hazard.
Petroluem distillates (napthas) are chemicals that have been linked to cancer, lung damage and inflammation, and damage to mucous membranes.
Phenols are toxic, and can be deadly to hypersensitive individuals, even at low exposures. It is rapidly absorbed when in contact with the skin, and can cause toxicity throughout the body, specifically the central nervous system, heart, blood vessels, lungs, and kidneys. No, rinsing clothes with water (cold or hot) will not “wash” the chemicals away. (Nonyl phenol ethoxylate, a common surfactant in US laundry detergents has been banned in Europe after researchers found it to stimulate breast cancer growth and feminize male fish.)
Optical brighteners don't actually “brighten” whites, as catchy marketing slogans would have us believe. They are synthetic chemicals that actually convert UV light wavelengths into visible light, which makes laundered clothes appear “whiter and brighter.” So your clothes aren't actually whiter, we just perceive the manipulated color differently. They are toxic to fish and are known to cause bacteria to mutate. They are also photosensitive, which means your skin can develop a rash after being exposed to sunlight after coming into contact with it.
Phosphates are used to remove minerals found in hard water to make detergents more effective, and to prevent dirt from settling back onto clothes while washing. However, when they are released into the environment, they unbalance the ecosystem. Many states have laws restricting phosphate use, which is why you see many detergents advertise “low-phosphate” or “phosphate-free” on their products.
EDTA (ethylene-diamino-tetra-acetate) is a phosphate-alternative used to reduce minerals in hard water, prevents bleaching agents from activating before being put into water, and stabilizes foaming. EDTA is NOT biodegradable, and can release previously dissolved heavy metals into the environment.
Bleach is highly toxic, and is actually causes the most amount of household poisonings than any other chemical. It is carcinogenic and can cause reproductive, endocrine, and immune system disorders.
Artificial fragrances. The lack of governmental oversight on artificial fragrances could quite possibly makes me cringe the most. “Fragrance” on the label could mean anywhere from one to several hundreds of natural and synthetic compounds. Even products labeled as “unscented” can contain fragrance ingredients because a manufacturer could add just enough fragrance to cover up ugly smells from other ingredients. Companies are legally allowed to list “fragrance” instead of the individual fragrant components because the information falls under proprietary trade secrets.
Most of these chemicals are derived from petrochemicals and are designed to stick in clothes and not fully rinse out (to give that “fresh, clean” smell), inevitably resulting in them coming in contact with and absorbing in your skin.
Additionally, very few of these laundry care products have been thoroughly tested for safety. The U.S. government hasn't passed any commerce law regulating them since the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) in 1976! This is why its important to know the products your using.
Some brands are worse than others. Some are perfectly safe. Tide, Gain, Clorox, Dreft, Green Works, Woolite, Downey, and Resolve are among the 250+ worst offenders. It unfortunately seems as though the most prevalent products in TV commercials and in retail stores earned the “worst” grades. Though tides are changing, and more and more stores are stocking up on healthier alternatives (especially in the baby section).
Thankfully there are websites, like The Environmental Working Group's database, where you can see the truth about chemicals and additives found in common products.
Washing your laundry without harmful chemicals
As for our laundry, my family always used Tide. My mother never used anything else, swearing nothing else would work as well. I believed her… until I became chronically sick and started looking into ingredients in the products we use and growing aware of how these ingredients affect our bodies.
When I saw Tide's EWG rating, my heart sank.
Making better, healthier laundry product choices
As a wife, mom mom of 2 young boys, and carer of a 2 giant dogs, we go through A LOT of laundry. Sometimes I feel like my laundry activities are never finished… just finishing the sheets to retackle clothes… and when that is done washing more towels… just in time to start the cycle over again.
Time is precious. While there are tons of DIY alternatives to toxic detergents, you don't necessarily need to DIY everything just to avoid toxins. And some things should not be DIYed at all.
There are a few alternatives that are pre-made and perfectly safe for your family to use. Molly's Suds laundry powder, for example, has an A rating from EWG. You can see a complete list of laundry products the EWG assigned an A rating to here.
our personal favorite, and what my family uses the most, is Thieves Laundry Soap from Young Living (product number 5349).
Thieves Laundry Soap is powered by the Thieves Essential Oil Blend, and has been very good to my family and my sensitive skin.
We do not recommend DIY laundry soaps because soap is not the same as detergent. To make detergent, you would need a specialized lab. Soap just doesn't clean well at all and can gum up your washing machine (along with voiding your washing machine's warranty).
The only time DIY laundry soap is a good idea is if you're washing your laundry by hand, scrubbing over a wash board. If you've been using soap, we would like to challenge you to try the Thieves detergent and see all the yuck that comes out of your clothes. You may be surprised! (We do have many members who did take the challenge and were shocked by the amount of yuck that came out of their “clean” clothes)
Bleach alone is toxic to your body. Swishing your clothes around in it before putting them on may cause skin irritations, among other symptoms (including lung and neurological problems). This is one item I do DIY.
DIY Bleach without using harmful chemicals
While often just the Thieves Cleaner helps by itself and often lemon essential oil will also work by itself (or with Thieves Cleaner), we do make a “hippie bleach” that we use and is effective. It even took the poop stains out of my potty training toddler's undies!
The best way to dry your clothes, honestly, is on a line outside. That is the best way to make them last the longest. Of course, dryer sheets seem to be the WORST. In fact, they contribute to poor indoor air quality and have been known to make people very sick.
Reading through Michelle Schoffro Cook‘s book, The Brain Wash, the 7 most common toxic chemicals in dryer sheets include:
Alpha-Terpineol can cause central nervous system disorders, loss of muscular coordination, central nervous system depression, and headaches.
Benzyl Alcohol can cause central nervous system disorders, headaches, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, central nervous system depression, and (in severe cases) can be fatal.
Camphor is on the US EPA’s Hazardous Waste list. It is a central nervous system stimulant, causing dizziness, confusion, nausea, twitching muscles, and convulsions.
Chloroform is also on the EPA’s Hazardous Waste list. It is neurotoxic and carcinogenic.
Ethyl Acetate is also on the EPA’s Hazardous Waste list, and is listed as a narcotic. It may cause headaches and narcosis (stupor).
Linalool can cause central nervous system disorders. It is also labeled as a narcotic. In studies of animals, it caused ataxic gait (loss of muscular coordination), reduced spontaneous motor activity, and depression.
Pentane can cause headaches, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, drowsiness, and loss of consciousness. Repeated inhalation of vapors can cause central nervous system depression.
When you use dryer sheets, all you're accomplishing is coating your clothes in a toxic film of artificial chemicals.
Dryer Sheet Alternatives
We switched to using reusable wool dryer balls (which are easy to make on your own if you don't want to buy them), and add a few drops of essential oils (we usually use a combination of lavender and rosemary, sometimes use Purification essential oil blend… which oil really depends on how we feel and how we want our laundry to smell) the last 15 minutes of the dry time. A nice perk of using wool dryer balls is also the fact that they shorten the drying time of your clothes. This is the next best thing when you can't air your laundry outside.
Some people do complain of static with dryer balls. A quick insider tip: shorten your drying time. When you dry your clothes for too long in a clothes dryer, they will contain static.
Clothing wrinkles and static. Nobody got time for that!
Instead of grabbing a spray bottle of knowingly questionable or toxic (if labeled) ingredients, just dilute some Thieves Cleaner, and spray on your laundry to release fabric wrinkles!
Have you ditched the toxins in your house yet?
Tell us in the comments what nontoxic laundry routines you employ!
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P.S. If you need nontoxic cleaners, we provide special coaching, resources, and support groups to help our members embrace an essential-oils based nontoxic lifestyle. Just head over to our getting started page to creation account or contact us for more information.