OK, so I know some of my articles have caused minor mom meltdowns, slightly freaking you out or making you think you need to HAZMAT your entire house. While giving you a heart attack or major guilt trip is not my intention, but catching your attention to educate you on a few issues is, so here it goes with dropping the knowledge about something that we do on a daily basis – laundry and clean our house. With spring already here (well, OK, maybe not weather-wise, but you get my point), many of you will want to start tearing apart your homes like rabid squirrels to wash away the winter nasties and purge whatever has been hoarded in every nook and cranny. As tempting as it may be to blast every square inch with the heaviest duty cleaners out there, in addition to concocting acidic baths for your family’s clothes to bore out stains and smells, it’s time we all learned a bit about what these products are doing to our bodies…and more of a concern, the sensitive and growing bodies of our children who are exposed to all of our cleaning quandaries.
First up… LAUNDRY. Now, if you grew up like I did, there was no question about what went in the washing machine: Tide detergent, Clorox 2, and Snuggle fabric softener (or similar brands). I would recall my mother going into a frenzy if she realized she missed the rinse cycle to add the fabric softener. It was like she had radar when it was about to hit spin cycle. We’d even be out at the store and she’d turn pale white. “Oh my God. I FORGOT to put the FABRIC SOFTENER in the washer. Now I have to do the laundry all over again.” I never really understood it as a kid, other than our laundry smelled nice and those towels better have come out of the dryer fluffy as could be, or they’d have to deal with my mother. The Tide/Clorox 2/Snuggle gleesome threesome followed its way to college with me, then to every post I held as an adult since. Until I became a health coach and realized that I was pretty much washing my clothes in chemicals that probably attributed to my lifetime of eczema and itchy, dry skin no matter how much lotion I slathered all over my body (which was also laced with tons of chemicals…hah…can’t escape it!). As I mentioned in earlier articles, our skin is our largest organ, and well, our clothes cover most of our skin. When we repeatedly wash and douse our clothes with chemicals that permeate the fabrics that mummify us, especially in winter months, we technically are exposing our skin to all of those chemicals, as they are absorbed through into our bodies. An inquisitive child, I always wondered why babies got preferential treatment for their laundry; why did they get a special detergent? I recall asking this of my aunt and mother when my cousin was born. They answered, “Well, the other detergent is too harsh on the baby’s skin and can cause a rash.” My brain started ticking. What made a baby’s skin that much different than my own? A few years? Well, as it seems after all of my research, we should all be treating our skin like a baby’s.
It turns out that all the fancy colors and fragrances that make mainstream detergents the way they are is due to all kinds of synthetic chemicals that not only destroy our water supply when they rinse down our drains, but they can really do a number on YOU. Here is just a sampling of what’s in mainstream laundry detergents (SOURCE: Natural News):
Phenols: Deemed toxic by the National Health Institute, phenols can cause damage to the lungs, heart, kidneys and liver. They are very easily absorbed into the skin, making them especially dangerous. Phenols have been linked to serious health conditions and even death.
Optical brighteners: These are a popular new ingredient in commercial detergents. They trick the eye by altering ultraviolet wavelengths to make clothes look whiter. The result may be a facade, but the chemical dangers from these products are very real. Studies have shown these agents are extremely toxic to fish and can cause mutations in bacteria. They can also trigger strong allergic reactions in humans when exposed to sunlight.
Bleach: A traditional household cleaner, bleach has harmful side effects that have been known for decades. Bleach, or sodium hypochlorite, is a leading cause of poisoning in the home. It is a strong irritant to the eyes, nose and throat. Bleach can also cause severe reactions if it comes in contact with the skin.
Surfactants: A surfactant is a substance which basically binds to oily particles and carries them away with water during washing. These are what make our clothes clean when we wash them. Surfactants can be natural or synthetic. Natural surfactants are generally safe for people and the water supply, but chemical surfactants are not. Commercial laundry detergents are loaded with synthetic surfactants.
Fragrance: Artificial fragrances in laundry products are a strong irritant. The chemicals in fragrance additives can cause itchy, watery eyes and stinging nostrils. But the effects go much deeper than that. Chemical fragrances can trigger asthma attacks and aggravate allergies. They can even affect your thinking, making concentration and coordination difficult. All of these irritations show their worst in sensitive individuals, although no one is immune to the effects of these chemicals.
Any one of these chemical additives causes plenty of harm on its own, but all of these substances are combined and can react with each other in laundry detergents, becoming even more dangerous together than they were by themselves.
And fabric softener and dryer sheets? Yeah, don’t let that snuggly little bear on the bottle trick you. This stuff is even worse, as it’s made with petroleum (SOURCE: World-Wire):
Although they may make your clothes feel soft and smell fresh, fabric softener and dryer sheets are some of the most toxic products around. And chances are that the staggering 99.8 percent of Americans who use common commercial detergents, fabric softeners, bleaches, and stain removers would think twice if they knew they contained chemicals that could cause cancer and brain damage.
Here is a list of just some of the chemicals found in fabric softeners and dryer sheets:
- Benzyl acetate: Linked to pancreatic cancer
- Benzyl Alcohol: Upper respiratory tract irritant
- Ethanol: On the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Hazardous Waste list and can cause central nervous system disorders
- A-Terpineol: Can cause respiratory problems, including fatal edema, and central nervous system damage
- Ethyl Acetate: A narcotic on the EPA’s Hazardous Waste list
- Camphor: Causes central nervous system disorders
- Chloroform: Neurotoxic, anesthetic and carcinogenic
- Linalool: A narcotic that causes central nervous system disorders
- Pentane: A chemical known to be harmful if inhaled
The chemicals in fabric softeners are pungent and strong smelling — so strong that they require the use of these heavy fragrances (think 50 times as much fragrance) just to cover up the smells. Furthermore, synthetic fabrics, which are the reason fabric softeners were created in the first place, do not smell good either when heated in a dryer or heated by our bodies … hence the need for even more hefty fragrances.
Are “Soft” Clothes Worth It?
Fabric softeners are made to stay in your clothing for long periods of time. As such, chemicals are slowly released either into the air for you to inhale or onto your skin for you to absorb. Dryer sheets are particularly noxious because they are heated in the dryer and the chemicals are released through dryer vents and out into the environment.
Health effects from being exposed to the chemicals in fabric softeners include:
- Central nervous system disorders
- Blood pressure reduction
- Irritation to skin, mucus membranes and respiratory tract
- Pancreatic cancer
Stain fighters like color safe bleach contain optical brighteners/UV enhancers, which are chemical dyes added that stick to clothing fabric and don’t rinse off. These dyes are intended to actually bend light to make clothing appear brighter, even though not cleaner. Color safe bleach products can cause residue buildup, are not readily biodegradable, and may bind irreversibly to skin. The US military does not allow uniforms to be washed in a detergent containing brighteners because it makes them visible under a black light or by a night vision scope.
OK, so many of you are probably rolling your eyes at me and cursing me under your breath thinking, “Now what, jerk?!?!” Well, like any suggestion, I try to have alternatives. First, you need to adjust your expectations with laundry. Not every piece of clothing is going to look super crisp white or smell perfect every time. Just think of the cost of doing this (money and health risk). Secondly, there are a ton of awesome “natural” laundry products out there that work well. I have tried many. Some of my favorites:
– Ecos (is citrus based and smells great…naturally). I buy mine (a huge jug) in Costco for $12. It lasts forever.
– Seventh Generation – has a whole line of naturally-derived and dye-free products
– Ecoever – has a line of laundry and cleaning products that smell nice, naturally
– Green Works – not the “most natural” – but much better than conventional mainstream soaps
– Charlie’s Soap (probably one of my all-time faves) – this stuff is no joke. You need a tiny bit; it’s fragrance and dye free and cleans with a punch. I buy gallon jugs of it online at amazon.com for like $25 and it will last months. It gets stains out really well.
– Country Save – comes in liquid and powder and works well getting clothes clean.
– Vinegar – believe it or not, good old fashioned vinegar added to laundry blasts out smells and stains.
Here are a few more laundry suggestions:
Soften Your Clothes Safely With These Tips:
Not only are they safer for you, your family and the environment, but they’re much more economical too:
- Add a quarter cup of baking soda to wash cycle to soften fabric
- Add a quarter cup of white vinegar to rinse to soften fabric and eliminate cling
- Check out your local health food store for a natural fabric softener that uses a natural base like soy instead of chemicals
Next up: HOUSEHOLD CLEANERS. It’s likely that fabric softeners and dryer sheets aren’t the only toxic products in your home. Many household products that consumers regard as safe are also full of toxic chemicals. Take a look under your sink. I bet if you read the labels on most of what you have, there would be some warning or another. Again, like laundry products, we use harsh cleaners to “disinfect” and get rid of streaks, stains, and smells. Only problem is, all of these chemicals leave their nasty little trail behind them. Wiping tables, counters, toys, etc. with chemicals leaves it a hosting ground for skin contact, which eventually leads to chemical exposure. Ethylene glycol monobutyl acetate, a common solvent, can damage internal organs when it is absorbed through the skin. Sodium hypochlorite, a component of bleach, causes skin, eye and respiratory tract irritation. Fortunately, safer natural alternatives are just as effective at cleaning your home — and considerably cheaper. Homemade natural cleaning solutions are often made from foods and cooking ingredients such as baking soda, which means they’re nontoxic. Before you gauge my eyes out, here are some recipes for homemade cleaning products:
Items you will need:
- 1. Clean, unused spray bottle
- 2. Distilled vinegar
- 3. Newspaper
- 4. Clear castile soap
- 5. Baking soda
- 6. Microfiber cleaning cloths
- 7. 3-cup container with lid
- 8. Spoon
- 9. Vegetable glycerin
- 10. Tea tree oil
Pour 1/4 cup distilled vinegar into an unused spray bottle.
Fill the bottle to the top with tap water and shake gently to combine the liquids.
Spray the mixture on windows or mirrors. Polish with crumpled newsprint.
Mix 2 tablespoons of distilled vinegar and 1/2 teaspoon liquid castile soap in a clean, unused spray bottle. Castile soap is natural and vegetable-based — traditional versions are made with olive oil — and does not contain detergents, perfumes or animal products.
Add 1 tablespoon of baking soda. When the foaming stops, add 2 cups warm water. Shake gently to combine the ingredients.
Spray this mixture on counters and other hard surfaces in the kitchen and bathroom. Wipe clean with a microfiber cleaning cloth.
For especially dirty surfaces or dried-on messes, spray the area and let the cleaning solution soak in for several minutes before scrubbing clean with a microfiber cleaning cloth.
In a 3-cup container, use a spoon to mix 2 cups baking soda and 1/2 cup liquid castile soap.
Stir in 4 teaspoons of vegetable glycerin and 5 drops tea tree oil. The glycerin is a natural preservative and will keep the mixture soft. Tea tree oil has antibacterial properties.
Add a small amount of the soft scrub mixture to a microfiber cleaning cloth and scrub sinks, tile and bathroom fixtures.
Rinse with hot water and polish with a dry microfiber cloth.
One of the best pieces of advice I could give to keep bacteria and germs out of your kitchens and bathrooms is to ditch sponges. If you ever looked at what grows on/in/around sponges, you’d puke. The bacteria present would be enough to populate a country. Ditch the sponges and get some kitchen cloths (or better yet, rip up old towels, t-shirts, etc. to repurpose them. Using old underwear probably wouldn’t be too fun). These cloths dry out and can be washed frequently.
While this article may not have left you happy if you want to go out and get rid of all of your laundry and cleaning detergents, just consider some of the points brought up and then look at your darling children and think about them (well, not the messes and nasty laundry they create…). I hope this helps and makes a difference. Oh, and did I mention that since I switched from using my “gleesome threesome” of laundry chemicals, my eczema went away and my skin isn’t dry or itchy anymore (and that could be in conjunction with the coconut oil and shower water filters I use). Happy Spring (cleaning)!