A couple weeks ago, I shared the 9 reasons why line-drying your laundry is all around healthier for you and the environment. Now I want to talk about what to use to clean the laundry with.
What we’ve been taught for so long, that we need to use chemicals to effectively clean our clothes, has never been the true or smart . Many natural soaps work as a great & cost effective replacement and will not pollute our bodies & the environment.
The chemical detergents (and all cleaning products) are full of toxin chemicals that quickly wear out your clothes, pollute the land & water sources, harm our animals, cause allergic reactions and damaging to our health. Have you ever wondered if your favorite laundry detergent is making you sick? Here are the 10 common ingredients you will find in any laundry detergent:
- Phenols: Toxic, a suspected carcinogen and rapidly absorbed. Effects include swelling, pimples, and hives. Internal consumption can cause circulatory collapse, cold sweats, coma, and death.
- Optical brighteners: These synthetic chemicals convert UV light wavelengths into visible light, which makes laundered clothes appear whiter (although does not actually affect the cleanliness of the clothing). They’ve been found to be toxic to fish and to cause bacterial mutations. Further, they can cause allergic reactions when exposed to skin that is later exposed to sunlight.
- Linear alkyl sodium sulfonates (LAS): These synthetic surfactants are commonly listed as ‘anionic surfactants’ on labels, and are one of the most common surfactants in use. During their production process, carcinogenic and reproductive toxins such as benzene are released into the environment. They also biodegrade slowly, making them a hazard in the environment.
- Petroleum distillates (aka napthas): These chemicals have been linked to cancer, lung damage, lung inflammation and damage to mucous membranes.
- Phosphates: These chemicals are used to remove hard-water minerals to make detergents more effective, and to prevent dirt from settling back onto clothes during a wash. A major problem with them is that, when released into the environment, they stimulate the growth of certain marine plants, which contributes to unbalanced ecosystems. Many states have banned or restricted the use of phosphates for this reason, and you may see laundry detergents advertised as “low-phosphate” or “phosphate-free.”
- Sodium hypochlorite (household bleach): This is a chemical precursor to chlorine, which is highly toxic and involved in more household poisonings than any other chemical. When it reacts with organic materials in the environment, carcinogenic and toxic compounds are created than can cause reproductive, endocrine and immune system disorders.
- EDTA: Skin irritant leading to allergies, asthma, and skin rashes. EDTA is a class of compounds used as an alternative to phosphates to reduce mineral hardness in water, prevent bleaching agents from becoming active before they’re put in water and as a foaming stabilizer. EDTA does not biodegrade readily and can re-dissolve toxic heavy metals in the environment, allowing them to re-enter the food chain.
- Artificial fragrances: Toxic effects on fish and mammals, often causes allergies, skin and eye irritation. Do not easily bio-degrade ain the environment.
- Ammonia: Can cause burns, cataracts & corneal damage. Long term repeated exposure can cause bronchitis and pneumonia. Also has a toxic effect on plants, animals and fish.
- Sodium Sulfate: It is corrosive and a severe eye, skin, and respiratory irritant. Can cause asthma attacks.
Makes you think twice before using detergent, yes? Read more here and here and here.
Did you know that companies who make laundry detergents are not required by law to list their ingredients?! They claim that their formulas are “confidential”… does that make you wonder what they are hiding? Now, please don’t be fooled by the “free & clear” detergents… they are still made with the same chemicals, just “free” of dyes and fragrances that often cause skin reactions and trigger headaches. Much like the fabric softeners I mentioned before.
With all that said, I use biodegradable & natural products to wash my laundry. I like knowing that my natural soaps contain ingredients from nature, not man-made chemicals. Over the years, I have tried many different laundry soaps… Charlie’s Soap, Earth Friendly ECOS, BioKleen, Ecover, Soap Nuts and many others. Be careful… not all natural soaps are really “safe and natural”! I learned that the hard way, for the past 4 years I’ve been using Charlie’s Soap mainly because I read from reviews that it was the best to use on cloth diapers. Yes, it did a great job of cleaning and not creating a scum that prevents the diapers from being absorbable… BUT I no longer use it for 3 reasons:
- I learned from a friend that Charlie’s Soap is not entirely natural or safe like it says on their products and website. That really bothers me!
- When Naomi was in diapers, she used to break out in HORRIBLE rashes from her diapers if I didn’t make sure to double rinse the diapers after washing them with Charlie’s Soap. If that stuff is supposed to be natural… why was it burning my little girl’s bottom?!
- Since we moved to Central America, it hasn’t done a very good job washing our clothes and diapers in cold-water… especially hard water. Even when I add vinegar and baking soda to help soften the water, still no good.
Now, I’ve switched over to BioKleen and found it did a way better job of cleaning our clothes and diapers. I am also using Soap Nuts… I love the fact that they grow on trees and are completely God-made, but I can’t decide if they are really doing a good job of cleaning the laundry. I bought them because 1) they weight less then powder or liquid… 2) I read such great reviews about them and… 3) I got a really great price for 1,600 loads worth. I will keep using them and time will tell if they really do work or not!
- 100% Non-Toxic and 100% Biodegradable – Helps protect the environment… most importantly… our water sources, lakes and streams.
- Uses 100% natural and eco-certified ingredients – All natural ingredients plus testing by an independent agency that certain ingredients used are indeed ‘green.’
- Uses only plant-based enzymes – Avoid animal-based enzymes and other animal ingredients (which can lead to unnecessary animal testing). More on the importance of enzymes coming up.
- Butoxyethanol Free – Found in Charlie’s Soap and most common laundry & cleaning products (source).
- Petrochemical Free – Free from 1,4-dioxane (and all its derivative names) and NPE. You already know the health risks associated with these.
- Phosphates and Sulfates Free – Free from phosphates and SLS/SLES (and other derivatives).
- Derived from plants, vegetables, and natural food sources – Contains only natural food-grade ingredients.
- Free from bleach, dyes, fragrances, optical brighteners, and masking agents – Only natural oils and food-grade ‘cleaning’ sources used.
- Includes a plant-based fabric softener – No need for a separate softener (not necessary if using vinegar and/or baking soda).
- Performs ideally in cold water and is safe for delicate fabrics and colors –Saves energy over hot water. Performs well regardless of fabric material and colors.
Basically, you want to look for natural soaps derived from non-toxic plant-based and food-based ingredients. That’s not always easy to find and often we might find out 1 or 2 years (or 4 years, in my case!) to late that the “natural” soap we’ve been happily using, isn’t so natural… which is why I really want to like my Soap Nuts!
I would also LOVE to make my own laundry soap, but have not found a recipe with ingredients that I can find here in Honduras. I know this would be the most frugal and easiest thing for me to do in the long run. Anybody got recipes to share with simple ingredients and no borax???
Next, in Part 3… I will share with you how to use vinegar and baking soda for all your laundry needs!
Tell me, what are you favorite natural soaps and why? Do you make your own laundry soap and is it effective?
Don’t forget… The Everything Beans ebook is on sale to all my noisy readers and check out the Against The Grain eBook Giveaway!!
Have a great week y’all…
Keeper of the home says
Love your blog! I am new to blogging and found you on Wardeh’s blog. Anyway on to my question. I make my own laundry soap, but I do use borax. I was under the understanding that borax is kinda like washing soda , in that its a natural product. Sounds like you have more info on it. Also I use the fels naphta and I know that has some chemicals because of the smell. I do have to admit however, I am addicted to the smell of traditional laundry soap ( like cheer and tide ) I will use my somewhat natural and cheep stuff, but in between I sometimes by a bottle just for the smell of clean laundry. My husband always asks if I have backsliden from my natural ways, because his clothes smell so good! Thanks again!
Marillyn Beard says
Katie, thanks for stopping by and reading! From what I’ve learned… borax is used as a poisoning for cockroaches and is not recommended to use in gray water for watering your garden or fruit trees. It is somewhat natural, but not totally. Make sense? Anyway, I don’t miss the smelly laundry soaps. I used to get a little light headed if I breathed in too much of that stuff… LOL! Thanks for being honest! You should try biokleen or trader’s joes or ECOS laundry soaps. They always come out smelly like laundry soap ;o)
Lori @ Laurel of Leaves says
I just bought some Soap Nuts! I haven’t used them yet, but I’m excited to try them. I definitely ditched chemical-filled detergents long ago!
I found a recipe that I have not tried. 1 cup of Vinegar, 1 cup Baking soda, 1 cup Washing soda(soda ash), 1/4 cup liquid castile soap. Mix together. It did not say how much per load. I asume 1-2 T. I have used soap nuts and thought they worked great for washing clothes, but it what not cost effective.
Oops. was not. : )
Marillyn Beard says
Lori – hope you have good success with them!
Donna – Thank you for sharing the recipe! The only thing I might need to bring here from the states is castile soap and washing soda.
Sodium bicarbonate ( what you call baking soda ) turn into washing soda when you heat it. Where I live, washing soda is very expensive, but sodium bicarbonate is cheap. There are instructions on the internet on how to do this in the oven, but I found that it also work if you simply put it in a pot on the stove. When you heat the sodium bicarbonate in the pot, it does not burn like you’ll expect it would do. It does however look as if the powder is boiling like water. After a while the sodium bicarbonate start to look different and it will taste like soap. ( usually its not wise to taste anything while busy with chemistry ) The sodium bicarbonate turns into sodium carbonate during this process.
Marillyn Beard says
Thank you for sharing! I have been making my own washing soda with baking soda. I did not know you can just put the baking soda in a pot and “boil” it. I’ve been baking it in the oven for 30 minutes at 375. Works great for me!
Are your soap nuts working? Cause mine sure aren’t!!!
I need help in this area. Do you bring your soap powder with you? I can’t seem to find anything natural here in China 🙁
Re: soap nuts. Make sure that you haven’t STUFFED your machine too full. (That goes for any laundry cleaner, even though clothes smell ‘clean’ because of the fragrance, if there isn’t enough water to swish around in properly, there isn’t enough water to wash away the dirt.) We also wash anything absorbent, such as towels, in 7th Generation or whichever seems best at the time, because materials lose their absorbancy with soap nuts. As they do with any fabric softener. ~ jonell
Marillyn Beard says
Rachel- I THINK I’ve got the soap nuts working, but still not 100% sure… LOL… maybe I am too worried over it. I’ve been letting my nuts soak in hot water for longer than 5 minutes and shaking it really good before putting it in the wash. Yeah, I am getting natural soaps from the states through teams and family. Have you consider trying making your own laundry soap? I know scum is the concern with diapers, but I would think that adding vinegar in the rinse cycle would help with that.
Thanks Jonell for your tips! I do noticed that if I put too much clothes in the washing machine, they never come out smelling clean :o) I try to only fill it 3/4 full, but sometimes I might end up with a couple extra shirts that REALLY need to get in there to wash… LOL!
I can’t get plain white vinegar on a regular basis 🙁 When I can find it, I buy all the bottles they have (which is only like 3) and the Chinese all look at me really strangely. Rice vinegar smells awful and I can’t find much info to tell me if it really is effective at cleaning.
I’ll try soaking my soap nuts and see if that helps! I had never heard of that before.
Hi! I know this post is old but I was wondering what you use now, if you got your soap nuts to work, and if you have made homemade soap without borax. I am looking into soap nuts, would love to make my own but I don’t want to use borax, and until I figure it out I gotta use something. 🙂
Marillyn Beard says
Hello Tanzi! I’ve been soaking my soap nuts in warm water and keeping it in water in between washings. Works much better now. I do that until the water is clear, then I know the soap nuts are done.
I have not found a recipe that doesn’t call for borax :/ If you find one let me know! Thanks!
Thanks! I am very intrigued my soap nuts. 🙂 Here are a few recipes for laundry soap without borax that I found. http://www.cheekybumsblog.com/2012/01/homemade-laundry-soap/# and http://thisbighappy.blogspot.com/2012/05/homemade-laundry-detergent-without.html
The first uses liquid castile soap and the second a bar. I am glad the soap nuts are working for you, they will probably be on my next amazon order. 🙂
Marillyn Beard says
Thanks so much Tanzi!! Will check it out :o)
Jessica L says
Wondering what you recommend for cloth diapers! I know this is super old…but thought you might know!
Marillyn Beard says
I highly recommed cloth inserts over microfibers as they cleaned much better and cause WAY less diaper rashes! I know from personal experience of cloth diapering my 5 kids. I would do a prewash with cold water and vinegar in the washing machine, then using HOT water wash the diapers with a combinaton of washing soda and Thieves laundry soap. Hang the diapers in the sun at least once a month to serilize and whiten it. Let me know if you have more questions!