I’m fairly sure it won’t surprise you to hear that mainstream laundry detergents contain a long list of chemicals known to cause health issues: Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS), Dioxane (1,4-dioxane), Linear Alky Benzene Sulfonates (LAS), Nonylphenol Ethoxylate (NPE), Ethylene diamine tetraacetic acid (EDTA), and the common Sodium Hypochlorite (bleach).
Even some laundry products labeled “natural” or marketed as “green” include potentially dangerous toxic chemicals, but how will you know that? Will you read the ingredient list? Not so fast. Manufacturers don’t have to list laundry ingredients. You may have to call your manufacturer to ask about particular ingredients or check with reliable organizations that have investigated laundry ingredients.
You can avoid some of these common laundry toxins by avoiding:
- perfumed detergents that don’t specifically tell you that the scents are derived from natural sources,
- fabric softeners of any kind,
- optical brighteners of any kind (which leave a synthetic coating on fibers), and
- common household bleach (sodium hypochlorite).
There are more natural or less toxic ingredients that scent, soften, and clean—and you really don’t need your clothes to glow under a black light, so skip the optical brighteners altogether.
Some natural cleaning products will tell you specifically that they are petrochemical free or 100% non-toxic. Don’t just look at the bottle with a green label and a leaf and think that’s a guarantee. Follow up and check the ingredients before you commit to any detergent because you are putting this next to your skin (and you’ll sweat, making it easier for the chemicals to enter your body), next to your baby’s delicate bottom (and you know the warm, wet atmosphere of a cloth diaper makes chemical absorption more likely), and next to your face on your pillowcase while you sleep. You will live close to the chemicals in your laundry, so take care what detergent you choose.
DIY Non-toxic Laundry
You could also choose to keep a very close eye on every ingredient by making your own laundry detergent.
If you are going to create your own cleaning products, keep in mind the green cleaning basics: acidic cleaning solutions break down mineral deposits (hard water) and alkaline cleaning solutions break up fats and oils. Cleaning works better closer to neutral pH, so investigate the pH of your water before you make any assumptions or additions to your cleaning.
If you are willing to learn responsible chemistry and you don’t mind the extra time it will take to do your chemistry experiments, make your own. There are hours of DIY videos on YouTube instructing you to make your own laundry detergent, liquid or powdered. Some of these recipes even use the same ingredients you are trying to avoid. Don’t add more petro-chemical derived cleaners. Don’t add more coatings to your fibers. Choose the simplest ingredients to do a simple job: lift and rinse the dirt away.