Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Toxic Laundry: Skip the Fabric Softener


guest post by Jennifer Robbins

If you're like me, you love fabric softener and dryer sheets. They keep your sheets soft, your shirts smelling lovely, and your skirts static free. Unfortunately they can contain just as many toxic chemicals as conventional laundry detergent, which we now know is a lot!

In fact, fabric softener may quite possibly be the most toxic product in your home. It is essentially a toxic cocktail you pour in your laundry. Worse still, many of these fabric softeners are actually designed to penetrate the fibers of your clothes and slowly release over time. So they are slowly releasing their toxic sludge right on your skin. Here are a few of the chemicals that are found in your pastel-colored fabric softener:

  • Chloroform, a carcinogenic neurotoxin
  • Camphor, causes central nervous disorders and is easily absorbed through skin
  • Alpha Terpineol, can cause central nervous damage as well as respiratory problems
  • Ethanol, considered a hazardous waste by the EPA and can cause central nervous system disorders
Do any of those sound like something you want in constant contact with your skin? I didn't think so.

Now, let's talk about dryer sheets. They are basically thin sheets of polyester coated in toxic chemicals designed to make your clothes smell "fresh and clean". And what happens to those toxic chemicals when they are heated up in the dryer? They are released through the dryer vent, adding awful VOCs (volatile organic compounds) to our already polluted air. Many of the chemicals I just listed in the fabric softener section are also found in your dryer sheets, as well as Pentane (can cause headaches, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, etc) and Ethyl Acetate (a narcotic considered a hazardous waste by the EPA  that may cause headaches and narcosis). None of that sounds like a good idea to me!

Now that you know why you should say farewell to these products, let's talk about your options. The first is simply eliminating them entirely. They aren't essential to doing laundry as laundry detergent is, so you can cut them out. But what if you loves fresh scented soft laundry and don't want to give it up? You have a few options, actually.
For fabric softener:
  1. Vinegar - Really, all you need is a 1/4 cup of vinegar where you usually added fabric softener and you're good to go. Your clothes won't smell like vinegar after the wash, but if you miss the scented aspect of fabric softener just add a dozen drops of essential oil to the vinegar bottle and shake well before each use.
  2. Vinegar/Baking Soda - this recipe is a tad more complicated but will look and work just like conventional fabric softener without all the chemicals. Mix 1 gallon of vinegar, 2 cups of baking soda, and 2-3 cups of hair conditioner. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 months and use 1/4 to 1/2 cup per load as needed.
  3. Green Shield Organic Fabric Softener, Lavender Mint - This is the only fabric softener to receive an A rating from the Environmental Working Group (EWG). It's made of natural ingredients instead of chemicals and is virtually the only nontoxic store bought option for fabric softener.
For dryer sheets:
  1. Wool Dryer Balls - You can make these (there are lots of tutorials online) or buy them. Wool dryer balls contain zero harmful chemicals and last for thousands of loads, making them green and wallet friendly! They control the static and keep laundry as soft as a dryer sheet. By nature they are scent-free, but just add a couple drops of your favorite essential oil (I use lavender) before you toss them in the dryer and you have a scented environmentally-friendly dryer sheet alternative
  2. Cotton or Wool Dryer Sheet - If you just miss the fragrance of the dryer sheet, cut up an old t-shirt into a square and add 2-4 drops of essential oil to it. Let the oil dry thoroughly, then use just like you would a dryer sheet. Except instead of throwing it away after one use, you can use it over and over again! Simply add more oil when the smell fades away.
  3. Plastic Dryer Balls - You can buy these at most store these days. They function similarly to the wool dryer balls, but are not known to last as long. They are a great alternative for those allergic to wool.
You may have noticed I didn't give a store bought dryer sheet in that list. That's because not a single dryer sheet on the market received any higher than a D rating by the EWG. That means that literally every product on the market (even those "all-natural" ones) could potentially be hazardous. The good news about that is that any of the 3 options we listed above will save you money and help the environment. Because dryer sheets are single-use items, they are incredibly wasteful. All three of those options will last you multiple loads, which means you won't be spending $6 every 130 loads of laundry like you used to!

I know change can be uncomfortable, but you don’t have to jump all in and change everything at once. Start with eliminating fabric softener and see how you feel. Then maybe give wool dryer balls a shot. Make the conversion to safe and green laundry care complete by using toxic-free detergent. You may find that not only do you feel better by helping the environment, your family may actually feel better physically! So give it a shot. You never know how important this small change might be. 

Interested in more green laundry tips?  Check out Jennifer's companion post here on Act Small Think Big, Toxic Laundry: Skip the Fabric Softener.

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Jennifer is a blogger, professional writer, and reluctant accountant. She loves DIY projects, Dr. Pepper, and searching for treasures in thrift stores. She's kinda crunchy but definitely opinionated. Jennifer resides in small town Oklahoma with her new husband, puppy, and kitty.  You can visit her online at Mrs. Robbins Sparkles. 

Photo credit: sinkdd via Creative Commons

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Toxic Laundry: Your Choice of Detergent Matters


guest post by Jennifer B. Robbins

Did you know that one of the most toxic rooms in your home might just be the laundry room? That's because conventional laundry detergent, fabric softener, and dryer sheets all contain toxic chemicals!

In fact, according to a survey of selected scented consumer goods by US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health Researchers, many products tested "emitted more than 100 volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including some that are classified as toxic or hazardous by federal laws." That study included some of the most popular laundry detergents and dryer sheets on the market. And if you think unscented products are better, you may be surprised to learn that another study showed that even products advertised as "fragrance-free" still contains many of the same harmful chemicals as their scented counterparts.

So what does that mean? Essentially, it means that with each load of laundry we do with conventional laundry products, we are releasing a potentially dangerous mix of toxic chemicals into the air. That means that not only are we subjecting our bodies to the toxic chemicals by wearing clothes that were washed in them, we are also breathing in the toxic fumes.

And the worst part is many of us have no idea we're doing it! That's because companies are not required to disclose a full list of ingredients on their products. They can include chemicals like Nonylphenol Ethoxylate (an endocrine disrupter that can mimic the effects of estrogen), 1,4-Dioxane (a carcinogen linked to organ toxicity that can contaminate groundwater), and various sulfates (Sodium Lauryl Sulfate & Sodium Laureth Sulfate for examples, which are known skin irritants). But you would have no idea these chemicals are in your products because none of them are listed on the labels.

Thankfully, there are several organizations out there doing the dirty work for us. You can check the Environmental Working Group (EWG) website to find out what exactly is in your favorite laundry detergent, and see what rating they are given (A - F based on the relative level of concern posed by exposure to the ingredients). For example, the detergent I used to use received a D rating. The label of the detergent listed ingredients as "biodegradable surfactants (anionic and nonionic), enzymes". The actual list of ingredients is far too long to list here but includes several ingredients that have been linked to cancer, vision loss, and other serious problems. Scary, huh?

Now that we know the dangers of toxic laundry detergent, how can we avoid it? Here are a few options: 

Make your own laundry detergent. There are tons of high-quality recipes out there. I shared my favorite on my own blog recently. It's a powder form that I store in reusable mason jars, so not only does it keep chemicals out of my laundry, it keeps plastic containers out of a landfill. It also ends up being much more economical (you could save $100s a year). If you'd like to try some other recipes, check out the links below. Please be sure to check if the recipe works for HE washers (most do) and if it is compatible with cloth diapers if you use them (some aren't).

Buy safe laundry detergent. I know I've just gone on about the dangers of conventional laundry detergent, but it is possible to find safe ones. The EWG has nearly a dozen laundry detergents with an A rating. The three listed below are also certified green and animal cruelty-free, as well. (Word of warning: they are a little pricey, which is why DIY detergent is my go-to laundry choice.)

Try Soap Nuts. I've actually never tried this method, but people swear by them. Soap Nuts are 100% natural dried fruit that gets your laundry clean with zero scent or chemicals! The outer shell of the soapnut contains saponin, a natural substance known for its ability to cleanse and wash. To use them, simply put 5-6 nuts in the muslin bag that should comes with your purchase and wash your clothes as usual. This bag of nuts will usually last 5 to 8 loads; until the nuts turn gray. The nuts are totally biodegradable, so you can use them as mulch in your garden when they're no longer useful for your laundry! A few tips about soap nuts:

  1. Buy seedless nuts. Soap Nuts are sold by weight, and the seeds do not help in the cleaning process. So buying seedless means you are getting more of the outer shells, which is what actually does the cleaning.
  2. Buy in bulk if possible. The more you buy at once, the cheaper each load is.
  3. Do research before you buy. There are lots of variations of Soap Nuts, and lots of different vendors. Don't buy the first thing you see! Check out reviews, find out where the nuts come from, and make sure you are getting a quality product before you buy.

It may seem like a small change, but when you think about how many loads of laundry you do a year, switching to a non-toxic laundry detergent could make a huge difference! You would be eliminating not only your family's contact with toxic chemicals, but also the amount of toxic chemicals being released into the air. Imagine if everyone stopped releasing all those hazardous VOCs into the air daily. What a huge effect such a small change could have. 

Stand by for Jennifer's companion post Toxic Laundry: Skip the Fabric Softener, coming next week! 

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Jennifer is a blogger, professional writer, and reluctant accountant. She loves DIY projects, Dr. Pepper, and searching for treasures in thrift stores. She's kinda crunchy but definitely opinionated. Jennifer resides in small town Oklahoma with her new husband, puppy, and kitty.  You can visit her online at Mrs. Robbins Sparkles. 

Photo credit: Bonnaf via Creative Commons

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