Eco friendly laundry products

eco-friendly-laundry-tipsWe’re airing our dirty laundry for this week’s Change the World Wednesday challenge!

Most people have their favourite laundry products – usually determined by smell and how effective they are.

But did you know that the reason you get ‘whiter whites’ or ‘brighter brights’ are usually due to chemical residue being left on your fabrics? This is why laundry products can be one of the leading causes of skin irritation, eczema, sneezing fits and rashes.

Ingredients in laundry detergents help soften water, lift stains from fabrics, remove odours, prevent dirt from settling back on fabrics, prevent corrosion to your washing machine and scent fabrics.

Surfactants are the ‘work horse’ of laundry products. When dissolved in water, surfactants enable dirt to be loosened and removed from surfaces. They also keep dirt suspended in the water so that it can’t settle back onto the fabric being cleaned.

Laundry detergents also contain optical brighteners – chemicals which remain on fabrics after washing. They coat the material with fluorescent particles which reflect light. This gives the appearance of bright colours and white clothing. Bleaches are used to make whites look whiter and to take the colour out of stains to make clothes look cleaner. Perfumes and colours do not have a cleaning function, they just make the product more attractive to consumers and scent your clothes. Biological products contain enzymes. These literally ‘eat’ stains on fabrics.

You only need to soak a washed, dry cloth in hot water, then wring out well to see that residue from laundry detergents remains in fabrics. I challenge you to try it now! We know through the use of hormone and nicotine patches that the skin is porous, so maybe some of the chemicals in laundry products can enter your bloodstream. In fact, it has been found that up to 60 per cent of some chemicals enter the skin solely from surface contact.

You are potentially in contact with laundry detergent all day, every day. When you go to bed you are sleeping on linen that has been washed in your chosen product and when you step out of the bath or shower and wrap yourself in a towel, you are wrapping yourself up in freshly laundered fabrics. Babies chew everything, including their clothes, which puts them at higher risk from ingesting the ingredients in your laundry products.

And it’s not only YOUR health! Laundry products are harmful for the environment too. Most conventional cleaning products use petrochemical-based ingredients derived from fossil fuels which are non-renewable. Residues from these are poorly biodegradable and build up in the environment where they cause significant, long-lasting damage to humans, animals and the environment. Phosphates, still used in some brands of laundry products, are a major hazard to the environment. When phosphates discharge into a brook, river or ocean, they can cause irreversible damage to the aquatic environment by removing oxygen from water.

Thankfully there are some great alternatives that are not only effective but are kinder to you and the environment.


Natural Brands

There are many brands on the market made with plant ingredients that readily biodegrade and which contain no phosphates. By choosing an ecological alternative, you can be sure that the product leaves no toxins or residues in the aquatic system. Look out for brands such as Ecover and Bio D. I’m a fan of Ecover because they give thought to their packaging too. Some of their powders come in cardboard boxes and the liquid detergents and fabric softeners are available as refils. My nearest refill station is just 5 miles away!

Eco balls – toxic chemical free cleaning

Eco balls are a set of three plastic ‘balls’ that you put in the washing machine. They ionize the water, allowing it to get deep into your clothes and lift the dirt. They are kinder to the environment because no toxic chemicals are being washed into the watercourse. Eco balls are reusable for up to 1,000 washes so provide great value for money. I’ve tried these, but in my hard water area they aren’t that effective. However, I have friends who swear by them.

Soapnuts – the power of nature

Soapnuts come from the Sapindus tree and contain saponin, a natural soap that forms gentle bubbles when the soapnuts come into contact with water
Both soapnuts and eco balls cut down water and electricity usage because you don’t need to use as much water for rinsing. Soapnuts can be added to the compost after use. People rave about soapnuts. Again for me they don’t work because of my hard water but there are huge fans of soapnuts across the globe.

Homemade laundry products

Browse the internet and you’ll find several recipes for ‘laundry gloop’ – your very own homemade laundry detergent! Most recipes use a bar of pure soap, such as Castille and soda crystals. If you don’t want to spend time making laundry gloop try Add 50-85 g (2-3 oz) of borax to the wash cycle and a cup (225 mls) of white vinegar to the rinse cycle. Be aware that it’s best to wear rubber gloves when handling borax or soda crystals.

What about you – is your laundry good for you and the environment? Do you have any brands or products to recommend?