Despite photos of soaring, fresh mountain ranges, swaying natural herbs and colorful flowers on the packaging, laundry detergent is actually one of the most toxic products that most of us have within our homes. Almost all of the big name brands contain harmful chemicals that can cause mild symptoms such as skin irritation and allergic reactions to more serious conditions such as autism, infertility, asthma and cancer. Most people are not aware of the differences between detergents and soap and incorrectly believe that they are one and the same. However, detergents are made out of petrochemicals a group of chemicals derived from petroleum that are used to make fragrances, artificial colors and toxins such as nonylphenol ethoxylate.
Detergent manufacturers are not legally required to list all of the ingredients in their products, and seemingly innocent ingredients such as ‘fragrance’ could contain hundreds of toxic chemicals. Many households regularly expose their children, pets and other family members to a host of dangerous chemicals that are designed to linger in clothing and bed sheets to give that long-lasting “fresh” scent that many of us have come to associate with clean laundry.
Dangerous Chemicals in Laundry Detergent
Optical brighteners are added to detergent to help achieve the brilliant white clean effect that most of us desire. As well as triggering allergic reactions in both humans and pets, they are harmful to fish and other marine life after being washed away into nearby lakes and oceans.
Bleach is a well-known irritant and can affect the eyes, nose, and mouth and cause respiratory problems. Laundry detergent manufacturers often add either chlorine or benzaldehyde to their products to remove stains. Bleach is also extremely harmful to the environment as manufacturers need to add a stabilizing agent to it known as ethylene-diamine-tetra-acetic acid (EDTA). This chemical slowly breaks down into heavy metals that are released into the water supply.
Phenols are absorbed through the skin and can damage the heart, lungs, liver and kidneys. They are added to detergents to mask the strong smell of chemicals, and those who are hypersensitive to them can experience delirium, shock, coma and death.
Even if your laundry detergent claims to contain extract of lavender, vanilla, ylang ylang or some other natural fragrance, it most likely contains a synthetic version of this scent and not actual essential oils. Artificial fragrances are much cheaper to use than essential oils and almost all home cleaning products and many bath and beauty items contain them. Most of the chemicals used to make artificial fragrances are known carcinogens, so that fresh scent that lingers on your sheets for days could slowly be giving you and your family cancer.
Nonylphenol ethoxylate has been banned from use in the European Union and Canada but is still widely used in the US. It is an endocrine disrupter that imitates the female hormone estrogen and can lead to fertility problems and harm unborn fetuses. A report by the Sierra Club found that 61% of tested water contained nonylphenol ethoxylate which is extremely hazardous to both human and aquatic life.
Safe and Natural Alternatives
1 ½ cups of washing soda
½ cup Fels-Naptha
2 tablespoons Epsom salts
3 tablespoons hydrogen peroxide
Essential oils of your choice
Grate the Fels-Naptha into a plastic mixing bowl and add the washing soda and salts. Add the hydrogen peroxide and mix well. Next, add the vinegar and essential oils if using. Mix everything together and then shape the mixture into individual balls. Spritz them with a mixture of 50% water and 50% vinegar and then leave them to dry for at least 8 hours. These laundry bombs are strong enough to remove even the toughest stains from your laundry.
2 cups 3% hydrogen peroxide
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 cups of water
10 drops essential oil of your choice
Combine all of the ingredients together and store in a dark plastic bottle for up to three months. This bleach is ideal for getting stubborn stains out of white laundry and can also be used as an all-purpose cleaning spray around the home.
Soap Nuts Laundry Detergent
1 cup soap nuts
4 cups of water
½ cup vinegar
Place all of the ingredients into a pot and simmer on a medium to low heat for approximately 30 minutes. Stir the mixture occasionally and use a wooden spoon to mash the berries whilst stirring. Strain the mixture into a clean bowl and allow to cool before storing in an airtight container. Soap nuts are available online and have been used by various African and Indian tribes for thousands of years for washing clothes.
The Original Homemade Laundry Detergent
1 bar of grated bar soap such as Dr Bronner’s or Fels-Naptha
1 cup of borax
1 cup of washing soda
Mix all of the ingredients together and store in an airtight container.
Homemade Fabric Softener
6 Cups Vinegar
1 cup of baking soda
Mix ingredients together and add ½ to 1 cup of the mixture to each load. You can also add just one cup of vinegar to a laundry to soften cloths and remove soap residue.
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