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Going Green With Your Laundry

Dear Green America,

I’d like to use more eco-friendly laundry products to wash my clothes. Any recommendations?
— Marty M., Denver, CO

An excellent decision, Marty.  Conventional detergents are made from synthetic petrochemicals that are hard on the environment. They also can leave residue on clothing, so their toxic ingredients constantly brush against our skin, potentially causing rashes. You can safely keep your clothes looking smart by washing them with green soaps and detergents. 

If you choose soaps, look for an all-natural liquid soap made without artificial dyes or fragrances, such as Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps (760/743-2211, www.drbronner.com). Use the same amount of soap as you would detergent.

Soaps can react with chemicals in hard water, leaving a dulling film on clothes. To combat this, Annie Berthold-Bond, author of Better Basics for the Home (Three Rivers Press, 1999), recommends adding baking soda. “Start out with ¼ cup of baking soda, and increase to ½ cup if you have very hard water,” she advises. Leave the soda in the water for ten minutes, then add the soap and clothes.

To prepare clothes for the switch from detergent to soap, wash them initially with ½ cup of white distilled vinegar for a full load to prevent yellowing (a result of detergent residues reacting with soap), says Berthold-Bond.

The best eco-friendly detergents are made without nonrenewable, petroleum-based chemicals. They are biodegradable and contain no optical brighteners, dyes, or artificial fragrances.

Some excellent green laundry detergents to try include:

  • Ecover (800/449-4925, www.ecover.com)—Offers nontoxic powder and liquid detergents, as well as a detergent for delicates.
  • Natural Choices Home Safe Products (866/699-2667, www.oxyboost.com)—Sells Oxyprime, a nontoxic laundry detergent, and Allergy Free, a detergent for people with chemical sensitivities.
  • Sun & Earth (800/596-7233, ext. 11, www.sunandearth.com)—Offers a “Deep Cleaning Formula” laundry detergent.
  • Seventh Generation (802/658-3773, www.seventhgeneration.com)—Sells nontoxic liquid and powder laundry detergent, as well as Free and Clear fragrance-free laundry detergent and a detergent for baby clothes.

Conventional bleaches and fabric softeners have their problems, too. Conventional bleaches are made from chlorine, a known carcinogen according to the US Environmental Protection Agency. Fabric softeners contain chemicals that can cause allergic reactions. What’s a concerned consumer to do? Try these nontoxic alternatives:

For whitening:

  • Use a non-chlorine bleach, such as oxygen bleaches like Oxyboost, available from Natural Choices Home Safe Products. Also, Ecover offers two natural, chlorine-free bleaches, one made with hydrogen peroxide, and one with percarbonate.
  • Soak clothes overnight in a solution of one part hydrogen peroxide to eight parts cold water. Wash as normal.

For softening fabric:

Add ½ cup baking soda to the rinse cycle of your wash. You can also try a commercial green fabric softener like Natural Choices Home Safe Products’s Safe ‘N Soft, Ecover’s Natural Fabric Softener, or Sun & Earth’s Ultra Fabric Softener.

Dear Green America,

I’ve read a lot about toxins in cosmetics.  Is there a way to compare my favorite brands?
— Julie G., Chicago, IL

Check out www.ewg.org/reports/skindeep, a database compiled by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) that provides safety analyses of the ingredients in over 7,500 personal care products, from cosmetics to shampoo to soap. You can search by product category or brand name.

You can find all-natural, organic cosmetics in Green America’s National Green Pages.

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