Have you thought about switching to more natural laundry supplies but are overwhelmed at the thought of making your own? This was exactly how I felt! I realized there are safer laundry products available and I didn’t have to make them myself.
I’m a huge fan of DIY-free natural living! Today, I’m sharing my favorite natural laundry detergents and other safer products to help you clean up your laundry room.
Why go more natural with your laundry supplies?
Conventional laundry detergents, brighteners, and dryer sheets are full of toxic chemicals. Of the 817 laundry products tested by the Environmental Working Group in the Guide to Healthier Cleaning, 72.8% scored a ‘D’ or ‘F’ grade. These scores are a combination of the hazard/safety level of each ingredient and the level of disclosure provided by the manufacturer.
Per the EWG’s guide, an ‘F’ score is Highest Concern: Potentially significant hazards to health or the environment or poor ingredient disclosure and a ‘D’ is High Concern: Likely hazards to health or the environment. May also have poor ingredient disclosure.
To give you an idea of why so many products score poorly, here are just a few of the ingredients commonly found in laundry products:
- Surfactants are cleaning agents. Common ones used in detergents include sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulfate (SLES). They can irritate skin, trigger allergies, and nonylphenol ethoxylate (which mimics estrogen and is a suspected endocrine disruptor). (source)
- Fragrance in laundry products is most often produced by chemicals. The lavender or mountain air scent of a favorite laundry detergent is a combination of chemicals that manufacturers don’t have to disclose (as fragrance is considered proprietary). Because you don’t know what particular chemicals are used for any given fragrance, it’s not possible to know potential side effects.
- Optical Brighteners are added to detergents to make whites whiter. But your whites aren’t actually any whiter, it’s an optical illusion! Brighteners are chemicals that reflect light in a way that an article of clothing or a towel appears whiter. Unfortunately, optical brighteners can cause skin irritation. (source)
- Bleach is available in laundry detergents or stand alone for whiter whites. But is it worth the cost? A recent study found a 20% increase in flu symptoms and a 35% increase in recurrent tonsillitis in children who live in homes where bleach is regularly used.
- “Quats” or quaternary ammonium compounds are used in laundry products (fabric softeners and dryer sheets) for softer fabrics. They have been linked to asthma and hypersensitivity. (source)
- 1,4-Dioxane, like the chemicals that make fragrances, is not included on labels for laundry products. That’s because it is a byproduct of the chemical process to produce other ingredients, like SLS. It’s thought to be a carcinogen as well as harmful to the respiratory and nervous systems. (source)
Does it really matter if our clothes and other household items are washed with these products? Yes! Some of these products are intentionally designed to stay on clothes after washing, like optical brighteners and fabric softeners. Those not designed to stay on clothing often leave residue behind that builds up with multiple washings.
Our skin is a barrier, but it’s only 3mm thick. It can’t repel everything and some chemicals, including some of the harmful toxins in conventional laundry products, are able to penetrate the skin and be absorbed into the body.
Ready to go cleaner in your laundry room? Below you’ll find my favorite products that prioritize safer ingredients to help reduce the toxin load in your home.
Natural Laundry Detergent
When I think natural laundry detergent, I immediately think soap nuts (where to buy soap nuts). I’ve been using them for the last year to wash our family’s laundry. They are the most effective natural laundry cleaner I’ve tried.
Soap nuts are the dried berries of a tree native to Asia. The berries contain saponin, which is a natural surfactant that works to clean clothes the same was as the surfactants mentioned above, without any of the harmful side effects. Learn more about how to use soap nuts for laundry.
If soap nuts sound too crunchy, the EWG guide has several laundry detergents that score an ‘A’ grade. My personal favorite is the Planet 2x Ultra Laundry Detergent though I find soap nuts work better on my toddler’s food-stained clothes.
For those who do love DIY, here’s a great tutorial for making your own laundry detergent.
Note: I’ve had pretty good luck with soap nuts so I haven’t been on the hunt for a safer stain remover yet. There are a handful that are rated an ‘A’ but I can’t speak to their effectiveness.
Non-chlorine bleach is a much safer way to brighten white clothes. Hydrogen peroxide and sodium carbonate (washing soda) are the most commonly used non-chlorine ingredients for commercial bleaching products. Both are non-toxic as laundry products and safe to use for your family.
Find liquid and powder non-chlorine bleach options that score an ‘A’. We use GrabGreen Bleach Alternative Pods – Fragrance Free that are sodium carbonate based (where to buy GrabGreen Bleach pods). To be honest, they do not work as well as traditional Clorox. I do think they help keep our whites looking better with the added benefit of not exposing our family to bleach.
A DIY option is to add 1/2 cup of one of the following to your wash: baking soda, vinegar, lemon juice or hydrogen peroxide.
Dryer Balls Instead of Dryer Sheets
Wool dryer balls have several benefits over dryer sheets, including being completely non-toxic. They reduce the time needed to dry as they keep clothes from bunching together. They soften fabric as the wool rubs against clothes and reduce static.
For those who really want traditional dryer sheets or fabric softeners, there are a few options. Only one fabric softener earned an ‘A’ from the EWG, Green Shield Organic Fabric Softener in Lavender Mint (the fragrances are disclosed, no mystery chemicals!), and a few dryer sheets scored a ‘B’.
Have you swapped out any conventional laundry supplies for more natural, safer options? Let us know your favorites in the comments!