There’s nothing quite like the feeling of soft, clean, fresh-smelling laundry still warm out of the dryer. But is our laundry really ‘clean’? Research shows that traditional laundry detergents are in fact extremely toxic, and that exposure over time can lead to a number of adverse health effects, ranging from minor skin and respiratory irritation to a multitude of cancers.
That fresh smell? Turns out it’s derived from a petroleum-based substance that is known to harm the respiratory system and cause allergies and asthma in children.
The brightness of your whites? Chemically-induced by a non-biodegradable substance that will wind up in our waterways and interfere with aquatic life. Below are some of the main culprits found in traditional laundry detergents, and the effects they have on our health and environment.
Phthalates: Phthalates ave been linked to reproductive and developmental problems, adverse effects on our respiratory, immune, and endocrine systems, and the development of asthma and allergies in children.
Bleach: Naturally toxic to our lungs and mucous membranes, bleach causes a whole slew of additional health concerns due to it’s natural tendency to interact with other chemicals and materials to create a number of known carcinogens.
Optical Brighteners: Masters of illusion, optical brighteners are used to make stains on your clothes appear brighter and whiter (without doing any actual cleaning). When optical brighteners come into contact with our bodies, they form an irreversible bond with the skin.
Petroleum-based (napthas): Most traditional laundry detergents contain many petroleum-based ingredients, which use energy-intensive processes (meaning nearly a pound of greenhouse gases are emitted for every ounce of detergent produced). Petroleum-based products are generally not biodegradable and adversely impact our health in a multitude of ways, from irritating our lungs and skin to causing cancers.
Surfactants: Extremely effective at breaking down dirt and stains, petroleum-based surfactants are extremely slow to biodegrade and are known to disrupt the life-cycles of certain marine ecosystems. Vancouver’s North Shore currently produces the highest level of surfactants in the Pacific-Northwest and has recently launched a Laundry Detergent Reduction program in an effort to clean up its waterways. Read more about it here.
Phosphates: Used to soften hard water and present in most laundry detergents, phosphates are petroleum-based and do not biodegrade. They’re also extremely harmful to the environment in that they freshwater algal blooms that release toxins and diminish oxygen in waterways, harming delicate aquatic ecosystems.
How to Make Your Laundry Routine Greener and Safer
Here are a few simple and adaptable tips to make your laundry routine less toxic and more eco-friendly:
Use vegetable-based laundry detergents: These can be found in most commercial grocery stores at similar prices to traditional laundry detergents. See below for a list of locally-available, eco-friendly laundry detergents.
Use less detergent: Most washing machines sold today are HE (High Efficiency), meaning they use less water and energy to wash your clothes. These machines also require significantly less detergent than regular machines. Check your washing machine’s manual, as well as the instructions on your detergent, to ensure that you’re not contributing excess chemicals to our waterways.
Hang clothes to dry: Invest in a clothesline or rack to save energy (just remember not to dry darks in bright sunlight as they will fade).
Avoid conventional dryer sheets: If you’re using your dryer, avoid conventional dryer sheets, which are often petroleum-based, use animal fat, and release toxic chemicals (all of which then rub off on your skin).
Do full loads of laundry.
Look for laundry with recyclable or biodegradable packaging.
Eco-Friendly Alternatives to Conventional Laundry Detergent
Vancouver Only Laundry Detergent: Phosphate and nitrate free, specifically designed for BC’s soft water, 100% biodegradable, recyclable packaging, local, and affordable. Available through www.greenearthorganics.com.
Earth’s Berries Soap Nuts: Grown on soapberry trees, all-natural soap nuts contain a high concentration of the foaming agent saponin. Eco-friendly and economical. For more information, visit www.earthsberries.com.
Nellie’s All-Natural Laundry Detergent: local, vegetable-based, biodegradable, non-toxic, mild, and efficient. For more information visit www.nelliesallnatural.com.
Natureclean: This Canadian company’s detergents are vegetable-based, hypoallergenic, posphate-free. For more information visit www.naturecleanliving.com.
About the Author:
Alexandra Sehmer is an insatiable foodie, fitness junkie, nature lover, and humour seeker. Drop her a line on Twitter @a_sehmer.
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