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June 18, 2018  |  Login
Practical Guide to Laundry Products
By Elizabeth B. Goldsmith PhD, Betsy Sheldon
Wander the housekeeping aisle of any grocery store and prepare to be overwhelmed by options for cleaning your clothes, but doing the laundry doesn't have to be complicated. Basically, you clean your clothes with the same stuff you use to clean everything else: soap or detergent. There is a difference between the two; in a nutshell, soap is most often derived from plants, oils, ash, and other natural ingredients, and detergents are commonly made of synthetic surfactants, based on - you guessed it - petroleum-based compounds.

Both are effective cleaners, but when it comes to washing clothes, the popular choice has been detergent. Soaps, many complain, leave a film on fabric that turns the material dull and gray, but they're the greener choice.

Zeroing in on Green Alternatives

Ecofriendly laundry detergents substitute plant-based oils for the nonrenewable, petroleum-based components. They typically are free of heavy perfumes, although many are scented with essential oils, such as lavender and orange. And they also omit dyes and optical brighteners - for those who prefer their clothes to be truly clean rather than coated with something that makes the material look whiter. (You want clothes to be clean, not glow in the dark like George Hamilton's smile.)

Many consumers say that plant-based cleaners often don't seem to do as good a job getting clothes really, really clean. Adding a laundry booster, which improves the power of other laundry cleaners and are good for presoaking, can give your cleaner the edge: Two are washing soda and borax. (See Chapter 3 for more about these mainstay ingredients of the green cleaning cupboard.) Add ½ cup along with your laundry detergent at the beginning of the wash cycle. Or use as a presoak - 2 tablespoons in a gallon of water ought to loosen up the toughest stains in 30 minutes.

The newest high-efficiency (HE) washers require low-sudsing detergents, and the green aisle offers a selection of them. HE machines also take much less soap than the traditional top-loading agitator models. So go easy on the amount. Follow instructions to avoid suds overflow.

Getting Soft on Laundry

Fabric softeners reduce friction and static electricity. They give material a soft, fluffy feel and often provide a sweet or fresh smell.

These formulas don't, however, aid the cleaning process in any way. The conventional brands typically contain petrochemicals and ingredients, such as artificial fragrance, that have been linked to air, water, and health concerns. Moreover, liquid softeners and dryer sheets can cause skin rashes and asthmatic reactions.

And don't think you're safe with dryer balls, either. Although advertised as environmentally friendly, the spiky, rubbery devices you throw in the dryer to "naturally" soften your clothes are made of polyvinyl chloride (yes, PVC), which may result in the release of carcinogenic substances.

Even the green softeners may be considered a waste of resources, what with the manufacturing, packaging, and shipping required. But if you love the effect of fabric softener, it's your decision; just choose wisely and use sparingly.

For a similar anti-static, softening result, try one of these ingredients in the rinse cycle:

  • ½ cup of baking soda

  • ¼ cup of borax

  • ¼ cup white distilled vinegar



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