Everything seemed to be going wrong and the only out seemed to be to book a small cabin in a somewhat remote part of the woods. The concept was good. Green living, fresh air, footpaths… a time to simplify and chill out.
The cabin was adequate in many ways, but imagine my surprise: The bed was amply fitted with linens emitting strong fumes of toxic laundry soap. I had encountered this once before when visiting a national park… sheets sprayed with pesticides. In this case, it was one step up–i.e. highly perfumed chemical-laden local laundry soap heavily embedded in the coverlet, duvet, pillows, sheets, towels and dish towels infusing a strong toxic odor throughout the interior of the cabin. Talk about not having organic sweet dreams. This was it!
I had read that this is a no-no first and foremost because the chemicals immediately start to coat the nasal passages which will diminish the sense of smell. With further investigation, I could not believe that anyone would chose to use these highly toxic health-hazardous products.
On this basis, the wake-up call for organic getaways is not only to always travel equipped with your own organic bedding, towels, kitchen linens and laundry soap (For more on this, see one of my previous blogs, Once Upon a Mattress: Organic Sweet Dreams) but for manufacturers, legislators, and consumers to take action to address the harmful effects of chemically-laden, highly perfumed and toxic laundry and cleaning products. It’s a necessity if we want to protect human health and the environment.
Here is the scoop.
Market researchers point out that the average US family washes about 80 pounds of laundry each week, using ½ cup of detergent per load. Of this, an average of 4 cups of detergent per home ends up in our waterways as well as affecting the air quality. This “clean” laundry can contain toxic residues from detergents which remain in the fabric and rub off on your skin. Most conventional detergents are made up of a mix of fragrances and chemicals which act as endocrine disruptors, neurotoxins and potential carcinogens. This means that the toxicity from your wash can not only pollute your clothing and bed linens, but your laundry room and home can become extremely toxic as well.
One of the most harmful chemicals in laundry soap seems to be 1,4-dioxane with warnings that even short term inhalation potentially causes drowsiness and headache as well as eyes, nose, throat, lung and skin irritation. This type of chemical is often used to produce softer, sudsier detergents and is found in about 2/3 of the laundry products we now find on supermarket shelves. Researchers have concerns that these products contain carcinogens and act as environmental pollutants. Laundry dryer vents, for example, have been found to emit many hazardous air pollutants both indoors and out. And dryer sheets can also emit an overpowering toxic odor which remains on your clothing, bedding and towels.
Other harmful chemicals you might want to avoid include ammonia, nonylphenol ethoxylate and other phenols and phosphates which could cause health problems when in contact with your skin. This suggests that wearing clothing or using bedding which has absorbed these chemicals may be a health hazard. And many sources say that really clean clothes have no odor or smell like fresh air!
What Are the Alternatives
- Check out the Environmental Working Group website for more information and a scorecard for the hazards/safety of various laundry products.
- Make your own detergent with baking soda, organic liquid soap or even use unscented liquid dishwashing soap such as Ecover.
- Remove stains naturally. You also can try Ecover unscented dish washing soap to remove stains effectively as a pre-wash spot treatment
- Use vinegar and baking soda to remove odors as well as old fashioned energy efficient outdoor line drying in the sun. You can also try vinegar as a fabric softener and baking sodas as a natural fabric brightener.
- Avoid using dryer sheets. Experts say that when scented laundry detergents and fabric softeners are used dryer vents can emit more than 25 volatile organic compounds (VOCs) per load. Many of these are classified as hazardous air pollutants. This can negatively impact both indoor and outdoor air quality.
- Clean out your washer regularly. You can add white vinegar to the hot water cycle between laundry days.
Choose Organic Eco Friendly Products
In conclusion, the simplest solution is to switch to non-toxic, biodegradable, plant-based detergents and cleaning products. There are so many great choices for organic, green and eco-friendly products now on the market. You may wish to favor fragrance-free products since strongly scented natural products in any category can still leave residues and odors that might cause allergic reactions in sensitive users. As with all natural products the safest option is to choose certified organic for your family’s health and the planet.