Does your freshly washed laundry smell like a “spring meadow?” Surprise — that scent that fills your home and sticks around on your clothes is actually composed of any number of toxic chemicals.
Researchers have found that the laundry room might actually be one of the more polluted areas of the home. Scented dryer sheets and detergents can give off as many as 25 volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including seven which have been named as “hazardous air pollutants.” Due to the everyday use of these types of substances, the Environmental Protection Agency reports that the air inside of homes is often five times more polluted or contaminated than the air directly outside.
This is a pretty good reason to think again when you are considering buying that detergent with the fresh scent that “lasts for 24 hours.”
Chemicals end up on our skin
We consider scent to be pretty innocuous. But, in fact, a lingering perfume indicates molecules are sticking around in the water and on our clothes. The chemicals and softeners are designed to degrade as slowly as possible so that the scent and the soft feeling remains for a longer time. However, these chemicals end up polluting aquatic environments and staying on our skin.
As the desire for daily convenience has increased, marketers have responded to this demand by creating ever-easier ways to complete a load of laundry. However, the average person is completely unaware that the contents of their convenient laundry washing detergent are highly toxic to children.
Manufacturers are not required to divulge all of the ingredients in products such as laundry detergent. And even if they do, a single word like “fragrance” can be a catch-all for hundreds of unregulated substances.
Companies use chemicals first, test them later
Government regulatory agencies require only a fraction of the chemicals used in consumer products to be tested. They are generally allowed into the market until harmful effects are discovered through widespread use. In the U.S., the Toxic Substances Control Act was passed in 1976, which is eons ago in the world of chemistry and manufacturing.
Many of these chemicals, such as ethyl acetate, petroleum distillates and nonylphenol ethoxylate have been connected with devastating and dangerous effects to both human health and the natural environment. A 2008 study found that of all the top selling laundry detergent brands tested, each contained at least one ingredient considered hazardous under federal law. None of these ingredients was listed on the label. Additionally, the study didn’t disclose which brands were tested.
The risks of ‘natural’ detergent
One of the most worrisome offenders is 1,4-dioxane. It was found in higher concentrations in a version of a popular detergent marketed as “natural” and safer for newborns and babies rather than in the regular version. Major health and environmental campaigns continue to urge manufacturers to change their formulations.
The potential health risks include reproductive and developmental effects, hormone and immune disruption, organ damage and increased likelihood of cancers and tumors.
We come into direct contact with these chemicals via our skin when we are doing laundry and wearing the clothes that have been soaked in these substances. We also inhale them into our lungs during the washing process and afterward. The water that washes down the drain affects waterways, with reports pointing out that even a tiny concentration of laundry chemicals can cause fish to absorb more chemicals into their flesh (which we end up eating!). These products are directly affecting our food supply and the health of our planet.
Homemade detergent is better for you and the planet
The good news is, it’s easy to avoid all of these risky substances with simple at-home solutions. You will probably end up saving some money, too, which never hurts! Most store-bought soaps will cost about 20 to 25 cents per load of laundry. On the other hand, homemade solutions can cost as little as three cents per load.
Using simple natural ingredients, such as soap nuts, may be all you need for getting your clothes clean. However, if you’re more comfortable using a powdered or liquid form of laundry soap, we have collected some easy recipes to make your own at home.
Homemade liquid laundry soap
If you are more comfortable using liquid laundry soap, use the following recipe instead. It is a little bit more labor intensive than making powdered soap, but about 20 minutes of work will allow you to make five gallons worth. This should be enough to last a few months for even large families.
You can even go the next step in convenience and make your own all-in-one laundry pods. These pods should wash, remove stains, reduce static and soften clothing all at once.
DIY dryer sheets
You can even make your own dryer sheets!
Next time you are folding the laundry, you can inhale that fresh scent knowing it’s all-natural and safe for not just the entire family, but the planet as well.