Every laundry product you use – detergent, softeners, bleach, everything – leaves a residue on your clothing. It’s how most of them get that smell of lavender, citrus, or a scent best described as “clean” to stick. The problem is that the residue left by these conventional products are made with chemicals that aren’t good for the body or the environment. Naturally, if you’re smelling it, you’re inhaling it, too, and the chemicals can also get into your bloodstream through the skin and eyes.
Using natural laundry products instead will get rid of this chemical residue, and do so much more for your health. Even if you don’t react to the switch immediately, you’ll feel the effects later in life!
What’s In Your Laundry?
We’re not entirely sure of every ingredient in common laundry products, because loopholes in our labelling laws allow manufacturers to cover up chemicals that create fragrances. Once used to appease perfumists, these laws let companies cover up synthetic chemicals used for fragrances. These “trade secrets” cover up the chemicals that can cause side effects ranging from skin and eye irritation to endocrine disruption.
But as they say, knowledge is power, and knowing what’s in your detergents and other laundry products is something that should be your right! Here are some of the common chemically or synthetically-derived ingredients you might be wearing right now:
Phenols are a class of chemicals that are considered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to be “quite toxic to humans via oral exposure.” It can irritate the eyes, skin, and mucous membranes, and is fairly toxic to your overall system. It’s known to be a hormone disruptor in large doses, preventing your endocrine system from sending out necessary hormones in proper amounts.
Sodium hypochlorite, or chlorine-based bleach, is a common household cleaner, but it’s also a common known irritant. If you want a reminder, just look back to when you were a kid and you opened your eyes underwater at the pool – you’re rubbing your eyes thinking about it, aren’t you?
Optical brighteners are newer in the world of cleaning, and they’re added to restore the look of white in clothing. Think back to just about every detergent commercial in the last decade or two: those bright whites that come out of the washing tub are achieved thanks to these chemicals tricking the eye into seeing a cleaner white. Studies have shown that these brighteners are incredibly bad for the environment, and can exacerbate allergic reactions in people; they’re also known to contain benzene, a known carcinogen.
Artificial fragrances, those little secret ingredients, are usually made from petroleum distillates, and can irritate the skin, eyes, and nose. Even if you don’t know what’s in them, and might not know anytime soon, you can feel a difference when switching to a product with scents derived from natural ingredients, like essential oils.
Phosphates are used to remove minerals found in hard water and to prevent dirt from settling back into the clothing. They might not have any immediate or long-term effects on your body, but when they get into the environment, they can seriously disrupt it, stimulating the growth of marine plants, like algae, and letting them overrun ecosystems.
Why You Should Cut These Chemicals Out of Laundry Day
The biggest reason to switch to natural laundry products is because it will impact your body. You’ll probably feel some immediate effects: if you have even mildly sensitive skin, going with a powder or detergent made with natural ingredients like coconut oil and baking soda will help right away. No more itching, rashing, eczema, and other irritations that you might not know to be caused by your laundry products.
The secondary effects will be felt in the long term: you’ll be helping your body’s various systems do their jobs without interruption. As mentioned above, the benzene in optical brighteners is a carcinogen, but it doesn’t cause cell mutations overnight – it’s a build-up in the system that can really cause damage in the long run. By removing the chemicals with which you’d come into contact, you can lower the chemical load and let your body detoxify naturally.
Another less personal reason is that these chemicals can harm the environment. Many, if not most, of the chemicals used in conventional detergents are not biodegradable, so when they get rinsed out of your machine, they can get into local waterways and stay there for a long time. They then get into the food chain, harming wildlife and the ecosystem as a whole. While you might not ever feel these effects, your children and grandchildren might.