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Laundry. Ahhhh, the sweet smell of lavender fields, mountain breeze, botanical rain… benzophenone, formaldehyde, acetaldehyde… wait, what?
Have you ever stopped to consider what is behind that “botanical rain” scent that radiates out of the laundry detergent aisle in your favorite local grocery store (or even considered what the heck botanical rain is and what it would actually smell like if you ever discovered it in nature)? The scary truth of the state of affairs in the United States is that the term “fragrance” is completely unregulated. The FDA requires most companies to disclose their product ingredients on the packaging to help consumers make informed decisions about their purchases. But, in order to “preserve trade secrets,” the term fragrance is free to house innumerable toxic chemicals, solvents, and allergens without being explicitly disclosed. These sneaky ingredients have been linked to adverse health outcomes such as cancer, reproductive toxicity, allergies, and other sensitivities.
However, it’s hard to imagine doing laundry without that tell-tale “laundry” scent that our families know and love, or the silky softness that comes from all of the other fillers in our detergents, fabric softeners, and dryer sheets. In fact, this is the one area I receive the most pushback about when I’m working with a family to ditch the toxic products in their house (second only to scented candles… but more on that later).
Is it really that important?
Laundry is such an important area to work on eliminating toxins from because what goes into our laundry, stays on our clothes. What stays on our clothes, stays on our skin. What stays on our skin very frequently ends up in our bloodstream, affecting the health of our internal systems, hormone production, and organ function.
So, is there a way to develop a laundry routine that meets us in the middle? Or are we doomed to a life of damp-smelling, stiff clothes without the aid of the harmful softeners and fragrances that dominate the mainstream laundry industry?
Lucky for you all, I have been down the road of switching to safer ways to clean our clothes, and I have made *many* of the mistakes so you don’t have to!
Here are my tips for creating a clean laundry routine that doesn’t stink!
Step 1: It starts with detergent...
One of the best things you can do is choose a safer detergent. One simple way to do this is to find one marked “free and clear.” You can check the ingredients, but usually this means that one of the biggest toxic offenders is absent from this detergent: fragrance.
However, not all “free and clear” detergents are the same. Some companies have latched on to the trend that our society is seeking cleaner ingredients more and more, but instead of doing the work to truly create a safe product, they “greenwash” their products through marketing, packaging, and flashy language. Even many of the detergents marketed to parents as “newborn safe” are full of ingredients that we would readily avoid if we knew better.
I encourage you to check out EWG.org and check the rating of your chosen detergent there. My typical method in all things is to find a brand that I can trust, and become a loyal customer (this takes the guess work out of it, and supports companies that are putting quality products on the shelves.). Some really great brands to explore are Blur, Seventh Generation, Norwex, and Biokleen. Not all formulations from these brands get great ratings on EWG, but it’s worth it to start there!
The detergent I’ve been using lately is Blur. Blur Laundry is a small, home-based company committed to producing laundry products that are safe for our bodies and the environment. In addition to being run by an FSU Alum (woo!), Blur is a company I respect because they go above and beyond to maintain sustainable practices from their product formulation, all the way to their shipping materials. This is certainly more than I can say for many companies– even the cleaner brands on the shelves. If you’re interested in trying them out, use this referral link to receive $5 off!
Step 2: Get Rid of the Fabric Softeners
Before you start on the journey to cleaner living, the use of fabric softeners is unquestionable to most people. Make my clothes smell better, feel softer, reduce static cling, and protect the colors…? Sign me up! But the problem is that these fabric softeners are loaded with more of those unregulated chemicals that end up doing more harm than good to our clothes and our health…
The most common offenders in fabric softeners are “quats,” fragrance, and “preservatives and colors”– which falls in a similar category of fragrance in that this phrase can account for any number of chemicals without being explicitly disclosed. These offenders are often endocrine disrupting, toxic to our reproductive health, cancer-causing, and allergic-reaction-inducing. If you’re interested in reading more, check out this article by EWG.org
I know, I know, you’re probably wondering how we can have a laundry routine that DOESN’T stink without the fabric softener… Plus, won’t our clothes come out stiff and uncomfortable?
This is my most favorite laundry hack of all and I’m so excited to share it with you because it’s so easy… Are you ready?
I make my own fabric softener.
Before you shut this post down thinking I’m another one of those over-achieving DIY moms who impossibly makes everything her family uses… Let me tell you what I mean by, “I make my own.”
First, I take white vinegar… I pour it in the fabric softener section of my washer… and that’s it.
By “I make it,” I mean, “I make white vinegar act as my fabric softener.” You can add a drop or two of high-quality therapeutic grade essential oils if you want to really overachieve in this step, but really the vinegar on its own will do.
In response to all you naysayers, I will take a page out of my mother’s book and say “Don’t knock it ’till you try it.” Seriously. Your laundry WILL NOT smell like vinegar. It certainly is a different outcome than the toxic fabric softeners, but it is a nice compromise with the benefit of preserving the health of my family and myself.
Step 3: Ditch the dryer sheets.
The final step in our routine often prompts one of the most annoying issues with choosing cleaner laundry products. Static cling. To avoid static cling, and give an extra zing of “smelly-good,” the final step in our routine typically includes pulling out a wax-lined sheet to throw in the dryer with our clothes.
This seemingly harmless step re-introduces many of the same offenders present in the fabric softener we tackled in step 2. Instead of liquid form, these chemicals come disguised in a heat-activated sheet that coincidentally not only harms our bodies, but the environment too.
Instead, grab a set of 100% wool dryer balls from your favorite sustainable company. The wool and its natural lanolin are effective in softening your laundry and reducing static cling. My favorite wool balls came in my starter set with Blur Laundry. Order yours here and receive $5 off!
Ultimately, switching laundry is one of the most challenging steps to reducing toxins because the laundry industry has drawn us in with catchy marketing, and created expectations that our clothes should smell like botanical rain (again, what??) when they come out of the dryer.
In reality, though, compared to the health benefits of eliminating these toxins, the inconvenience of our laundry feeling and smelling different is a small price to pay. Because our clothes stay on our largest organ all day, it’s really imperative that we don’t have harmful chemicals lingering within them. At the end of the day taking these three steps won’t guarantee you botanical rain, but it will soften (see what I did there) the switch for you and your family and help your family enjoy the safer, cleaner life just a little more.