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Poison - Chemicals in our Laundry Detergents

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Poison. Not something we usually think about, but when it comes to household cleaning products, you really should be thinking about poisons. Your typical cleaning supplies, including laundry detergent, are full of nasty chemicals, most of which are extremely toxic and harmful to our bodies and the environment. These chemicals can be transferred to our skin (our largest organ) from our clothes and then absorbed into our body. Household chemicals have been linked to cancer, liver and kidney dysfunction, and neurological issues.

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Let’s Talk Chemicals

The list of chemicals on your jug of detergent is often pretty vague. If you look at the ingredients, you’ll probably just see a list of things like “cleaning agents”, “fragrance”, “buffering agent”, etc. According to a comprehensive list found on Dr. Mercola’s website, these are some of the most common ingredients found in laundry detergent:

  • Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) – Chemical foaming agent known as a surfactant. Studies have linked use of this chemical to a variety of health issues from skin irritation to organ toxicity.
  • Dioxane (1,4-dioxane) – The majority of top laundry detergent brands contain this synthetic petrochemical known as a carcinogen. This is a by-product contaminant of the manufacturing process and is not required to be listed on product labels.
  • Linear Alky Benzene Sulfonates (LAS) – Synthetic petrochemicals that biodegrade slowly making them an environmental hazard. Benzene may cause cancer in humans and animals.
  • Nonylphenol Ethoxylate (NPE) – Petrochemical surfactant banned in the EU and Canada. May cause liver and kidney damage. Biodegradable, but biodegrades into more toxic substances.
  • Petroleum distillates (aka napthas) – Derived from synthetic crude oil, linked to cancer, lung and mucous membrane damage.
  • Phenols – Can cause toxicity throughout the entire body.
  • Optical brighteners – Can be toxic to fish and cause allergic reactions in humans.
  • Artificial fragrances – Linked to various toxic effects on fish and mammals, and can cause allergies, skin and eye irritation to humans.
  • Phosphates – Used to prevent dirt from settling back into clothes after being washed. Can stimulate growth of marine plants that trigger unbalanced ecosystems.
  • Ethylene diamine tetraacetic acid (EDTA) – Group of compounds used as an alternative to phosphates. Found to cause reproductive and developmental effects in lab animals and does not readily biodegrade.
  • Sodium Hypochlorite (household bleach) – Chemical precursor to chlorine, which is extremely toxic. Skin contact can produce caustic irritation or burns. Mixing with other cleaning products can create hazardous fumes.

Ewwww! And here we are letting these chemical residues touch our largest organ and get sucked into our body! OK. Time for that to stop!

Let’s Talk About Eliminating Chemicals

Tropical Tradtions' Powdered Laundry Detergent - Chemical FreeOne of my goals for 2012 is to work more on reducing my chemical exposure. Switching to a better laundry detergent is a great place to start. So, I decided to give Tropical Traditions’ powdered laundry detergent and oxygen bleach a try. They have a short ingredient lists.

Tropical Traditions’ Powdered Laundry Detergent Ingredients:

Soda ash – This is sodium carbonate or washing soda. It’s a sodium salt of carbonic acid and is most often used as a water softener. It can be naturally extracted from the ashes of plants, or synthetically produced from salt and limestone.

Sodium percarbonate – This is a colorless, crystalline, water-soluble chemical,  that is often used in eco-friendly cleaning products. It’s typically made from a reaction of sodium carbonate and hydrogen peroxide. After the chemical reaction, it is crystallized.

Tropical Tradtions' Oxygen Bleach - Chemical Free

Mild surfactants – A natural cleaning agent, created from coconut or palm kernel oil. Very mild on the skin, while helping get clothes clean.

Tropical Traditions’ Oxygen Bleach Ingredients contains soda ash and sodium percarbonate. That’s it. Nothing more.

What I found interesting is the oxygen bleach can be used for more than jsut laundry. You can use it in the kitchen, bathroom, yard, and througout your house! You can check out its many handy household uses here.

Getting Down to the Nitty Gritty – The Stain Test

I used both products on my regular laundry and I was quite pleased with the results. Everything came out clean and fresh. In order to really test the power of the product, I decided to do a stain test. I took an old 100% cotton t-shirt and cut it up into pieces to stain. I used red wine, ketchup and mustard, chocolate, and oil on the pieces. These are all foods that stain easily and can be quite tough to remove if you’re not careful.

chemical free detergent and oxygen bleach - reduce use of chemicals

From left to right: ketchup/mustard, red wine, chocolate, and oil. Getting ready for a stain test!

After the food had dried on the cloth, I pre-treated the pieces of cloth with the oxygen bleach by soaking the items in a hot water/oxygen bleach solution for 1 hour. Then, I laundered the fabric on the hot water cycle with the laundry detergent and a little sprinkle of oxygen bleach. Here are the results. The red wine and oil were completely removed. The ketchup and mustard were almost completely removed, but there was just a tiny hint of stain left. The chocolate was mostly gone as well, but still had a yellowish stain left.

Chemical Free Detergent stain test

Each piece after the first pre-treat and wash. From left to right: ketchup/mustard, red wine, chocolate, and oil.

I decided to treat the cloths again by soaking them in the hot water/oxygen bleach solution overnight. Then, I laundered again. Everything was sparkling white, except for the chocolate stained garment, which has a very, very faint yellow stain on it still. The lesson here? If you spill chocolate on your clothes, make sure you treat that stain right away! (or, just always wear brown cloths 🙂

After the stain test - chemical free detergent and oxygen bleach

After the second treatment and launder. From left to right: ketchup/mustard, red wine, chocolate, and oil

All in all, I am quite pleased with the products and I will continue using them. I’m excited that there is a product that works and is safe for our body and environment. Now, it’s your turn! Want to try some chemical-free powdered laundry detergent and oxygen bleach of your own? Just enter below for your chance to win!

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