Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Funked Up Facts About Laundry Detergents

Good green laundry aids are the exception, not the rule.
Most commercial laundry detergents, softeners, and dryer sheets contain a lovely cocktail of synthetic chemicals that can be harmful to your health. For now, I'm just going to introduce you to those chemicals that make mind-blowing "clean" scents and "gentle" unscents. Say hello to:
  • Phthalates ("fragrance")  are a family of chemicals that disrupt the endocrine system, the system that produces our hormones and controls our reproductive systems. Phthalates can cause a laundry list-- pardon the pun-- of health problems including obesity, diabetes, cancer, and reduced sperm count. (More info.)
  • Phenols are neurotoxins used to cover smells, including the gross smells of the other chemicals that are in cleaning products. They attack the central nervous system, heart, blood vessels, lungs, and kidneys. Guess what: They're in lots of "unscented" cleaning products too!  (More info.)
Phthalates and phenols are absorbed through our skin and inhaled. We inhale these chemicals when laundering with products containing them, when doing laundry in a place where someone else is doing laundry with products containing them, or simply walking down the detergent aisle in the store. Our skin absorbs chemicals when wearing clothes that have been laundered with them. As our individual actions don't exist in a bubble, we encounter phthalates and phenols again when we eat food or animals grown and raised in our polluted environment and when we drink and shower in contaminated water.

To say this is funked up, would be an understatement. That's why it's so important to decide to not to be powerless. Here are a few things you can do:
  1. Limit your exposure to toxic chemicals by choosing natural products as often as possible. SafeMama has a lovely cheat sheet that can make it easier to make healthier consumer choices in the laundry aisle.
  2. If green detergent is too pricey, still invest in green detergent but do laundry less frequently. If you shower, use a good deodorant (I like vodka), and air your clothes out between wears, you'd be surprised how long you can go without washing, especially skirts.
  3. If you need to save more money, powdered detergent is usually less expensive. Bonus: it comes in eco-friendlier cardboard packaging! I also hear great things about soap nuts.
  4. Spread the word. Share this blog post using the buttons below. Be a helpful, smart eco-fairy at the laundromat and in the supermarket. Don't feel like an ass. You're helping people!
  5. Reach out to the folks in government who represent you. Plastic Albatross has lots of helpful links to assist you in asking for policy reform. 
Olivia Lane is a Blogger, Green Living Educator, and Health Coach trained at The Institute for Integrative Nutrition. She's also author of Baking Soda & Bliss: The Healthy & Happy Guide to Green Cleaning 

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