Secrets Revealed: We’re Airing Out Your Dirty Laundry!

by Ron & Lisa Beres on July 28, 2011 · 13 comments

Secrets Revealed We’re Airing Out Your Dirty Laundry copy

It is time to get dirty! We are dishing the dirt on your laundry and Ron and I are determined to help you clean up your act! If you are unaware of the potential dangers hiding behind those brightly colored laundry boxes, masquerading summer breeze scents and whiteners & brighteners that are potentially harming your health, then chances are you have been living under a pile of dirty laundry.

Someone once used the reference of a supermodel to me. The supermodel may appear physically beautiful on the outside, but may be dying on the inside; taking drugs, starving her body and smoking like a chimney. In some ways, our desire for cleanliness might not be that different. Sure, we all want the physical appearance of looking the best we can. But, do we ever consider that there might be a cost to this outer quest for perfection? It’s not your fault. The model chooses to damage her body in attempt to please the industry’s desire for waify, emaciated and deathly skinny mannequins on which to hang their clothes. But you, on the other hand, might not be making dangerous choices knowingly. Your day to day purchases may in fact, be harming your health. But, taking a sample of your favorite laundry product to the nearest laboratory for testing is not exactly finding its way to the top of your Thursday To-Do List.

We get it. And that is exactly why we are writing this post. In fact, it is the intention of both this blog and of our book, Just GREEN It! Simple Swaps to Save the Planet and Your Health. We realize you don’t have time to do all of the research, so we did it for you; creating a shopping guide that visually compares brand names, side-by-side. And yes, we name names.

To begin, we need to face the dirty truth. Let’s start with the basics – chlorine bleach. Most likely this is a staple in your laundry room. But, are you aware that chlorine -otherwise known as sodium hypochlorite, hypochlorite, hydrogen chloride, or hydrochloric acid—is a respiratory irritant, which can aggravate asthma, emphysema, or chronic bronchitis, and can be fatal when inhaled? Or that chlorine and ammonia (found in many window, floor and jewelry cleaning products), when combined, form a deadly, lung damaging gas—chloramine gas. Exposure to this causes irritation to the eyes, nose, throat, and airways. Symptoms include teary eyes, runny nose, sore throat, coughing, and chest congestion. Hmm, not quite seeing the beauty in this picture yet.

Alas, then came chlorine-free bleach thanks to companies like Ecover, who offer a Non Chlorine Bleach. Or, my personal fave, Earth Friendly, the makers of OXO BRITE whose non-chlorine bleach utilizes oxygen to whiten, brighten and deodorize your laundry and fabrics, is safe for colors and is fragrance-free!

Laundry problems solved! Uh, not so fast. Unfortunately, we have only addressed one of laundry’s dirty secrets. Many manufacturers still greenwash their products by touting ‘phosphate-free.’ Sounds healthy, right? In fact, phosphates have already been phased out of laundry detergents and are mainly a concern when it comes to dishwashing detergents. However other laundry chemicals are a cause for concern, especially nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs). NPEs are surfactants which help other ingredients penetrate dirt and grime, but unfortunately belong to a group of hormone-disrupting compounds called alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEs). Nonylphenol ethoxylates are recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as toxic to aquatic plants and animals. You do have choices and you’ll want to look for manufacturers that use natural, plant based surfactants. I personally love Ecos concentrated detergent which is made with plant based surfactants. It has a built-in soy based fabric softener and cellulose based, versus as synthetic or petroleum optical brightener. It’s nontoxic, biodegradable, and safe for the environment! By now, you’ve heard me tout that your skin is your largest organ and it absorbs everything on it – including fragrances. What’s great about Earth Friendly’s Ecos, is you don’t have to sacrifice great smells because they use natural, essential oils for scents including Magnolia & Lilies, Lavender and Lemongrass (the sound of those makes me want to throw a load in right now)! Or, for those with strong sensitivities to fragrance, then you can opt for their Free & Clear version which can be used in grey water systems and is septic system safe. Other options include Trader Joe’s detergent which contains zero chlorine bleach, uses a cellulose optical brightener and is 100% biodegradable. Or, Safeway’s new Bright Green line which uses biodegradable surfactants, is septic-safe, and is never tested on animals.

To unveil more dirt stay tuned because we are revealing the laundry blacklist in our follow up post, Dirty Secrets Revealed: We’re Dishing on Laundry! Part II. We are, of course, naming names and revealing safer solutions!

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Christine August 3, 2011 at 3:46 pm

I use the Oxy Brite whitener and really like it. For really bad stains (we participate in clothing swaps and sometimes things come with stains) I soak things in a bucket overnight with Oxy Bright and have had great results. Not always miracle results with well set stains mind you, but always very pleasing results.

I also use soap nuts in my wash, but I still need something like Oxy Brite for whites. Soap nuts do double duty as a softener as well.

Whenever possible we air dry our clothes outdoors or in inclement weather overnight on a drying rack. I refuse to live in a home with an HOA telling me I can’t hang my clothes out to dry!

Doing frequent loads and checking the size of the laundry pile as part of our daily routine helps so much. Every one in the family is responsible for making sure laundry is done, so it is nice that this chore is never a problem in our home! Stains also have less time to set and ruin our clothes with this system.

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Ron & Lisa August 3, 2011 at 3:49 pm

Thanks for sharing your feedback Christine! I love hearing the details of how your family works together as a unit to not only stay on top of the laundry, but that everyone is on board in making sure it is done with health as a priority! The indoor drying rack is a great suggestion and comes in handy for those who are unable to hang dry their clothes outdoors due to weather or even space. We have some great info on the benefits of hang drying – even if it’s only occasionally- in our next post!
Great reminder about the clothes swap! These seem to be gaining in popularity and it’s never to late for others to start one in their own neighbohood if one does not already exist. One man’s trash is indeed another man’s treasure!

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Charise August 5, 2011 at 8:45 am

Hi Ron and Lisa,

Thanks for the great info. I was wondering if Trader Joe’s laundry detergent was safe or not. It is a little more affordable for a family of 6, than ECOS but I don’t want anything unnatural! Thanks so much!

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Ron & Lisa Beres August 5, 2011 at 1:35 pm

Hello Charise,
Good question. Trader Joes Liquid Laundry detergent is a healthy option as it doesn’t contain any harsh or petrochemicals. However, it is important to note that even though it may appear more cost effective to purchase, that is not necessarily the case. For example, the Trader Joes liquid detergent requires 2 full ounces to complete a full load of laundry. By comparison, ECOS from Earth Friendly Products, cleans a full laundry load with only 1.5 ounces. With these concentrated formulas becoming more readily available, our advice is to always be sure you are comparing apples to apples :) Ecos laundry detergent is very transparent about what their products contain. They provides MSDS sheets for all of their items which is one reason we prefer this brand (and they earned the honor of being the top-selling green detergent in the world in 2009). At the end of the day, it is a personal choice and you are clearly taking the right steps by doing your research to make the healthiest choices for your family!

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Lauren August 25, 2011 at 1:45 pm

I get so tired of doing laundry in my apartment building after people who use the nastiest chemically, overly fragranced laundry soaps. Thank you for this post! We should take care of our clothes, because they sit on our skin and our skin absorbs a lot of the chemicals that touch it! All the more reason to be greener :)

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Ron & Lisa August 25, 2011 at 2:34 pm

Hi Lauren,
Thanks for your comment. Yes, that is a great point. This can be a real concern for people in shared spaces such as apartment buildings. Perhaps you could post a notice or ask your apartment manager to consider making it a fragrance-free zone (becoming very popular in workplaces because of those with allergies, asthma, environmental illness & MCS). It is true that, not only do the chemicals get into our bodies, but into the air we breathe and our precious waterways. Many of the chemicals are toxic to aquatic plants & wildlife. Everything coms full circle and we all need to be more cognizant of the long-term consequences of the choices we make in terms of the products we purchase and trust. It sounds like you would be a great voice for change in your community! Best of luck and keep us posted :)

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Kim September 7, 2013 at 4:55 am

Laundry is never much fun but at least I feel better knowing I am using safe products! I always wash with Ava Anderson Laundry soap and I aadd a 1/2 cup of vinegar. Besides being non toxic, my clothes are super clean, my whites are white, and smell great (without toxic fragrance).

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