June 20, 2012

My Clean, Natural and Green Laundry Routine


Until a few years ago, I just bought whatever laundry products were on sale.  I didn't know and didn't much care what was in them.  After all, most of our parents used those products, and we're alright, right?

And then my infant son started breaking out in rashes and we couldn't figure out why.  We spent some time trying different dietary changes to find out what the problem was.  And then I decided to try a natural laundry soap.  One by one, I threw out my stain remover, my fabric softener, and my dryer sheets.  His rashes stopped, completely.  I was skeptical.  Could it really be the laundry products? And then some friends came to visit and my baby boy sat on their lap.  Within hours, the rashes we hadn't seen in weeks had returned.

I began reading more and more about what is in our household products and much of what I found was disturbing. Like that many "gentle" baby products are actually more toxic that their grown-up counterparts!  And that fabric softener can be one of the most dangerous products in our homes!  Yikes!

So it took some trial and error, but I now have a laundry routine that I consider safe enough for my family, but also effective enough to clean our clothing!

Stain Remover.  A while back, for fun, I tried a bunch of different homemade stain remover recipes and compared them.  But to be honest, most of the time I just rub a little bit of baking soda into a small stain before throwing it in the laundry heap. 

Laundry Detergent:  I buy natureclean's 3X concentrated Laundry Liquid.   I normally buy the unscented, but my husband recently got the citrus blossom scent and it smells fabulous.  It is more expensive than ordinary detergents, but it's highly concentrated so a small bottle goes a long way.  And it gets our clothes clean without any chemicals that I am uncomfortable with.  Be aware that many products that are labelled "green", "natural" or "gentle" are as bad or even sometimes worse than ordinary products.  You can look up many of the ingredients in your household products, and even find a safety rating for them at the Skin Deep Database.


Why I don't just make my own laundry detergent:
I know that many of you make your own laundry detergent, and if that works for you then that is a great way to save some money.  I did look into making my own laundry detergent, but many recipes included Borax, which I personally don't consider safe enough for household use. (Here's the Skin Deep data sheet on Borax.  Notice it says "not safe for use on infant skin") 
I tried making laundry detergent without borax but found a) it didn't get our clothes very clean, b) The grated bar soap I used left a film on the clothing and c) it caused our clothing to show a noticeable amount of extra wear and tear.
Whiter Whites: I've shared before about how I use the juice of a fresh lemon and the whitening power of the sun to keep my whites bright.

 
Fluffier  Towels: A large splash of vinegar in the rinse cycle will help remove any leftover detergent from your towels, leaving them fluffier and more absorbent.  This is useful for cloth diapers as well. And no, your towels won't smell like vinegar. 

Disinfect Dishcloths: I add 4-5 drops of tea tree oil to hot wash water when washing dishcloths to help to disinfect them.  Tea tree oil (also called melaleuca oil) has anti-bacterial qualities and is probably available on the shelves of your local pharmacy. I could write a whole post on household uses for tea tree oil, and probably one day will.  I love the stuff!

For Particularly Dirty Clothes:  My husband's job has him coming home occasionally covered in things like drywall dust or pond water.  When his work clothes need an extra deep clean I add a scoop of washing soda to the load. I keep it in a pretty wide mouth cookie canister behind my washing machine.

Washing soda is different from baking soda and can be found in the laundry aisle of many grocery stores.

Dryer Balls:  Wool dryer balls are a great alternative to dryer sheets.  They help to reduce static in your dryer and also decrease drying times.  I have a tutorial on how to make your own wool dryer balls, or you can buy them from Etsy or Amazon.


Line Drying: I know that some of you live in communities where line drying is  frowned upon or even prohibited by a by-law (and I'll save you the big hippy rant that's going through my head right now). But if you can, hanging your clothing to dry is not only a free way to dry your clothing, it also makes your laundry smell fabulous and takes advantage of the sanitizing qualities of the sun.  I get all giddy in the spring time when it is finally warm enough to hang my clothes outside to dry! And my whole family loves fresh-smelling line dried sheets!


That is how we manage to have fresh, clean laundry using only ingredients we are comfortable with.  Even if it does spend half it's life waiting to get folded and put away....


Thanks so much for visiting The Complete  Guide to Imperfect Homemaking!

49 comments:

  1. I'm definitely going to try your wool dryer ball tutorial and your dish cloth trick! I've been using vinegar in place of fabric softener for years - it works really well and couldn't be cheaper! Only once have I smelled it on my clothes - of course it was win I was trying to convince my friend to give it a try and that day I smelled like a pickle :(

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  2. Can't wait to learn more about tea tree oil from you. Thanks for this post!

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  3. Fabulous! Thanks for the tips!

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  4. I wish I had our own laundry room! We live in an apartment building so we share a laundry mat with other tenants...

    I also LOVE tea tree oil! I used to get a rash wearing closed toe dress shoes so I'd rub some oil on my feet before wearing and no more rash! We also use it for bug bites, cuts/scrapes, in our shampoo... love that stuff!

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  5. This is an awesome post! I'm so excited to try doing my laundry more 'green' now that I've learnt a bit more about how to be successful. Thanks so much for sharing!

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  6. Great post, thanks for sharing your dirty laundry, baahaahaa. Have to share...growing up, the old, polish, farm woman across the road used her clothesline spring, summer, fall and winter.

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    1. I'm curious, Lori: Where was that, geographically? I've heard of people line drying in winter, but it sounds crazy to me. How do clothes dry when it's 40 below? Don't they just freeze immediately?

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    2. I live in Pennsylvania and I can usually line dry most of the winter. If it's around freezing, it will "freeze dry" (that's what my mom calls it). Usually there is a breeze blowing and that will help to dry it. It does take a little longer but it's possible!

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    3. I hear that Alberta farm kids entertain themselves on laundry duty by standing frozen jeans up in the snow. I know my mother whacked our frozen prefold diapers on the porch railing to get the ice out as they came off the line. She said they'd be damp but dry fully once in the house. And I l.o.v.e the smell of winter laundry to this day!

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  7. We use tea tree oil for our dishcloths too - makes a huge difference (and gives me peace of mind!)

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  8. I use vinegar in place of fabric softener in the rinse cycle. My clothes and towels are soft and smell cleaner. I think it keeps the washer cleaner too. No stinky drain line!

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  9. PS I love you. We actually use a wash ball instead of any detergent because of severe environmental allergies in one of my kids but I would be interested to see if THIS she could use, unscented of course. (She's the kind that can't use even the hippiest of shampoos either, we just go with baking soda and vinegar these days) Thanks for this! I am going to try to find that soap!!

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  10. Haha, love the last pic! I also use nature clean detergent,but I prefer the powder.It seems to get the clothes cleaner,and I always use way less than the recomended amount.

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  11. Thanks for this post-- what great ideas! It also makes me so happy that you struggle with folding/putting away laundry also. Thanks for keepin' it real! Have a good week!

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  12. I know that is a white dish with lemons even though it looks like styrofoam!!!....love your site.

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  13. I love hanging clothes on the line. I love the lemon idea, and the washing soda. I will look for that. Thanks for the tips! I'm a new follower. :-)

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  14. Line drying prohibited? Where in the world and why?
    Thanks for the interesting post. 'mstill hunting down wash soda. Have tried the wash balls as well, but they didn't work that well. Enviro-friendly detergent is not available in all supermarkets here, so in the meantime I switched to those not containing bio-enzymes.

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  15. Thanks for these awesome tips! I just ran out of store bought laundry detergent and was going to try my hand at homemade but like you said, most contain Borax and I didn't realize it wasn't good for infant skin. Looking forward to implementing these techniques!

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  16. The thing I don't get about line drying is when I do it everything comes in super crunchy! I HATE crunchy underwear! Incidently, We lived in the UK for a while where line drying is the norm and in the winter or when it's raining (which is often) clothes are often draped all over people's houses, on the heaters, in airing cupboards, and on racks.

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    1. Hi Carrie! I hate crunchy underwear too! The crunchiness is due to soap residue in the clothing...try adding a quarter cup of vinegar to your rinse water. Also, try using less detergent. Often the suggested detergent amounts are more than we actually need. :)

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  17. We use a product called Soap Nuts (if you google that you'll find plenty of info) for our laundry detergent, and have found it a safe, affordable option. Both my son and husband have extremely sensitive skin, so this natural alternative has been great for us. I need to try the vinegar for towels and the wool dryer ball and tea tree oil for dish rags. Great suggestions...thank you :)

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  18. Thanks for all your hints for doing laundry. I am in the process (slowly) to start making my own laundry helpers. I LOVE to hang out laundry. I have been hanging laundry outside to dry since I was a little girl (50+yrs). I do have one hint. I try to hang most of my laundry on the close line inside out. I have done this because one time I put a sleeper on my tiny baby girl and there was a wasp in the leg of the sleeper. My poor baby was stung many times before my husband ripped the sleeper off of her. Luckily she was not allergic to the sting's but we were really scared. Now when I bring laundry into the house to fold I have to turn everything right side out so all the bee's, wasp or other insects fly out.

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    1. That is a really great tip, Renea. I hadn't thought of that. Thanks!

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  19. We use Soap Nuts also. I buy the largest bag from Naturoli.com and it lasts a family of 5 over a year to empty it.
    I was skeptical that it wouldn't get out stains but I just pre-treat as usual and it works. I even use it for my husband's dairy farm clothes!

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  20. I am new to your blog and I just love it! Thank you for sharing with us.:)

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  21. Thank you so much for this great post! It is a relief to have a suggestion for a laundry detergent that doesn't involve making my own. I aspire to as neat and pretty a laundry space as yours! And like everyone else, anxiously awaiting a tea tree oil post.

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  22. Thanks for the tips! I appreciate your approach and respect your choices, but I'm concerned that you're giving your readers incomplete information about Borax safety. Borax isn't meant to be put directly on ANYONE'S skin, so it's obviously not good for infant skin. Saying Borax isn't safe for laundry use is kind of like saying castile soap is unsafe to wash with because it has lye in it. Sodium hydroxide (lye) will burn your skin, but's it's used to make almost all soaps...even the gentlest, mildest, most natural soaps that ARE fine for baby's skin. Chemicals (even natural ones) often change when they are heated or added to water. In the "natural" state (sodium tetraborate, sodium hydroxide, etc.), they may be harmful or even toxic when ingested or put on skin, but when used the way they are intended, they are safe. Just sayin'.

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    1. I think I made it pretty clear that is MY PERSONAL OPINION that borax isn't safe enough for household use. I know a lot of people feel that it is safe, and I'm not on a campaign to change their minds. I'm not misleading anybody or telling them what to do...I am just sharing the conclusion I have come to. The Skin Deep database lists Borax at a "6", most of the products in my home are a "2" or lower.

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    2. But she does make a good point and a reasonable analogy to the soap/lye.

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  23. I also was gobsmacked to read that line-drying could be prohibited!It is very much the norm for us here in Scotland, during every season! The only thing that really prevents it is the rain! It doesn't get cold enough to freeze in winter (your fingers just get preeety cold dealing with the pegs!), but it can get too windy when there are gales. The house we live in now is on a little hill right beside a loch, & I get really paranoid that my clothes will end up in the water when it's windy! Carrie's right about drying clothes indoors around the house too, tumbledryers are pretty expensive to run here! I wish our house had space in a nice warm airing cupboard (often where the hot water tank lives)like at my parents'- drying is so much easier in wet weather then. I love the outside smell too! Our clothes don't get the opportunity to go hard or crunchy with the breeze though, or because they don't actually dry completely on the line, apart from on a good summers day. Oh my, can't believe I had that much to say on laundry!

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  24. I didn't know that about borax!!! I was about to make my own detergent later this month! Hmmm...now I should rethink it.

    Next month we will be in our first house for a whole year. I think it't time to put a clothes line up!

    I haven't tried the vinegar yet. We bought a used washer and dryer from a friend and the thing in the center where you put the softener is dirty and I can't get it clean no matter how I try. I might try the downy ball thing and use vinegar in that (I've heard of people doing that).

    You are just awesome! I love your stuff!!

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  25. I normally use All detergent free and clear, but I tried a different brand called Ecos. I just did a search for it's ratings and heard nothing but positive remarks. I got mine from Walmart..it cost me $10 but it's the big container (128 fl oz). It says it does 64 standard loads or 128 HE loads.

    The ingredients listed are: Purified water & 100% natural anionic coconut kernel oil based surfactant.

    Their website is ecos.com & efpclean.com

    I think after reading your article, I'll just stick with that. It's not cheap, but neither is Tide for that matter. And I'll use your idea about the washing soda.

    Thanks again!

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  26. I also have very sensitive skin, as do one of my daughters, so we do make our own laundry soap. However, I should try some of this 'green' stuff. I'm sure it's much better. I just discovered your blog and so enjoying it. You 'young-uns' are just so very talented! (I am a grammy of almost 7).

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  27. Hi,
    I am eager to try the vinegar instead of fabric conditioner but am not sure when to add it, probably a daft question, but do you put it in the fabric conditioner section at the beginning of the wash cycle, or do you have to add it when the wash is moving onto the rinse cycle? Thanks!

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    1. My washer doesn't have a fabric softener dispenser, so I just dump it into the washer at the beginning of the rinse cycle.

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  28. I've been on your website for hours reading all of your posts and taking notes. Thanks for all the great ideas!

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  29. We use soap nuts but are nearly out and are thankful because my husband doesn't feel like his clothes get clean enough. I know how to make my own washing soda and have a ton of baking soda to do so so it will help when making my own laundry detergent. What I'm curious about is this: What is the Borax for in the homemade recipes exactly? I know the washing soda is a booster but I've also read that Borax is only a booster as well. :?

    As per line drying: we do it as much as possible. I use 5 lines and they can take a load and a half of our clothes. I simply pull out the towels and jeans for the dryer and the rest goes on the line (that way I don't get complaints about crunchy jeans). I like your tip on the vinegar to cut this though! We've tried but not before line drying. Too bad I just did a bunch of laundry!

    We also use the line all year (even when it gets into the 30's around here). In the winter we have to plan it out for the rare sunny day and I also use the hooks by the fireplace when possible for the few items that can go up there. My grandma used to do all her laundry by hand and line dry for frugalities sake and had a rule for the winter: On the line before 10 and it will dry.

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  30. This was so timely - I was just thinking today of what I could do for better alternatives that will actually get my laundry clean. Thank you!

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  31. Great post! My skin is so sensitive to laundry soaps, too! I love Shaklee's laundry line. It's all natural and smells so good! :)


    Love your blog!

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  32. Just happening upon this post, and it's great! I even use some vinegar in with our clothes for the rinse cycle instead of fabric softener to help get any buildup or residual smells out. It also helps if you forgot a load and are rewashing because is soured. Not that I'd know from experience or anything...

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  33. Thanks for sharing!!! I have been doing piles & piles of laundry this weekend (I let it get way too far behind!!) so this post was particularly interesting :) I can definitely second what you said about not everything labeled "green" is good and safe... I usually don't have sensitive skin... In fact, we use Tide. I used some "natural" detergent I got at Trader Joes once and it broke me out all over!!! Had to rewash EVERYTHING... Ugh. What a pain. I'm glad you've found something that works well for your family!! And have hope - from what I've seen in my profession, these sensitive skin problems seem to improve as kids get older!

    Just stumbled onto your blog via Pinterest. Thanks for all the awesome tips!!! I'm going to attempt the neat sheet folding here in a few minutes.... Hope I can figure it out!! :)

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  34. I am following your year of less and am so glad you posted about the borax because I am currently expecting our 2nd child and make our soap which of course includes borax!

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  35. love this post! i have two little girls and i'm always looking for ways to improve our housekeeping, and your tips are so great for a busy mom. i'll be ordering that detergent, and making the dryer balls. thanks for all your great advice!

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  36. In the midst of an allergy break out due to laundry detergent. Thanks for these!!

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  37. I am in love with Melaleuca cleaning products. Almost all of them are tea tree oil based. The laundry line is really great as well. All of their cleaning products are listed with poison control..so if you accidentally swallowed some, poison control would tell you not to worry. None of the products have safety caps. Not trying to "sell" it. It's just a relief to have safe products that work and that I don't have to make. Time saver.....
    lynnski1977@yahoo.com

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  38. Great tips!

    Would love for you to link it up at my new Empty Your Archive link party which is a chance to dust off great posts from your archive - there is a focus this week on laundry - would really love to see you there, Alice @ Mums Make Lists x

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  39. Gosh! quote surprised to hear that line drying is not allowed in some places. I gave up my job a few years a go to start making my own Rotary Washing Lines and natural drying is a big growth area over here in the uk - and that's even allowing for the rubbish weather we so often have over here!

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  40. My problem with line drying is all the stuff floating through the air. When I was a kid we lived in the country and would get rashes from the fertilizers floating in the air after farmers had plans lay down fertilizer. There are so many trees making pollen, think I would rather just kill it all with a high heat dryer.

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  41. Hi, I just wanted to add to your comments about laundry soap. I've developed contact dermatitis from using lots of different products on my skin, clothes, etc. and have had to cut out all but the very basic soaps and lotions and laundry detergents. No scents, no dyes, just your basic stuff. For laundry I discovered soap berries from Yoreganics. They are a berry that is harvested (looks kind of like a nut). There is no smell (good or bad, lol), static cling is not a problem, clothes are clean and soft.

    You might want to give it a try! The bag lasts a long time, btw.

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