6 Natural DIY Laundry Products Every Home Needs

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Laundry is something we rarely give thought to unless we’re digging through baskets trying to find that favorite sweatshirt or the last clean pair of socks.

While clean laundry may be a hot commodity in some households, there’s a more serious issue at hand.

Laundry detergents, softeners, and dryer sheets are meant to keep our clothes clean, but in many cases, they actually load our bodies down with harmful chemicals, fragrances, and toxins that can contribute to a long-term toxic load.

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What’s So Bad About Conventional Detergents, Softeners, and Dryer Sheets?

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So what’s in these common household cleaners that’s really so bad? Dozens of toxic chemicals can be found in any of these products, and research has proven that companies don’t always list these chemicals on their product labels, citing trade secrets and other proprietary information (1).

The chemicals, toxins, and fragrances found in your average laundry detergent, fabric softener, chlorine bleach, and dryer sheets can have harmful effects on your body, and if products don’t have to be truthfully labeled, how can you really know what you’re getting into?

Here is just some of the risky business you’re engaging in if you use these everyday products.

1. Skin and Eye Irritants

Some of the most noticeable signs of irritation from chemicals are watering eyes, itchy skin, and rashes. Commonly mistaken as allergies or eczema, these symptoms of chemical sensitivity can often be overlooked or attributed to many other things besides laundry products. Even in cases of legitimate allergies or eczema, these toxins can worsen the conditions.

There are a number of toxins that might cause this reaction. Benzaldehyde, a common ingredient found in scented detergents and bleach, can raise inflammationin the mouth, throat, eyes, and skin (2). Artificial fragrances are another source of irritants profuse in detergents, softeners, and dryer sheets, and the chemical diethanolamine is another skin and eye irritant found in many soaps and detergents (3).

2. Reproductive Toxicity

Reproductive hormones are sensitive in both men and women, and chemical products can have an especially damaging impact on reproductive ability or interfere with normal fetal development in utero.

Diethanolamine, mentioned above as a skin irritant, also has ties to reproductive toxicity, especially in altering sperm morphology and reducing sperm counts (4).

EDTA, a type of endocrine disrupting pesticide, is primarily found in detergents and fabric softeners – both scented and fragrance-free – and is associated with organ toxicity, including reproductive harm and dysfunction in animal studies (56).

Another ingredient, 2-butoxyethanol, commonly found in stain removers and stain-fighting products, can lead to birth defects (78).

3. Carcinogens

When it comes to chemicals and cleaning products, laundry items can be especially risky since they get so much skin-to-skin exposure.

Cancer-causing chemicals tend to absorb easily through the skin, and the ones found in laundry detergents, softeners, and other products are no exception.

Not only are many fragrances suspected carcinogens, but quaternium-15, which is commonly found in detergents, releases formaldehyde – a known ingredient that can up the risk of cancer (910).

4. Liver Problems

The liver is our primary detox organ, and when chemical irritants attack this vital organ, tumors and impaired function can result.

Diethanolamine, or DEA, is most commonly found in detergents, as well as shampoos, body washes, and hand soaps and has been linked to liver tumors in animals (11). The more DEA products that a person uses, the more compounded the potential for detrimental effects.

5. Respiratory Irritants

Breathing in that just-cleaned laundry scent can feel refreshing until you realize that all of those chemically created smells can aggravate the lining of the lungs.

Petroleum distillates, commonly found in detergent, can cause lung irritation – and even lung damage from long-term exposure. They also absorb easily through fat and can cause neurological symptoms like headaches, memory problems, fatigue, anxiety, nausea, appetite loss, stomach cramping and pains, and even diarrhea (12).

Chlorine, commonly found in bleach, can quickly produce eye-burning and lung-stinging effects, but even without the immediate vitriolic effect on your nostrils, your laundry detergent can be just as lung-damaging.


Safe Laundry Options

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At this point, you might be thinking that dirty clothes sound a lot more appealing than “clean” clothes that are loaded with chemicals, cancer-causing agents, and skin irritants. The good news is that there are safe options, so you can have your clean clothes and wear them, too.

Many healthier-for-you DIY options exist for laundry detergent, but what if you don’t have time to make your own?

A few brands have stepped forward and committed to label transparency, along with avoiding chemicals and irritants with harmful effects.

Seventh Generation

Perhaps the biggest name brand in the safe laundry market, Seventh Generationmakes a detergent that is fragrance-free and contains no carcinogens, irritants, or chemicals that fall into the gray area of safety. While they make some fragranced options that are sourced better than most, for the cleanest detergent on the store shelf, stick with the fragrance-free version.

Molly’s Suds

Designed by people who were tired of chemical exposures through laundry detergent, Molly’s Suds produces a powdered detergent that has all of the DIY benefits with none of the fuss. They also have a liquid detergent that is free from irritants and chemicals.

Biokleen

Super concentrated detergent options that contain no objectionable chemicals from the lists above, Biokleen powder and liquid detergents are ultra powerful for laundry that gets really dirty.


Natural, Homemade Laundry Solutions

DIY Laundry Detergent

Of course, if you do want to DIY your laundry detergent, there is no shortage of recipes on the internet. Three of the best ingredients to include:

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time
Total time:2 MINS
Prep Time:2 mins
Serves:1 load

Washing Soda

Use 2 tablespoons washing soda per load, added directly into the clothes before starting the washer. For an extra cleaning boost, add food-grade hydrogen peroxide to the bleach slot of the washer.

Ingredients

  •  2 T washing soda
  •  ½ cup food-grade hydrogen peroxide

Instructions

  •  Add washing soda to the washer after you’ve filled it with clothes.
  •  Add peroxide to the “bleach” dispenser of the washer for extra-deep cleaning or for linens or towels.
  •  Start the cycle and dry as normal.
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time
Total time:2 MINS
Prep Time:2 mins
Serves:1 load

Borax

Use ½ cup borax powder per load of laundry or combine with washing soda for extra cleaning power.

Ingredients

  •  ½ cup borax

Instructions

  •  Add borax to laundry to wash.
  •  Wash and dry as normal.
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time
Total time:2 MINS
Prep Time:2 mins
Serves:1 load

Castile Soap

For extra-squeaky clean detergent, use fragrance-free castile soap, but remember that a little goes a long way. Use 1 tablespoon per full size load, and depending on the softness of your water, you may only need a teaspoon.

Ingredients

  •  1 T fragrance-free castile soap

Instructions

  •  Add castile soap to detergent dispenser of washer.
  •  Wash and dry as normal.

DIY Fabric Softener

You don’t need commercial fabric softeners to keep your clothes from getting scratchy: white vinegar is the perfect all-natural, chemical-free fabric softener. Add a cup to your rinse cycle for reduced static and no, the vinegar scent won’t be there after the rinse is over.

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time
Total time:2 MINS
Prep Time:2 mins
Serves:1 load

DIY Fabric Softener

You can also add ¼ cup Epsom salt at the beginning of each wash load to serve as natural, fragrance-free fabric softening crystals. This method is especially helpful for towels, blankets, sheets, and heavier clothing like static-prone sweatshirts and fleece.

Ingredients

  •  ¼ cup Epsom salt

Instructions

  •  Add soap and clothes to the washing machine and start laundry as normal.
  •  After washer is filled with water, add the Epsom salt.
  •  Wash as normal.

DIY Stain Remover

Sure, the natural detergent and softener works for regular clothes – but what about stains? Since conventional stain treatments are filled with carcinogenic chemicals, opting for something less harmful is ideal.

Seventh Generation makes a natural, fragrance-free stain remover that actually works (I’ve tested it on grass, blood, and tomato juice!) and lasts a really long time, even with a mess-prone toddler in my house.

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time
Total time:3 MINS
Prep Time:3 mins
Serves:Approximately 50 uses

DIY Stain Remover

If you want to DIY a stain buster, mix ¼ cup baking soda with ¼ cup Seventh Generation dish soap and ½ cup food grade hydrogen peroxide in a spray bottle, secure the lid tightly and shake it up. Spray your DIY stain remover generously on stains, spot-testing on darker and delicate clothes to make sure it works on the fabric.

Ingredients

  •  ¼ cup baking soda
  •  ¼ cup fragrance-free dish soap
  •  ½ cup food-grade hydrogen peroxide

Instructions

  •  Combine all ingredients into a glass spray bottle. Shake to combine.
  •  Spray generously on stains, but always be sure to spot-test delicate fabrics and darker colors to ensure fading does not occur.

Quick Tip:

Finally, for the simplest stain remover ever, add a dab of either Seventh Generation dish soap or laundry detergent to the stained location, roll the clothing item with the stained part toward the inside, and let sit for 30 minutes or more before adding to a cold water wash cycle. Inspect before drying, but in all but severe cases, this will resolve the stain directly.


DIY Dryer Sheets

Nobody likes a dryer full of staticky clothes, but conventional dryer sheets are some of the worst when it comes to chemical exposure.

Replace your dryer sheets with cotton rags soaked in white vinegar, or switch to using wool dryer balls for reduced static, faster drying time, and softer towels.

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time
Total time:5 MINS
Prep Time:5 mins
Serves:30 loads

DIY Dryer Sheets

Replace your dryer sheets with cotton rags soaked in white vinegar, or switch to using wool dryer balls for reduced static, faster drying time, and softer towels.

Tools

  •  Extra-large wide-mouth glass jar with lid
  •  Wooden spoon

Ingredients

  •  ½ gallon of white vinegar
  •  2-3 100% cotton t-shirts, cut into 30 5×5”squares

Instructions

  •  Pour the vinegar into the glass jar.
  •  Place all cotton squares into the jar and use a wooden spoon to stir until soaked.
  •  To use: Add 1-2 cotton squares to the dryer before starting. After the load is done, return the squares to the jar.
  •  Replace the vinegar solution every 30 days for optimal freshness.

How to Keep Your Washing Machine Mold-Free

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Even if you use the cleanest laundry products that exist, most washers are prone to developing mildew without a little TLC in between washing cycles. Whether you have a top load or a front load, you can do a few simple things to keep your washer smelling fresh and free from nasty mildew and mold.

1. Never leave a wet load in your washer for more than 24 hours.

I get it, sometimes we forget about laundry in the midst of chaotic life. But leaving wet laundry in a closed washer for more than a day can lead to the development of mildew. If you can’t swap your wash immediately, at least open the door of the washer so that you don’t have a sealed off breeding ground for bacteria and mold.

2. Use natural laundry products.

Simply switching to natural detergents and vinegar for washing your clothes can help to keep your washing machine cleaner. For mildew prevention, run a hot water cycle without clothes, using 2 cups of vinegar and ½ cup of baking soda or washing soda at least once a month, or up to once a week for heavy users.

3. Wipe it down

To prevent build-up on the rubber ring of your front-loading washer, wipe it down once a month with a warm vinegar solution. In a small bucket, add 2-3 cups of water, 1-2 cups of vinegar, and 10 drops of antibacterial tea tree oil. Dip a cotton cloth in the solution and scrub the front of your washer, focusing on the inside the rubber flap where mildew likes to collect. Keep wiping until you no longer see residue on your rag.

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