The following is an excerpt from Planet Home by Jeffrey Hollender with Alexandra Zissu (Clarkson Potter, 2010). From sourcing local and organic food to safely cleaning your kitchen sink, Planet Home is a road map for anyone looking to make greener, healthier choices at home. As co-founder and former CEO of Seventh Generation — the most trusted brand in environmentally friendly household products — author Jeffrey Hollender is one of the foremost authorities on natural, conscious living, and Planet Home is an unparalleled resource for learning how to tread lightly on the Earth without sacrificing the quality, richness and unique comforts of your home. This excerpt is from Chapter 9, “The Laundry Room.”
Laundry (and dish) detergents tend to be less toxic than other conventional household cleaners — but that doesn’t mean the chemicals used in most laundry rooms are safe for humans or the environment. In fact, they pose both immediate and chronic hazards.
You can easily and significantly reduce the potential danger in your laundry room by choosing to clean and whiten with natural products and better chemicals. Use common sense and avoid any bottle labeled “danger,” “corrosive” or “skin irritant.” Store any laundry cleaners out of reach of children and pets. And, whatever you use, don’t use too much of it — it’s a waste of detergent and money, and extra residue will actually attract dirt to your clothing.
How to Choose a Natural Laundry Product
Because there is no standard definition of “natural” or “nontoxic,” it can be difficult to know what to look for. Following these rules of thumb should eliminate most of the unnatural detergents in any given store.
- Seek out products that aren’t covered in danger warnings.
- Look for bottles that list all of the ingredients in the product, and read the ingredients. These should be complete lists.
- You should see a disclosure about the use of vegetable-based surfactants.
- Always check to see which kind of fragrance is in a natural product. It should be 100 percent essential oil.
Homemade Laundry Solutions
- Borax. You can find Borax (sodium borate, a naturally occurring mineral composed of sodium, boron, oxygen and water) in the detergent aisle of most grocery stores. Add 1/2 a cup of Borax to your regular detergent (liquid or powder) to give it an extra boost. Borax will help to improve the cleaning power, whiten, and remove stains and odors. You can also soak clothes in water with Borax (1 tablespoon per gallon of water) before washing. When using on delicates, add 1/4 cup to your regular detergent instead. Exposure to Borax can be harmful in high amounts, so avoid inhalation and ingestion.
- White Vinegar. Add 1/4 cup of white vinegar during the last rinse cycle. White vinegar removes yellowing, acts as a fabric softener and inhibits mold and mildew.
- Baking Soda. Adding 1/2 cup of baking soda to the usual amount of liquid detergent at the beginning of the wash cycle will improve the cleaning power of your detergent. To help eliminate odors, add 1/2 cup of baking soda during the rinse cycle.
- Cornstarch. Make your own starch spray by mixing 2 tablespoons non-GMO cornstarch with 2 pints cold water in a spray bottle. Shake well before each use. For laundry starch, stir 1/2 cup cornstarch into 1 cup cold water. Add boiling water (2 quarts for heavy stiffness, 4 quarts for medium stiffness and 6 quarts for light stiffness). Dip newly washed clothes into starch mix and dry. Sprinkle lightly with warm water and iron as usual.
- Lemon Juice. Boost whitening power naturally by adding 1/2 cup of lemon juice to the rinse cycle. Do not use lemon juice with hydrogen peroxide or chlorine bleach. If lemon isn’t enough, add 1 cup of club soda to your wash as well. For a pleasant scent, add a teaspoon of lemon juice to the wash cycle of any load.
- Washing Soda. Use washing soda (sodium carbonate, a highly alkaline chemical compound) to help make the switch from conventional detergents to natural soap laundry cleaners. First-time loads should be washed once with 1/3 cup of washing soda only. This will eliminate residues left by other detergents, which may react with soap, causing fabrics to yellow. For all subsequent washes, add 1/3 cup of washing soda to water while the machine is filling. Add clothes and 1 to 1 1/2 cups of natural laundry soap. You can also add 1/4 cup of white vinegar during the rinse cycle to improve cleaning if your water is hard.
Reprinted with permission from Planet Home, published by Clarkson Potter, a division of Random House Inc., 2010.