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Published on April 15th, 2008 | by Stephanie Evans


Soap Up Safely with Natural Detergents

Laundry detergents—despite the harsh, chemical cleaning agents that make them work—are a household necessity. Clothes, sheets, curtains, and towels all need regular washes to keep them hygienic and functional.

Thankfully, there are eco-friendly alternatives to the conventional plastic containers of syrupy detergent…

Soap Suds from Natural Soap Detergents

Even though these natural alternatives may not fully eliminate the need for some kind of detergent, they can reduce that need, and consequently reduce the effects on us and the environment.

To read more about what’s in conventional laundry detergents and the harmful, polluting effects of these products, click over to The Dirty Scoop on Laundry Soap.

Natural Soaps as Detergents

All-natural or eco-friendly soap contains nutritive ingredients from different kinds of oils and is completely biodegradable. It is not recommended for washing machines or synthetic fibers, but soap can do wonders for natural fibers when mixed with a little vinegar.

  • Soak and handwash fabrics in soapy water and add a little vinegar. When the clothes or sheets dry, the smell of vinegar will disappear with the moisture.
  • Vermont Soap Organics sells a multi-use soap called Liquid Sunshine that can be used in the washing machine and anywhere else in the house for that matter!

Castile soap, like certified-organic Dr. Bronner’s, is all vegetable-based. The name castile comes from a region in Spain called Castille that is famous for olive oils and olive oil-derived products like soap.. It stuck when vegetable-derived oils gained notoriety as simple ingredients for eco-friendly soaps.

Soap nuts are truly sustainable and particularly useful for delicate items made of silk and wool. They are the dried fruit of the Soapberry tree and contain naturally occurring saponin.

  • Throw a few in a cotton sack (usually supplied by the soap nut retailer) and toss into the washing machine for a thorough, hypoallergenic wash. Each time you wash, throw in three or four soap nuts.

A soap nut’s lifecycle is somewhere between four and six loads. You’ll know that all the soap is used up when the soap nuts are darker and softer in texture. Once the saponin in the nuts is diluted, simply toss the nuts into the compost pile.

Eco Product Picks

Some widely available brands now advertise biodegradable and hypoallergenic soaps and detergents for laundry. Look for these brands at your local natural grocery or health food store.

  • ECOS Free and Clear is soy-based. This product does not contain any essential oils for fragrance and it is ideal for sensitive skin.
  • Method products are completely biodegradable. The company’s recycled packaging and commitment to the humane treatment of animals is commendable as well. Better yet, the reasonably priced Method products are widely available at most retailers.
  • Trader Joe’s makes a very simple detergent that has earned rave reviews from eco-friendly users, despite the presence of optical brighteners.

Some products boast a concentrated dose of detergent-acting agent, which means that they provide more uses per container, and thus they last longer. These products also support low impact living, as they take up less space and require less packaging.

One way to spot truly green products is to check out the packaging: are the materials themselves recycled? If so, that’s a good sign of a planet-conscious company. 100% Post-Consumer Waste (PCW) products are hard to find, but they are ideal.

For recycled paper products, post consumer waste is combined with paper scraps from the paper manufacturing process, so they are not always as eco-friendly as you are lead to believe. Basically, the higher the percentage of post-consumer content, the better.

Organic Lavender Dryer Bags Work Wonders

Common Scents

Truly natural laundry products omit fragrances, as these are petroleum-based and can cause skin irritations of one kind or another—a good reason to avoid them at all costs!

This does not mean that you have to forfeit fresh scent for good, green cleanliness. Here are some natural odor-fresheners to try…

Baking soda softens clothes and they turn out smelling very fresh. Add a few tablespoons to a handwash or washing machine load.

Essential oils are also highly effective at disinfecting clothes and giving them a lovely, all-natural scent.

Herbal dryer bags, or herbal sachets, contain lavender to freshen fabrics naturally.

Vinegar is handy and inexpensive, but be careful not to use it with bleach—the combination can result in toxic fumes.

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