How to Find a Safe Natural Laundry Detergent
If you wait to be sure that you are using a truly safe and natural laundry detergent use ordinary soap where you can. Ordinary old fashioned bar soap, or liquid versions such as Dr. Bronners can be found in health food stores. You can also buy soap flakes. Common soap is a plant derived surfactant which was made by reacting lye (potassium oxide) with oil from plant sources to create the good old fashioned soap molecules that our forefathers used. Using washing soda along with your soap or soap flakes will prevent water hardness from putting your soap molecules out of commission if you happen to use water which has a high mineral content (hard water) for your laundry.
If you must purchase a detergent only buy detergents for which the ingredients are clearly and specifically stated. Many “natural" detergents include in their list of ingredients the name “surfactant". However, as discussed in other articles in this section, few ingredients which might fit into this group are necessarily really safe. Even plant based surfactants often carry with them dangerous impurities which arose from the manufacturing process, and which can not be completely removed. Do not buy a detergent simply because it states on the label that it is ecologically friendly, or that it is non-toxic or bio degradable.
Since most substances do eventually break down, and since even conventional cleaning products are designed with this in mind, the term “biodegradable" is not an indicator of a safe detergent. Just because a detergent is "biodegradable" does not necessarily mean it is not toxic. Also, the definition of toxin changes depending who is defining a toxin. The industry likes to define toxin in terms of risk. It is better to choose old fashioned "no risk" ingredients, not "low risk" commercial alternatives. This means you really have to read the fine print when buying laundry detergents, and only choose those cleaning products which use simple ingredients such as washing soda, and soap powder.
Do not use detergents that contain enzymes when cleaning carpets and upholstery. Digestive type enzymes, added to a detergent, can increase the effectiveness of other cleaning agents by actively digesting stain materials on the laundry. A well rinsed laundry will not carry traces of the enzymes once the wash is finished, so enzyme use in laundry detergents should be OK. But, upholstery and carpet cleaning techniques do not necessarily completely remove all traces of cleaning substances from the area, and enzymes which remain in the fibers of these household items may become air borne and lead to asthma and respiratory allergies in susceptible individuals.