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Down and Dirty with Laundry Soap

written by: dmcrill•edited by: Donna Cosmato•updated: 7/6/2011

Laundry soap is a very convenient product. Or so you may have thought, if convenience means health risks, killing marine animals and algae to get a few suds that supposedly prove your laundry is cleaner.It's time to rethink this product and look for a truly convenient alternative.

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    Itching For A Change

    My normal shopping experience used to consist of grabbing the same familiar products off the shelves and getting out of the store as quickly as possible – let’s just say I have crowd issues.

    That all changed a few years ago because of a rash.

    Scratching and itching, I tried to figure out what was wrong. I began to suspect my laundry detergent, so I spent several months trying out many brands, from the expensive to the baby products. All with no luck.

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    The Epiphany

    One day, while smoothing olive oil on my skin to relieve the itch, I thought about olive oil soap and that was the simple step that led to my epiphany of being wary of convenience products.

    Not getting the connection? Let’s extrapolate a bit.

    On that day, I got a bar of my favorite natural soap from the bathroom and with a potato peeler, I scraped a few shavings. I then added hot water, waited until the soap melted and used it for my laundry. Presto, no more rash.

    So, I thought about the ingredients in laundry soap. I read the labels and the listing of unpronounceable ingredients scared me. I started wondering what the ingredients were, where they came from and where they were going once they went down my drain. After all, if these ingredients were making me itch on the outside, I didn’t like the idea of them going into the water supply.

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    What Is That Stuff

    My next step was an Internet search where I learned about what really goes into the convenient product I was buying at the store. Laundry detergent contains several chemicals that range from unhealthy to downright dangerous. The added problem is that many of the ingredients are not listed on laundry products because they are proprietary secrets. Yeah, I wonder why?

    I learned that most commercial laundry products contain surfactants used to help remove dirt from the fabric. Many surfactants break down into nonylphenol, which affects the endocrine system. I learned that the Sierra Club has targeted this chemical for a host of issues. Their information is a bit technical, but worth the eye-opening information. The Sierra Club webpage about nonylphenols is:

    I continued my search and learned about the other chemicals like dyes, fragrances and brighteners, all with questionable health and environmental issues. I didn’t need to read any more. I was convinced.

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    The Solution

    I remember my grandmother making lye soap when I was little and I didn’t want to get an old witch’s kettle and build a fire in the yard to make my own soap, so I went back to the Internet and looked for a solution.

    Recipes for natural laundry soap abound and I quickly realized that I only needed a few ingredients that thoroughly clean the laundry. Although recipes vary, most contain:

    · Washing soda

    · Borax

    · Bar soap (like Ivory or other natural soap)

    · Essential Oil (optional)

    Good recipes can be found at the following WebPages:

    TipNut has several easy recipes including some powdered ones:

    The Simple Dollar has pictures of the process, easy steps and a great cost breakdown with 2 ½ cents cost per load:

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    Laundry Green Points

    · Turn down the heat: Using hot water doesn’t sanitize your clothes. All you get is really warm wet laundry. Only boiling water sanitizes. So, for normal washing, cold water is all you need. This saves energy.

    · Stop Fading Fast: Cold water help clothes from fading, which means they last longer, reducing your need to buy clothes and reducing landfills or the need to recycle as often.

    · Go Green with Laundry Soap: Using green laundry soap, you are not exposed to harsh chemicals that affect your immune system and pollute the water, endangering marine life.

    · Save Money: Per wash, green laundry soap is actually much cheaper than the major brands.

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    The Continuing Saga

    Contemplating laundry soap led me to other convenience items we buy everyday simply because we are told they are convenient to use. They seem safe because they come in pretty boxes and bottles from ‘reputable’ companies. So what if they cost you a few extra cents? It’s worth it to free up time for – well for more work to pay for all of the convenient products that you pay more for.

    Continue with this series of articles to see some other ‘convenient truths’.

When Convenience Isn't Convenient

So many products today are sold for their 'convenience' factor. This series explores how convenience isn't always so convenient for the consumer and the green conscious person.
  1. Down and Dirty with Laundry Soap
  2. It’s the Baby Carrot's Fault
  3. Toss In or Toss Out the Salad Dressing