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6 Hidden Toxins in Your Laundry, and How To Reduce Them

6 Hidden Toxins In Your Laundry, And How To Reduce Them

What if your fashion style was described by the toxins you’re actually wearing? Let me tell you: it would be a little less sexy. “Candice is wearing Perchlorethylene, with a subtle layer of sodium lauryl sulfate and ethyl acetate to finish off the look.”

No thanks.

You might not know it, but there are a surprising number of hidden toxins in your laundry. And, since your clothing and linens are near your skin all the time, not to mention being inhaled on the daily, they should be as clean and friendly as possible. 

The hidden toxins in your laundry

You might be surprised at the hidden toxins in your laundry room. Not only are they present in the fabrics that carry them onto your skin, but they permeate throughout each room of your house. If you’re laundering with them, these toxins are following you.

Unlike food and cosmetics, cleaning products are not required to – comprehensively – disclose all ingredients. A 2012 study by the David Suzuki Foundation surveyed 10,500 Canadians who reported on over 15,000 household cleaning products and found:

  • Only 42% of products contained a complete ingredients list
  • 70% of products entered contained some kind of claim to being “green” compared to just 47% that displayed eco-certification.

This tells us that we need to take it upon ourselves to do our own laundry audit. Review and remove any toxic products that you have in your laundry room. Since some laundry items like fabric softeners, bleach, and stain removers are actually considered Household Hazardous Waste, you also have to be careful about how you’re disposing it

What’s touching your skin?

Hidden Toxins In Your Laundry

It may seem like common sense, but since the skin is your body’s largest organ, the types of fabrics you buy and how you treat them matters. We apply this logic to eco beauty, but for some reason, it doesn’t echo as loudly when it comes to fashion. Fabrics like nylon, polyester, and cotton are either manufactured using petroleum or treated with chemicals, so are best to avoid whenever possible. I also try to avoid anything that requires dry cleaning, since it simplifies my routine, but also, dry cleaners often use harsh chemicals including 2-Butoxyethanol and Perchloroethylene (Perc) to yield results. 

Save your money and your clothes!

What you can do:

Opt for more sustainable fabrics whenever possible like Lyocell and organic cotton or natural fabrics like hemp, wool, and linen.

Don’t reach for bleach

In addition to being unnecessarily harsh to your clothing, bleach can spur an allergic reaction and releases toxic gases in the air. One study cites that in households where bleach was used, much higher rates of influenza, sinusitis, and pneumonia were experienced by the children who lived there. What’s more, when water is polluted, our best efforts to control where it goes and how it is treated is always going to be less efficient than not polluting in the first place.

What you can do:

Make your own homemade bleach out of hydrogen peroxide, citric acid, and lemon juice! Both citric acid and lemon juice are natural whiteners, and the hydrogen peroxide is basically water, but with H202, an extra oxygen atom. The homemade bleach can be poured into your washing machine bleach cycle (1-2 cups), or you can use it as a bleach replacement in your bathroom as well.

Be deterred by some detergents

Many conventional detergents could have ingredients that have negative effects on you, the clothes being washed, or on aquatic environments after they’re poured down the drain.  Further, that ‘fresh’ scent of detergent could, very well, be a synthetic fragrance, which typically contains phthalates.

Hidden Toxins In Your Laundry

What you can do:

Find an eco-friendly detergent that is plant and vegetable-based, biodegradable and phosphate-free.

Bonus washing tip: make sure it’s a full load and be bold with cold

  • Heating water in your washing machine uses a load of energy. But is it necessary? Consider how stains like sweat and blood on clothing actually set in when you use warm water! By switching to cold, you’ll save money, and are less likely to fade/shrink your clothes. Eco-detergents also work great with cold water.

Be a softie for non-toxic!

Fabric softener reduces moisture which softens your clothes but doesn’t clean them. So one simple way to avoid coating your clothes in Ethyl acetate (an irritant and neurotoxin), is to simply skip fabric softener altogether, or replace it with a household alternative: our dear friend white vinegar!

Hidden Toxins In Your Laundry

What you can do:

For a full load, pour in 1 cup of white vinegar during the rinse cycle. It truly does the trick! And, if you’d like it scented, either add a few drops of lavender oil or steep a fresh herb (like mint) in a jug of vinegar for 24 hours and use that. Vinegar also reduces some static, AND works well to get rid of mildew!

Dryer sheets are replace-a-ball

There are many reasons to ditch dryer sheets without even considering the chemicals on them that are permeating your laundry room. These single-use, polyester sheets do not break down in landfills. Have you ever rubbed a dryer sheet between your fingers? You’ll notice that it is slightly tacky, which is either a coating of quaternary ammonium compounds or silicone oil.

What you can do:

Wool dryer balls can easily replace dryer sheets. They work by separating the fabrics as they bounce around, allowing heat to better circulate throughout the dryer. I usually put 4 dryer balls in, and when shopping for them, notice the indicated lifetime of the dryer balls. I’ve seen them as reusable up to 1000 times!

If you miss scented, fresh, laundry, you can let 3-4 drops of lavender oil soak into the dryer balls and set the dryer on a tumble dry heat setting.

Bonus eco tip: harvest solar energy (the old-fashioned way)

What if I told you-you can harvest solar energy for free and without leaving your backyard? Drying clothes is like drying dishes. Depending on your preferences, you may decide to delegate to mother nature on this one. Not only does hanging clothes to dry preserve clothes better, (many delicates need to be hang-dried anyway) but it also cuts static. I find that the only items I prefer machine-dried are my jeans (after being re-worn several times) and my towels (to keep them soft and fluffy).

There you have it: several small, simple ways to support mother nature, your clothes and yourself in having a less toxic and more sustainable household. The truth is, there is really no need for toxins in the laundry room.

Candice Batista

Candice Batista

Eco Journalist
Candice Batista is an award-winning, Environmental Journalist and one of Canada’s leading eco advocates. Her career spans national and international media outlets, where she has used her background in environmental studies and media & communications to produce and report on various environmental and climate issues for primarily television and digital audiences including: Huffington Post, The Globe & Mail, The Weather Network, CityTV, Rogers Television, The Pet Network, iChannel, and CTV, where she is currently the National Eco Expert for the station's #1 daytime talk show, The Marilyn Denis Show.