Mother Earth Living

Natural Laundry Products: Homemade Laundry Detergent, Fabric Softeners and More

Clean up your laundry room with these natural detergents and fabric softeners, smart appliances and product recommendations.
By Kristin Henningsen
July/August 2014
Add to My MSN

Using natural laundry products is an easy way to reduce your exposure to harmful chemicals.
Photo by Michael Hitoshi
Slideshow


Content Tools

Related Content

10 Tips to Extend the Life of Your Washer and Dryer

Extend the life of your washer and dryer and save money on repairs with these 10 tips.

Purse Project: Organize a Roomy Bag with Snap Pouches

If you find yourself with a bag that seems to swallow up all of your things, consider adding snap-in...

Dreams of a Backyard Bedroom

If the heat is getting you down—and out of your comfortable sleeping—take your bedroom outside and l...

8 Eco-Friendly Gifts Under $40

Need a last-minute gift? Pick up one of these eco-friendly gifts for everyone on your list.

Doing the laundry can be an unnoteworthy, mundane fact of life, but our choices on laundry day can have serious consequences: Many conventional laundry products put us in direct contact with harmful chemicals that can affect our family’s health. Over time, these toxins can contribute to skin sensitivities, allergies and contact dermatitis. Research continues to grow on the effects of toxins found in commercial laundry detergents and fabric softeners. For example, a 2009 study published in Occupational and Environmental Medicine detected an increased risk of respiratory allergies, as well as greater symptoms of sneezing, itchy nose and wheezing in workers handling and producing laundry detergent. Fortunately, there are simple solutions to avoid these chemicals: Homemade natural laundry products are both inexpensive and easy to make at home, and several companies offer safer commercial options sans the chemical soup. Do yourself and your family a favor and make your laundry room healthy and green.

Why Go Natural?

Switching over to natural laundry products is a simple and effective way to reduce your exposure to potentially harmful chemicals. About two-thirds of laundry detergents contain the chemical byproduct 1,4-dioxane, according to David Steinman, an environmental health advocate with the Green Patriot Working Group. Classified by the EPA as “likely to be carcinogenic to humans” by all routes of exposure, this chemical has been detected in a number of brand-name liquid laundry detergents (such as Tide, Purex and Gain—see entire list at the Organic Consumers Association), and often does not rinse out of clothes, sheets or towels. The EPA also warns that contact may cause eye and skin irritation, burns, coughing or shortness of breath. Add that to the cocktail of other chemicals found in conventional laundry detergents and fabric softeners (including sulfates, chlorine, parabens, fragrances and phenols, as well as petroleum distillates linked to cancer and lung disease), and you may never look at your laundry detergent the same way again.

You can avoid these chemicals by opting for organic or natural detergents (see our "Natural Laundry Products Recommendations," later in this article). However, these products tend to cost more than conventional brands, which typically run from $9 to $15 per 64 loads. At that rate, washing those seemingly never-ending piles of laundry can quickly take a toll on our budgets. In comparison, homemade laundry detergents cost about $4 per 80 loads, and are simple to make. Most recipes are composed of three or four ingredients, so they’re easy to make even if you’re short on time.

Clean and Green

Homemade laundry products work for both high-efficiency washer/dryers and older models. As long as we’re improving the health and bottom line of our laundry practices, we may as well consider the energy use that goes into our laundry routine. Energy Star clothes washers use about 20 percent less energy and 35 percent less water than conventional machines. If your machine is more than 10 years old, you will recoup the cost of replacement quickly in energy- and water-bill savings. The science-driven consumer information hub GoodGuide recommends looking for energy-efficient washers with a high Modified Energy Factor (MEF) and a low Water Factor (WF). For dryers, opt for gas-powered with an automatic shut-off feature. Visit Energy Star to research qualified machines.

We can also save energy and money in the laundry room by line-drying clothing whenever possible (check out The New Clothesline Company). When you do need to use the dryer, maximize its efficiency by making sure the lint filter is clean and by using dryer balls to reduce your drying time, as well as static buildup. Wool dryer balls are felted balls of yarn that can be added to any dryer load (see "Make Your Own Dryer Balls" later in this article). As they tumble, the balls bounce and separate the load in the dryer, which allows more hot air to circulate around sheets, towels and clean clothes. In addition, they pull moisture out of your laundry, which reduces drying time. The more you use, the more energy you save.


Make Your Own Dryer Balls

Making dryer balls is easy and fun. All you need is some wool yarn, a sock, and your washer and dryer. To see a video demonstration showing how to make your own dryer balls, visit How to Make Wool Dryer Balls (Video).

• Skein of 100 percent wool yarn
• Scissors
• Sock
• Essential oil, optional

1. Wrap wool yarn around two fingers 10 to 15 times.

2. Pinch the bundle in the middle and pull off your fingers.

3. Wrap yarn around the center of the bundle 10 to 15 times in the other direction.

4. Continue to wrap, alternating directions, making a ball.

5. Once your ball is about the size of a tennis ball, cut the end of the yarn and tuck the cut end under several layers of yarn.

6. Repeat steps 1 through 5 for as many dryer balls as you want.

7. Put each dryer ball in the end of a sock or an old pair of pantyhose. Add them to a load of laundry that will run through the hot wash cycle.

8. Wash then dry on the hottest setting. Remove and check for felting; you will know your ball has felted when you can no longer separate the individual strings of yarn. If necessary, put the balls through an additional wash and dry cycle.

9. To use, toss dryer balls into the dryer with your wet laundry. If desired, add a few drops of essential oil to freshen your clothes. When clothes are dry, you can store the balls in the dryer, or place in a basket until your next load.


Rosemary Powdered Laundry Soap Recipe

• 1 cup washing soda
• 1 cup borax*
• 2 cups grated castile bar soap
• 50 drops rosemary essential oil

1. Mix washing soda, borax and soap grounds (see note) in large bowl.

2. Add rosemary essential oil and mix well.

3. Store in a large airtight container.

To use, add 1⁄8 to 1⁄4 cup per load.

Note: Grate bar soap or cut coarsely, then grind in food processor until fine.

*Borax washes completely out of clothes and is safe to use on laundry. However, borax can be irritating when inhaled and may be a potential endocrine disruptor, particularly in males, so keep male children away from it. If this is a particular concern to you, simply replace the borax with a second cup of washing soda or a cup of baking soda.


Lemon-Fresh Liquid Laundry Soap Recipe

• 1 bar castile soap, grated
• 8 cups water
• 5-gallon bucket with lid
• 4-1⁄2 gallons hot tap water
• 1 cup washing soda
• 1 cup borax*
• 2 to 3 teaspoons lemon essential oil

1. In a saucepan over low heat, mix soap (see note) and 8 cups of water, gradually heating and stirring until soap is dissolved.

2. Fill 5-gallon bucket about 3/4 full of hot tap water.

3. Add soap mixture, washing soda and borax.

4. Add lemon essential oil and mix well. Cover, and leave overnight.

5. Transfer into smaller containers if desired.

To use, add 1/2 cup to 1 cup per load.

Note: Grate bar soap or cut coarsely, then grind in food processor until fine.

*Borax washes completely out of clothes and is safe to use on laundry. However, borax can be irritating when inhaled and may be a potential endocrine disruptor, particularly in males, so keep male children away from it. If this is a particular concern to you, simply replace the borax with a second cup of washing soda or a cup of baking soda.


Lavender Fabric Softener Spray

• 3 teaspoons lavender essential oil
• 2 cups white vinegar

1. Combine oil and vinegar in a spray bottle and shake well.

2. To use, spray 5 to 10 times on wet clothes before drying.


Eucalyptus Dryer Sheets

• Cotton cloths
• 1/2 cup white vinegar
• 5 to 10 drops eucalyptus essential oil
• Airtight container

1. Cut cotton cloths such as old dish-towels or T-shirts into small rectangles.

2. Place in airtight container.

3. Mix vinegar and essential oil, then pour liquid into the container so cloths are damp.

4. To use, remove cloth from container, squeeze excess liquid back into jar, and place in the dryer. When dry, place cloth back in container for later use.


Natural Laundry Product Recommendations

Not ready to make your own laundry detergent yet? Try these alternatives.

Better Life Spin Credible Laundry Detergent
64 ounces, $18 

Biokleen Cold-Water Formula Laundry Liquid
64 ounces, $11

Ecos Packs Laundry Detergent
20 packs, $6 

Ecover Zero Laundry Liquid Concentrate
51 ounces, $12

Green Shield Organic Lavender Detergent
100 ounces, $15

Molly’s Suds Laundry Powder
120 loads, $22

Planet 2x Ultra Laundry Detergent
50 ounces, $9

Seventh Generation Chlorine Free Bleach, Free & Clear
64 ounces, $5

Soap Nuts from the Soap Lady
60-count laundry pods, $27

Vaska Exceptional Lavender Fabric Softener
42 ounces, $7


Kristin Henningsen is a freelance writer, clinical herbalist and yoga instructor. She teaches classes on health and wellness and is often found leading herb walks, kids in tow. Find her at Bayan Moon Botanicals.


Previous | 1 | 2 | 3 | Next






Post a comment below.

 

TULANI
7/11/2014 4:47:06 PM
I wish to thank the writer(s) of this article about mentioning the Borax & what to do to replace it. I have asked everyone I know, both online & off line, what to replace the Borax with & nobody has ever given me an answer till this article. TY so much!! My wife always has a itchy reaction to the Borax, I never thought about doubling up the washing soda. As with almost all MEN articles, I have bookmarked this one for later reference. TY again.

Tom
7/10/2014 7:38:29 AM
Jami, Washing Soda is in the laundry aisle next to Borax usually labeled Arm & Hammer Baking Soda. But remember to grind the Naps bar soap into a power or it will not dissolve. I'm also checking to see if anyone can help me with a natural Tile Cleaner - how to make it or a brand that I can purchase thats all natural. thanks and good luck. Tom WV

Jami
7/7/2014 6:53:20 AM
When making the laundry soap one of the ingredients is washing soda. What is washing soda? Thanks!








Subscribe today and save 58%

First Name: *
Last Name: *
Address: *
City: *
State/Province: *
Zip/Postal Code:*
Country:
Email:*
(* indicates a required item)
Canadian subs: 1 year, (includes postage & GST). Foreign subs: 1 year, . U.S. funds.
Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
Non US and Canadian Subscribers - Click Here

Subscribe to Mother Earth Living!

Welcome to Mother Earth Living, the authority on green lifestyle and design. Each issue of Mother Earth Living features advice to create naturally healthy and nontoxic homes for yourself and your loved ones. With Mother Earth Living by your side, you’ll discover all the best and latest information you want on choosing natural remedies and practicing preventive medicine; cooking with a nutritious and whole-food focus; creating a nontoxic home; and gardening for food, wellness and enjoyment. Subscribe to Mother Earth Living today to get inspired on the art of living wisely and living well.

Save Money & a Few Trees!

Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. You’ll save an additional $5 and get six issues of Mother Earth Living for just $14.95! (Offer valid only in the U.S.)

Or, choose Bill Me and pay just $19.95.