The Emperor's New Suds: Natural Laundry Tips

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We've been convinced we need Lemon-Freshened, Static-Removing Spot-Begone. Do we?

Many conventional laundry products are not biodegradable and, being made from nonrenewable petroleum products and harsh chemicals, negatively affect local waterways. Unfortunately, these super soaps don't really work any better than simpler, more natural products.

To clean up your laundry act, buy only one detergent—you can use it directly on stains. Avoid conventional detergents with health warnings such as "may cause skin irritation" or "harmful vapors." Look instead for a product that's biodegradable and plant-based, not made from petroleum, and produced by a company with strong environmental ethics. A powdered or concentrated detergent is a bonus; it contains less water. And if you must have fragrance, be certain it's derived from natural essential oils.

Skip the dryer sheets, chlorine bleaches and chemical spot treatments. You can find eco-friendly substitutes in your pantry. Add baking soda to wash water as a softener/freshener, hydrogen peroxide as a spot remover or bleaching agent, and borax as a detergent booster. Sample them on a swatch before using them on fine fabrics.

Finally, reduce packaging by buying the largest container of detergent you can, preferably one that's refillable—and be sure to recycle it.