Can you even believe we are on Week 20 of our Full Year of Resolutions? We hope you’ve been following along as we share a healthy tip each week this year! This week, for Tip #20, we are talking about the health benefits of using laundry products with fewer toxins.
When we first heard about this concept several years ago we completely blew it off. Our thought was, “Really? How many toxins can I be getting from my laundry detergent?” It just seemed like overkill. But as we became more educated about the toxins in our environment, and how harmful they really can be for our health, we changed our tune.
By now most of us are aware of the “usual suspects” in our homes when it comes to toxic chemicals. We’re fully on the bandwagon when it comes to organic fruits and vegetables. Many of us are making the shift to “clean” or non-toxic personal care products, like deodorant and makeup. But laundry detergent? It may be hard to think of these products as dangerous; after all, they leave our clothes feeling soft and smelling fresh. We’ve used them for years without any visible signs of damage. How bad can they be?
Did you know the average American household does eight loads of laundry a week? Unfortunately, most of that laundry is washed with synthetic detergents and softeners that are laden with chemicals linked to health problems.
The truth is, the chemicals used in laundry detergents to make your clothes smell like a fresh summer breeze are harmful – to us, to the clothes, and to our environment. Combined with all the other inevitable toxins we’re exposed to, the chemical load is frightening. According to Harvard’s School of Public Health, “In the United States, the average person is exposed to more than a hundred chemicals from cosmetics, soaps, and other personal care products before leaving the house in the morning.”
There are 80,000 industrial chemicals currently in use today and new ones enter the market each year. Few of these are ever tested for safety by any government agency. Virtually nothing is known about the effects they may have when tiny amounts of hundreds of chemicals get mixed together in our bodies. Depending on the products we use and what we are exposed to at our homes and work, each of us has our own “chemical cocktail” running through our veins. Here’s a frightening fact: When newborns’ cord blood is tested, it reveals that babies begin life with more than 200 synthetical chemicals already in their systems!
Bad for our bodies
Our skin is the largest organ in our bodies. Toxins in laundry detergents are able to penetrate the body as they are absorbed by our skin. They can then enter the bloodstream, where they may cause harm. The chemicals in our clothing and sheets are absorbed through the pores of our skin all day.
Bad for the earth
In addition, every time we wash our clothes, these harmful chemicals are washing into the environment. They get into our sewers and are polluting our waterways. That soap that washes down the drain infiltrates our water supply. Water treatment plants are unequipped to remove them. Over 100 chemicals from personal care products can be detected in our drinking water or water habitats.
They’re not even good for your clothes
Typical laundry detergents aren’t even good for our clothes! Fabrics fade and wear out with each additional wash. And, if you’ve ever done what’s called “laundry stripping,” (read more about this here, or watch a compilation of TikTok video reveals of this process here), you’ll look at what’s left in the water and realize…your clothes aren’t even really clean! They just smell clean from all the chemicals and toxic perfumes used in detergents (you can read more about this in Benefit #2 below).
Three benefits of laundry products with fewer toxins
If you’re still on the fence about whether it’s worth it to change up your laundry routine, we’d like to share three benefits you’ll reap when you make the change. When you use laundry products with fewer toxins, you can help improve both your health and the environment.
Benefit #1: Improved skin health
As if all my other health issues weren’t enough, I’ve also dealt with super sensitive skin for much of my adult life. I never understood why certain soaps or laundry detergents seemed to make such a difference for me. When Carla and I first got married I had to explain to her that I had to be really careful with any products that had contact with my skin. As someone who has never had any sort of skin issue, she didn’t really understand at first.
But then she witnessed my terrible rashes and saw firsthand how miserable I’d get from my red, inflamed skin. She started using soaps and detergents that were for sensitive skin. That helped a little, but I was still dealing with significant inflammation. Determined to help me, she started to really research products.
During these years we realized I was suffering from leaky gut syndrome, which was the cause of much inflammation throughout my body. As I worked on healing my gut, my skin problems became less severe. So the inflammation was definitely connected. But I still struggled with dry, itchy skin.
An all-natural solution
Carla came across a company called Truly Free that provided 100% all-natural, plant-based, and eco-friendly cleaners and decided to give them a try. I noticed a difference in my skin. There was less irritation, itching, and redness. I especially noticed a difference when using towels and washcloths washed with these all-natural products.
If you have any sort of skin sensitivity, even if it’s just dry skin, using laundry products with fewer toxins can help.
Benefit #2: Less exposure to chemicals
You might be thinking, “Well, I don’t have any skin issues, so why should I make an investment in different laundry and cleaning products?” The truth is, many detergents on the market today are loaded with toxins. In fact, the chemicals in laundry detergents are known toxins and are linked to a range of adverse health problems from hormone disruption to cancer.
Let’s take a look at some of the harmful toxins in the detergents most of us use today:
1,4-Dioxane is a common ingredient in many shampoos, detergents, and cleaning products. It is used as a solvent and degreaser. According to the EPA, it does not easily biodegrade in the environment and is a widespread contaminant in drinking water. This is highly problematic, as toxicity studies show that rodents who consumed 1,4-dioxane in their drinking water developed liver cancer. The U.S. National Toxicology Program classifies this compound as a human carcinogen. Dioxane is easily absorbed through the skin and by inhalation. It also leaches quickly into soil and groundwater.
Sodium Laureth Sulfate
SLS is a foaming agent used to make the lather in detergents, soaps and shampoos. Sulfates are known to be irritants to the eyes, skin, and lungs, especially with long-term use. They’re also associated with conditions like eczema, rosacea, and psoriasis. SLS comes from petroleum and coconut or palm oil, and one reason it is controversial is because tropical rainforests are destroyed for palm tree plantations. SLS is also frequently contaminated with 1,4-dioxane (discussed above) during the manufacturing process. Products with sulfates are frequently washed down the drain and may be toxic to aquatic animals.
Bleach often hides under the label term Sodium Hypochlorite or the catch-all term ‘optical brighteners.’ Bleach causes irritation to the eyes, mouth, lungs, and skin. Those with asthma or other breathing problems are particularly susceptible to the health problems caused by bleach. It can burn human tissue, both externally and internally. Accidental swallowing of bleach is the most frequent call received by Poison Control Centers. Bleach is also hazardous because it is very reactive. When mixed with certain other products (like the acid found in dish detergents or glass cleaners), chlorine gas is produced. This is dangerous and can even be fatal.
Formaldehyde is a low-cost preservative and antibacterial agent commonly used in detergents and dishwashing liquids. According to the EPA, formaldehyde causes irritation of the skin, eyes, nose, and throat. High levels of exposure may cause some types of cancer.
Phosphates make detergents more effective by reducing the action of calcium and magnesium and by softening the water. The most commonly used phosphate in detergents is sodium tripolyphosphate. Despite their effectiveness, phosphates have been banned in several places because of their adverse effect on water bodies. Phosphates produce the buildup of algal blooms in lakes and rivers, which is dangerous to both human and animal life and kills marine life and ecosystems.
Nonylphenol Ethoxylate is a notorious chemical that is a known endocrine disruptor in humans and animals. It disrupts endocrine function by mimicking estrogen. With repeated exposure, our bodies can’t tell the difference between the two. This chemical is not biodegradable and remains in our soil, groundwater, and surface water bodies for several years. Nonylphenol Ethoxylate is highly toxic to marine organisms. The UN Environmental Program identified it as a chemical of “global concern” in its assessment of Persistent Toxic Substances.
Benzene-based surfactants help lift dirt and stains from fabrics. It has frighteningly harmful effects on our health, however, as it can harm bone marrow and cause a decrease in red blood cells, leading to anemia. Benzene can also cause excessive bleeding and can affect the immune system. Household products like detergents, paint, and furniture polish emit benzene, and indoor air can have high levels of this chemical. Studies show that women who breathed in high levels of benzene had irregular menstrual periods and a decrease in the size of their ovaries.
All those fresh scents we enjoy in our detergents aren’t very fresh at all. They’re produced by hundreds of chemicals with little or no safety data. The fragrances that companies use are proprietary blends, so it’s impossible to know what’s even in most of our detergents. What we do know is that over 4,000 chemicals are currently used to scent products in the U.S. Many of these are petroleum derivatives. We are able to smell them as they vaporize into the air and release harmful Volatile Organic Compounds which are air pollutants.
Whew! That’s quite a list. And those are just the most common toxins. I could go on for pages about the harmful chemicals and substances we are exposed to every single day while we go about our lives doing very regular things, like the laundry.
Benefit #3: Reusable plastic containers
I don’t know about you, but I’m really trying not to use plastic containers when I can. Between 4 and 12 million metric tons of plastic enter the ocean each year. That’s enough to cover every foot of coastline on our entire planet. This number is projected to triple in the next 20 years. At the rate at which we’re accumulating plastic, it’s predicted that by 2050, the mass of plastic in the world’s oceans will exceed the mass of all the fish that live there.
Plastic lasts forever, breaking down into ever-smaller particles, and it has infiltrated our soil, water systems, ecosystems, animals, and sea life. Plastic trash is found in the guts of more than 90% of the world’s sea birds.
These are very sobering statistics, and another reason that I really like the Truly Free detergent we use now. You’ll receive a container for all your items in your first order. Then in future orders, you just get little packs of detergent and you can refill your container. We’ve had most of our containers for more than three years, and we simply refill them from our mail-order delivery each month. We’ve built up our supply and have a full year of cleaning supplies. It’s a small but significant way we can help do our part to try and reduce the amount of plastic in landfills.
Make your own detergent
The best way to know exactly what is in the products you’re using is to make them yourself. It can also save you some money. DIY laundry soaps cost about three to five cents per load, compared to 20 cents or more for your typical store-bought detergent. There are lots of recipes available online, but here is an easy one with only two ingredients.
Note: Washing soda (also known as sodium carbonate) is a laundry booster available at most large grocery stores. Simply Clean, VIP, and Arm & Hammer are three common brands. Castile soap is an olive oil-based hard soap found in the personal care section of most grocery stores.
2 cups washing soda
1 5-oz bar castile soap
Grate the soap or cut into chunks and put in a food processor. Mix well with the washing soda. You can add a few drops of your favorite essential oil if you like.
Making your own laundry detergent helps save your health, the planet, and your pocketbook.
How does your favorite laundry detergent compare?
The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to helping us live our safest, healthiest life. Want to know how your favorite detergent rates? Check out their website where they evaluate the safety of over 2,500 cleaning products. For example, Tide Coldwater Liquid HE detergent scores a D grade, and the list of known ingredients contains many of the toxic chemicals we discussed above.
Using laundry products with fewer toxins is worth it
On our journey to becoming More Than Healthy, Carla and I have made many small but significant changes that have positively impacted our health. Choosing to use laundry products with fewer toxins is one of those small changes, and we’ve seen and felt the difference.
Let us know what products you love to use and why. If you have any questions about this tip, or any of our other weekly tips or information, please post them on our social media pages or contact us on our website at www.morethanhealthy.com. We’d also love to have you join us for our free monthly coaching calls, where we discuss these tips and answer questions. Simply text COACHING to 1-647-558-9895 to join our email list.
Thanks for joining us, and we’ll see you next week.