Green washing

Most commercial laundry detergents contain potentially harmful chemicals. Luckily, there are other ways to get clean washing.

Analysis of gases emitted from tumbledryers containing laundry washed in scented detergent and fabric softener found over 25 volatile organic compounds, including seven hazardous air pollutants. Of those, the pollutants acetaldehyde and benzene are classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as carcinogens.

As well as entering the air, chemicals from laundry products go down the drain and end up in water bodies.

You can still get a clean, fresh-smelling load of washing by using less of your usual commercial detergent, looking out for low-toxicity, unfragranced brands (products labelled “biodegradable” are a good bet), or, best of all, making your own "green wash powder" at at home.

Here's one recipe for an economical, enviro-friendly wash (these ingredients should be available at your local supermarket):

  • 1 cup borax
  • 1 cup washing soda
  • ½ cup bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
  • 1 cup grated soap.

Grate the soap as finely as possible. (This is an excellent use for those soap-ends and slivers.) Mix all the ingredients together well; it's a good idea to keep the mixture in a container with a lid - then you can shake it up each time you use it.

Use about 1-2 tablespoons of your enviro-wash per machine load. Add a little hot, even boiling, water to help the ingredients dissolve.

Note that using the cold (or at least cooler) water setting on your washing machine saves energy and is usually quite sufficient for getting a clean wash.

- Olivia Rose-Innes, EnviroHealth Editor, Health24, February 2012

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