Lifestyle » Vol. 8

Turn Your Laundry…Green?

By Jill Hart

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With so much emphasis these days on “going green,” it seems that almost no portion of our lives or homes cannot be made “greener” with just a little thought and effort ~ but sometimes we forget to look at the chores on a daily or weekly basis as potential areas for improvement. Take, for instance, the seemingly benign task of doing laundry. Both dryer sheets and liquid fabric softener have properties that are not very green ~ so which is better, or should we avoid both?

If you’re concerned about the health and safety of your family members, you might want to stay away from both conventional dryer sheets and liquid fabric softeners altogether. While it may be nice to have clothes that feel soft, smell fresh and are free of static cling, both types of products contain chemicals known to be toxic to people after sustained exposure.

According to the health and wellness website Sixwise.com, some of the most harmful ingredients in dryer sheets and liquid fabric softener alike include benzyl acetate (linked to pancreatic cancer), benzyl alcohol (an upper respiratory tract irritant), ethanol (linked to central nervous system disorders), limonene (a known carcinogen) and chloroform (a neurotoxin and carcinogen), among others.

Since fabric softeners are designed to stay in your clothes for extended periods of time, the above chemicals can seep out gradually and be inhaled or absorbed directly through the skin. Liquid fabric softeners are slightly preferable to dryer sheets, as the chemicals in dryer sheets get released into the air when they are heated up in the dryer and can pose a respiratory health risk to those both inside and outside the home. This is of particular concern for the elderly, whose respiratory health may already be compromised.

For those who don’t want to give up the benefits of fabric softeners but are afraid to risk exposure to potentially toxic chemicals, National Geographic’s Green Guide recommends adding either a quarter cup of baking soda or a quarter cup of white vinegar to the wash cycle. Either one will soften clothes, while the latter will also address static cling (NOTE: Be sure not to mix either with bleach, though, as resulting chemical reactions could cause noxious fumes). If eliminating static cling is your top priority, try drying natural-fiber clothes separately from synthetic materials. The combination of cotton and polyester is often the culprit behind static cling. Better yet, suggests Green Guide, line dry synthetic clothing, as it tends to dry fairly quickly anyway.

A few companies have answered the ever-increasing call for greener, safer ways to soften clothes and reduce static cling. Seventh Generation’s Natural Lavender Scent Fabric Softener and Ecover’s Natural Fabric Softener are both good choices that rely on vegetable products and natural essential oils instead of harsh chemicals to get the job done.

Another safer option is Maddocks’ Static Eliminator, a non-toxic, hypoallergenic reusable dryer sheet made out of a proprietary, chemical-free polynylon. Maddocks, a Canadian company, originally developed the material to rid industrial-scale mechanical systems of explosion-inducing static electricity, but soon realized that it could benefit consumers as well, who can now buy the sheets ~ each one is good for some 500 wash loads ~ from natural foods retailers as well as from several online vendors.

Thanks to www.emagazine.com/earthtalk/thisweek.

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