Q: My partner is pushing me to ditch big-name laundry detergent and fabric softener brands in favour of greener alternatives. Why should I bother, and what are my options?
A: Let's be honest. Laundry is one of those chores few of us like to do - especially if you have to schlep bags of dirty socks to a gritty old laundromat every week. But you can make the experience much less irritating for the earth and your skin if you dump those mainstream cleansers at the curb.
Why bother? Most conventional laundry products are chock full of dyes, perfumes and petrochemicals, a virtual witch's brew of ingredients that are, at best, slow to biodegrade and taxing on the water system. Some are carcinogens, others emit vapours that can cause headaches, dizziness, vomiting - even depression. It's hard to know for sure since companies aren't required to list ingredients, but you can bet these products ain't natural.
So what are your options? When it comes to the wash cycle, thankfully, there's a slew of non-toxic, hypoallergenic, cruelty- and chemical-free products out there. Like Toronto-based Nature Clean (available at Grassroots, the Big Carrot and Loblaws for $3.65 to $15.29 in liquid, powder or bulk form).
For the eco adventurer willing to try something a little off the beaten path, there are EcoSave Laundry Discs ($49.99 at Grassroots). These electrically charged pucks are said to soften water, dramatically reducing the need for soap (for heightened whitening you only need to add a teaspoon of detergent or borax) and cutting back on static cling while they're at it. Plus, they clean up to 700 loads. The Big Carrot carries a similar magnetized product called the Laundry Ball ($19.99 for two).
Beware of greenwashing. Yes, even the big boys offer perfume-free lines these days, which are indeed better for the scent-sensitive, but they don't make your suds chemical-free. And note that "phosphate-free" labels are pretty meaningless considering that major manufacturers eliminated the ecologically disrupting mineral from their powdered products back in the mid-90s.
Now for the dryer. First and foremost, hang dry what you can, but if you live in a pint-sized pad or need your undies dry in a hurry, there are ways to green up your drying habits. Start by tossing most fabric softeners - both liquids and dryer sheets. Fabric softener solvents are especially harmful if exposed to heat. (Duh, isn't that what dryers are all about?) A study published in Consumer Reports magazine found that using a big-name softener on terry cloth, fleece and velour made the fabrics six times more flammable!
Why not try all-natural softeners like Ecover (from Grassroots or the Big Carrot for $4.79 to $6.29) or Seventh Generation (from Whole Foods for $5.99). A reusable chemical-free dryer cloth is another option (available at Grassroots or Big Carrot from $9.99 to $12.99). It combats static remarkably well and lasts for up to 500 loads.
Keen on trying your own home brew? Add some baking soda to your water-filled washing machine (before filling with clothes), then pour in a cup of vinegar during the rinse cycle. Missed that oh-so-brief window? Just pour some vinegar on a damp cloth and toss it in the dryer.
But "I don't want to give up my 'spring-fresh' scent," you say. Not to worry - you can create your own aromatic blend by adding 10 drops of an essential oil to your liquid softener or that damp cloth destined for the dryer.
Remember, you can also avoid the static plague by pulling out your clothes before they're fully cooked.
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