by : Madeleine Somerville@madeleinesix
Detergents contain dozens of potentially harmful ingredients but with just three simple ingredients you can make a cheap, environmentally friendly alternative
My daughter just turned three. She loves being naked and disrobes at every opportunity, including in the middle of her recent dinosaur-themed birthday party.
I get it – who doesn’t love to be in the buff? But bar those of us lucky enough to live alone in the woods, pesky social norms dictate that we wear clothing. So we wear fabric. And even if you enjoy the thrill of sleeping nude, you’re still nestled into pillowcases and snuggled up to soft sheets.
The point? You presumably wash these textiles at least occasionally, and it’s worth thinking about the ingredients in your detergents.
The costs of environmental damage often seem abstract: a skeletal polar bearfloating on an iceberg thousands of miles away, or the threat of rising water levels some decades in the future. Heartbreaking, yes, but seemingly beyond the realm of what we are capable of changing.
Detergent, however, is not.
Laundry ingredients seem innocuous enough, but those cheerful plastic bottles house a host of problems, including the bottle itself. Popular detergents contain dozens of potentially harmful ingredients, including petrochemicals, carcinogens and optical brighteners, which linger on clothing, cause skin irritation and are toxic to marine life.
Tide detergent alone contains 27 separate ingredients – including “fragrance”, which in itself can contain hundreds of individual chemical compounds, and can be used to hide a multitude of sins.
And if you thought the fun was over when you popped that load in the dryer, think again. A recent study from the University of Washington found that dryer vents in homes that use popular scented laundry detergents and dryer sheets emit more than 25 volatile organic compounds, including two known carcinogens.
Yikes. So, why are we paying companies that make us smell ridiculous, when we could be making our own product for a fraction of the cost with a drastically reduced environmental impact?
I swear on my tyrant toddler, it’s not even hard. If you can operate a cheese grater, you can do this.
Homemade laundry detergent
Gather your three ingredients:
• Washing soda (different from baking soda, although not by much)
• Borax (If borax is unavailable or if you’re nervous about using it – some people are – just double the washing soda.)
• A bar of natural soap (I use Dr Bronner’s, which is scented with essential oils)
All should be readily available at your local supermarket (Washing soda and borax are packaged in cardboard boxes and typically take up residence in the bottom shelf of the laundry aisle.).
Take your bar of natural soap and grate it. If you have a food processor with a grater attachment this will be a cinch, if not, you’ll have to make yourself useful by grating a few bars during your next Netflix marathon.
Add the grated soap to 250ml each of washing soda and borax, mix well.
Use one to two tablespoons per load.
I’ve used this recipe for years now – including two years of cloth diapering – in both standard and high-efficiency machines and with mostly cold-water washes. If you can go one step further and snub your dryer – even for a few loads a week – in favour of a clothesline or drying rack, your laundry routine will be lean, green and plastic bottle-free.
But if all of this grating and mixing seems like too much work, you could just, you know, stop wearing clothing altogether. No clothing means no laundry to do, and no laundry to do means you can just ditch detergent completely!
Pint-sized sources in my neck of the woods assure me that it’s the hot new thing – all you need is less, right?