Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Going "green" with laundry detergent - why you should consider the switch

Before becoming pregnant, I never really gave laundry detergent too much thought besides "does it smell good?"  I figured that detergent is detergent. I would also load up on the fabric softener sheets to a totally ridiculous level. When I became interested in cloth diapering and living more naturally, and I learned that what is in most mainstream detergents and softeners is not something I want close to my baby's (or my family's) skin at all!

When you cloth diaper, using more natural detergents helps prolong the life of your diapers, keeps them from "repelling" (which means they are no longer absorbent and you have a leaky stinky mess everywhere) and of course keeps only safest ingredients closest to your baby's butt. Some cloth diaper manufacturers list certain mainstream detergents as being ok for their cloth diapers, but for the most part they typically recommend more natural or "green" detergents. I did a little bit of research and found that there are a ton of natural detergents out there- and many are just as reliable as the brands we're all accustomed to finding at the grocery store. I mean, come on, their main job is to clean baby poop. So I experimented with Rockin Green and Country Save (a locally based company for me!). Both are family owned, dye/optical brightener/enzyme/phosphate free. I'll explain below why this is important.

I knew I was hooked when after washing my first load of cloth diapers, I completely smothered my face into a few freshly washed (but not yet dried) prefolds - and hesitantly expected to smell poop (oh, the glamorous parts of motherhood).  And...nothing. All I smelled was the freshest and cleanest cloth I have ever smelled in my entire life. It was like breathing in a field of grass after a rain. So weird to describe, but I was totally sold after that. 
Prepping our cloth diapers for the first time
After using this detergent solely on our cloth diapers for a few weeks, I decided to try it out on some towels that were just... stinky. They were clean, but after towelling off they'd leave a bad smell on our skin. I tried our "special" cloth diaper detergent and with one wash they also had that fresh after the rain smell.. Even after a couple uses later.

That led to the transition in my laundry regime that my "special" detergent was for cloth diapers, baby clothes and towel use only. Admittedly, we still use "regular" detergent for the grown up clothes. The main reason for that is because we still have a lot of it left. However, the plan is to switch completely over very soon.

So what about Dreft, the "baby detergent"? I'll admit that we used it on Penny's clothes before we started washing our own cloth diapers at home because it seemed like the "normal" or "right" way to do it. Dreft claims to use "milder" ingredients to be safer for a baby's sensitive skin. But, like many other baby related products, marketing pushes you towards using a specific baby formula because they know people want what's best for their baby, but many simply don't do their research on why they should use one product over the other. This allows companies to use a higher price tag, and even then people will believe that it's a better product because it costs more!  Some suggest that All Free and Clear is similar enough to Dreft and is much less expensive. However, these detergents still contain harsh chemicals, fragrances, enzymes, brighteners, often times bleach, and are not good for the environment. None of these things I really want in contact with my baby's skin.

But besides your laundry smelling super clean and not like fake mountain meadows, why would you want to use a more natural detergent? Like I mentioned above, enzymes, brighteners, fragrances and bleach are ingredients that cause build up in cloth diapers and clothes (source 1), lead to diaper rash and ultimately you don't want coming in contact with your family's skin.
  • Enzymes in your detergent aren't necessarily a bad thing (source 2), because they help break down stains. Even though they don't always fully wash out of clothing, most people don't have a problem with them coming into contact with their skin. But, babies and people with sensitive skin do.
  • Brighteners are literally chemicals that trick the eye into making colors appear brighter (source 3) - they have nothing to do with how clean your laundry gets.
  • Fragrances are another additive to laundry that aren't essential. Sure, we all love our laundry to smell good, but when you consider that this is another chemical being added to your clothes that you wear all day every day, I don't need that extra exposure thankyouverymuch. If my clothes smell real clean, I'm happy! Have you noticed that there are detergents which actually feature the "fresh linen" smell? How ridiculous!  
  • Environmentally speaking, you want to consider how the manufacturing process leaves a carbon footprint as well as what happens to all those chemicals that you use to wash your clothes (source 4).  Biodegradable, phosphate and fragrance free is the way to be.
If you're curious how your detergent stacks up, Diaper Jungle has a chart that compares most detergents for their use with cloth diapers. Both Rockin Green and Country Save rank highly on that chart - whereas Dreft is at the very bottom. 

Same goes for fabric softener - I haven't used fabric softener in a few years, simply because it is expensive, breaks down the material faster and it's another chemical (source 5). It also is the reason behind why my towels got stinky - they just started to repel and didn't get clean. Instead, I use wool dryer balls (that I made myself!). Here's a great tutorial.  Besides bouncing around in your dryer and beating up your clothes, wool dryer balls help dry your laundry faster and reduce static.

Ever since switching to natural detergent and wool dryer balls, I can definitely feel the difference between that and laundry done the mainstream way. When I do my laundry, I feel like I can feel the cloth as it was meant to feel.  Fabric softener just makes clothes feel oily to me, like I have to wash my hands after touching it. Weird, right? I also like my infant to smell like herself, not other fragrances. Have you ever noticed when you let someone else hold your baby, and you get her back that she smells like who ever was holding her? I feel the same way when I put her into clothes that were washed with other detergents or chemically softened.

As far as loyalty between Rockin Green and Country Save, I think both do a great job. I like that Rockin Green comes in a variety of scents (but once your clothes are washed, they are scent free) and they have different formulas based on if you have hard or soft water.  But I find that Country Save is  more affordable and my dollar goes further. I can also purchase Country Save locally whereas I have to order Rockin Green.

Bottom line for me is that I want to use products that leave minimal residuals on my family, whether it's the detergent we use or the food we eat. Limited exposure to certain chemicals may have been researched as ok/safe, but we're talking about things that we use on a daily basis for our entire lives, and we all react differently.  At the very least, I want to limit my kids' exposures to non-natural products for as long as I can.

1. http://clothdiapers.blogspot.com/2009/09/good-detergent-bad-detergent.html
2. http://www.northjersey.com/news/health/95240839_Are_you_wearing_your_detergent_.html
3. http://www.seventhgeneration.com/learn/video/no-glow
4. http://home.howstuffworks.com/laundry-detergent4.htm
5. http://wisdomofwool.com/?p=710


  1. We use dryer balls already, and I stopped using Tide to try to find a less harsh and more environmentally friendly detergent, but it's hard to find a budget friendly safe detergent. I've never heard of Country Save. I might see if I can find that on the East Coast.

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  3. I have always used a fragrance free detergent, no fabric softener, and dryer balls. I hate scented laundry, and most products give me a rash. I was fortunate that this also works well for our cloth diapers; it gets them amazingly clean and keeps laundry simple.

  4. we use eco nuts now and love them.



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