LaundryJuly 16, 2009
There seem to be a few different issues involved: pollution, energy and water. The aim is to create or use as little as possible of each.
The pollution problem focused initially on phosphates, which, according to SECR (the Wisconsin State Environmental Resource Center), are often a significant source of phosphorus pollution in bodies of water. Too much phosphorus causes too little oxygen to be available in the water for desirable plant and animal life. It leads to algae blooms that produce a deadly toxin, damage ecosystems, fishers, water quality. This causes both natural and economic damage.
In the late 1960’s Congress called for an end to the use of phosphorus in detergents by 1972, and numerous states have banned its use; by 1999 there were 27 and the District of Columbia. Finally, in 1994 the laundry detergent industry made an agreement with states to remove phosphates from their products. Apparently they didn’t do this for the good of the environment, but, according to SERC, because the costs of creating different detergents for the stats with phosphate bans was too high. Unfortunately, phosphate limits in automatic dishwashing detergent and other household cleaners have not been changed in most states. Although those states in the Chesapeake Bay Agreement do ban it.
So, back to laundry detergents, on top of the phosphates there are innumerable other chemicals in laundry detergents that anyone with sensitive skin knows just can’t be good for you, and aren’t good for the environment either.
…Petroleum-based synthetic dyes, fragrances and other chemicals are often added to detergents for aesthetic appeal. Synthetic fragrances may contain hormone-disrupting phthalates, which prevent the scent from dissipating but also provoke asthma and other respiratory problems. Optical brighteners, fluorescent chemicals used to make clothing appear cleaner, can rub off fabrics onto skin and cause rashes (National Geographics, The Green Guide).
While researching this I have noticed some directions for homemade detergent such as on BLULOW. I’ll have to give one a try. When I do I’ll let you know how it goes.
Another worrisome laundry product is bleach. Bleach, especially chlorine bleach is just horrible for the environment and for people. Yes, I have a bottle of Clorox in my laundry room, but it hasn’t been opened in years. I guess I’m saving it for a bleach-required emergency – that and I haven’t the faintest idea how to dispose of it safely. Why do I need to worry? Here’s what I found at Green Cotton:
The most widely used industrial bleaches are chlorine compounds, usually sodium hypochlorite – household bleach – or chlorine dioxide. Both are hazardous to factory workers, who are at risk of burns, lung and eye injuries.
…Sodium hypochlorite oxidizes organic matter in rivers and oceans to produce chemicals called trihalomethanes, some of which are carcinogenic.
Chlorine dioxide also produces trihalomethanes in waterways. It also can form dioxins – carcinogens, mutagens, and tetrogenic compounds – which the body stores in fatty tissues almost indefinitely.
Oxygen-based bleaches, from what I’ve read, seem to be ok for when you need to bleach something.
Fabric softener is a whole other bailiwick. The Green Guide says it better than I can:
…those seemingly innocuous floral fabric softeners emit, among other chemicals, neurotoxic toluene and trimethylbenzene, styrene (a possible carcinogen), the respiratory irritants phenol and xylene, and thymol, which can cause abdominal distress, according to a study in the May 2000 issue of the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health. Avoid dryer sheets as well, which may be treated with the same harmful chemicals as those in liquid fabric softeners.
I could never stand the feel of dryer sheets or heavily softened fabric, so my family has always had to tolerate rough, unsoftened cloth. They have never complained. But if you need a softener, guess what, good old white vinegar softens clothes.
How ironic that in an effort to clean our clothes we often pollute our environment and our own bodies. Tomorrow I’ll talk about laundry and energy.