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Where's the Soap?

A Short Study of Laundry Detergents

I don’t have a washer and dryer in my new apartment. I thought about buying a set, but after my moving expenses exceeded my expectations—by a lot—I decided that since it’s just me, I could laundromat it for a while. A new adventure, what the heck!

The wanton use of highly fragranced laundry detergents is common, especially in laundromats--they reek of cheap dryer sheets and Gain®. I still dutifully bring in my plant-based products and fill my 2 or 3 top loaders, grab my book or magazine, and wait for them to cycle through.

That went ok for a few weeks, but then I had the unfortunate luck of someone mistaking my machine for theirs and they dumped, what seemed to me, an inordinate amount of stinky goo onto my clothes.

Because these places are already an assault on the nostrils, I didn’t really discover this faux pas until I returned to my fragrance-free home.

See, laundry day for me means having a clean set of sheets to crawl into after a hot soothing shower--a mini spa treatment, if you will. Clean sheets are just a joy. It’s a favorite weekend ritual.

Since becoming a non-toxic devotee, I have become more and more intolerant of fragrance-bearing products in large part because I have done extensive research, but also, they offend my nose like cigarette smoke, or a skunk. I am fine with essential-oil scented stuff (as long as I like the smell), but chemically derived phonies need not apply. I just can’t anymore. I even hold my breath in the soap aisle at the grocery store.

So, imagine my dismay when, as I pull out and fluff my freshly laundered sheets, a Pig-Pen cloud of “Gain®” poofs out and fills the air of my small bedroom like a commission-paid over-zealous department store perfume tester. I am so sensitive to that crap that it will keep me awake. Seriously.

I put the rest of my laundry away, carefully sniffing everything to make sure there was no cross-contamination—laundromats aren’t cheap—and balled up my sheets angrily and stuffed them back in my “dirty” duffle bag along with a couple of similar-colored t-shirts that were with them in the washer.

Then, I started sneezing.

Thankfully, I had a backup set of sheets and resolved to get my faves back on the bed the following week. But wait...

<cue record scratching sound>

The Secret

I was not going to get rid of it THAT fast, sadly. One of the trademarks of this green glop is that (and this is their words):

“…[our] laundry detergents also pack powerful perfume micro capsules that gradually release scent while you wear your clothes, so you’re always getting bursts of …[fragrance].”

One of the first ingredients is dimethicone which is a medication used to treat dry and itchy skin, but ironically can cause dry and itchy skin. Think diaper rash treatments. It creates a barrier that prevents moisture from irritating the skin, but also prevents moisture from leaving the skin, a necessary function. Picture being wrapped in plastic-wrap.

Dimethicone is clingy, and apparently in the case of this particular detergent, is the encasement for those “micro capsules”. Incidentally, it is also a polymer that does *not* biodegrade, so washing it out is problematic, which leads me to the purpose of this article…

Where’s the Soap?

The ingredients that make laundry detergent "soapy" are anything ending in "-ase". Protease and amylase (in this case) are there...but WAY down in the list of ingredients. You can read more here about how they work together.

If you keep washing your laundry in non-biodegradable polymers and other non-pronounceable ingredients, you are essentially coating your clothes, not cleaning them. Many of the components of popular laundry detergents present hazards in and of themselves including respiratory concerns, aquatic concerns (our water systems are not closed loop), dermatological problems, as well as environmental hazards, but together…? Ugh!

What's wrong with soap and water?

Instead, choose products that have:

Your clothes will last longer, your nose (and allergy symptoms) will be grateful, and your skin will be able to breathe.

Remember, clean doesn’t “smell” like anything. It’s neutral. We’ve been duped to believe that things need to be scented to be or smell clean. They don’t.

P.S. As of this writing, I have washed my sheets 3 times with my preferred laundry soap and copious amounts of vinegar, and they still have the some of the fragrance in them. ☹

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