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by Jason Denney
A lot of the name brand detergents use a plethora of chemicals and fragrances that have come into question. Fragrances cause allergic reactions in a sizeable portion of the population, to avoid them you need to find products labeled “Fragrance-free”, as merely “unscented” products can have scents added to mask other ingredient scents. Some detergent chemicals and fragrances are recognized by the EPA to be carcinogens, and researchers have been able to detect these chemicals in the output exhaust of dryers. However, while detected, no studies have yet examined for adverse health effects. Though, an undeniable health risk to consider for a lot of detergents is their risk of child poisoning, so don’t wash your kid’s mouth out with just any detergent (use Tide!). But seriously, don’t eat Tide pods.
In regards to the environment, phosphates have been in the news for a while, and are mostly banned in the United States for the detrimental effects they have on aquatic wildlife (promoting algae blooms) . However, there are also new additives that also have adverse effects on our fishy friends, such as surfactants which can damage their protective oily skins. On top of that, plastics from their containers end up in the water too (from plastic production), just watch this Dirty Money episode on Point Comfort. To make eco-friendly purchasing easier, the EPA has a “DfE” logo that approves detergents that are “Designed for Environment” so look out for it. You can also look up their opinions on safe chemicals.
Chemicals aside, the actual container and form have the same eco-friendly considerations as most soap. Avoid liquid soaps as they are less efficient from a shipping perspective, and try to avoid plastics. Lots of soap powders come in cardboard, some come as a paste, and there are even more concentrated versions that are merely strips.
So what else can you use? You may have heard of laundry balls that can replace using detergents entirely. Well, turns out they’re a scam and it’s not different than just washing your clothes in plain water. But hey, they will clean out your wallet ;)
Another interesting alternative is using horse chestnuts to make detergent. They’re poisonous so don’t eat them, but apparently it’s reasonably effective, although not recommended for whites. You can buy commercial versions that are likely better for whites.
Other simpler alternatives are just using straight vinegar, castile soap, and even bar soap.