Friday, January 04, 2008

Laundry: Part 4

Am I obsessing? Possibly. I promise that after this post I will move on.

I was intrigued by a commenter who had heard that homemade laundry detergent had harmful chemicals, so I thought I would do a little digging (a.k.a. Googling) out of curiosity. The strongest chemical in the mix is borax. Like virtually every other cleaner, natural or synthetic, borax (sodium borate) has an element of toxicity. This article makes it sound quite scary, but ultimately recommends simply keeping it away from food and rinsing clothes and surfaces. However, it is widely recommended as a non-toxic alternative to commercial cleaning products, and can be used in dishwasher detergents, scouring powders, toilet cleaners and a variety of other home made natural alternatives. Essentially it is important to remember that "non-toxic" is a relative term when it comes to cleaners and detergents. As one website I found puts it:

This page offers non-toxic cleaning recipes for a safer home and cleaner environment. Non-toxic cleaners are cleaners that you can use relatively safely, as compared to other commercial cleaning products (which range from fairly safe to extremely dangerous). This does not mean that you can safely eat non-toxic cleaners or spray them in your eyes. Always label your home-made cleaners and keep them out of the reach of children.
In other words, borax in laundry detergent (or even dishwasher detergent) is fine ... but non-toxic is relative. Don't eat the stuff! And make very sure your children can't. That aside, it is safer than commercial products and also ecofriendly, with no nasty phosphates.

A couple of other laundry detergent points before I get off my soap-box (groan!) ... home made detergent will not make lots of impressive looking soapsuds. This does not matter. Bubbles do not make things clean; they just clog up your machine. The first few times you use your new liquid it may leave a residue on clothes (this happened to me the first couple of times). Adding some white vinegar to the wash will stop this - I can't remember how much, or where I read it. Alternatively, just persevere and it will go away. If you want an even more non-toxic, non-toxic detergent you can leave out the borax. It should still get clothes at least moderately clean. And finally, for some odd reason soap flakes are no longer available in the US but are in the UK. If you live in the US you have to grate your own soap, whereas we can just pour it in straight out of the packet. I promise not to gloat as I pour.

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