Cleaner Laundry – Part 2 – Fabric Conditioners

Originally I was going to include fabric conditioners in with the detergents in part 1, but it was getting very long! And really fabric conditioners need a space to themselves because, well, you’ll see!

Considering how long people have been washing clothes, fabric conditioners as we know them today have not been around all that long. They rose to popularity with the tumble dryer, and the rise of synthetic fabrics use in clothing, both produce static and smell pretty bad when heated.

The solution? Along came fabric conditioners, their job is to ‘coat’ the clothes in, well, basically a soup of chemicals to make them feel soft, and prevent the build up of static. Great! Except for the tiny problem that these chemicals also smell pretty bad, the solution to this? The heady perfume fabric conditioners are known for is added, using… a few more chemicals.

I will admit that I have a fairly sensitive sense of smell but sometimes peoples fabric conditioner on their clothes is so strong that it will make my eyes water and make it a little harder for me to breathe just standing next to them. But the chemicals made to make this fragrance could actually be doing us some real harm.

They release VOC’s or Volatile organic compounds many of these are actually classified as toxic or hazardous air pollutants, they contribute massively to air pollution in the home (which is often actually many times higher than air pollution outside the home) and can cause or exacerbate respiratory disorders such as asthma (VOCs can be and are released from many sources inside the home not just fabric conditioner, but this is a major contributor). Some of them are also suspected hormone disruptors.

But the regulations state that product manufacturers do not have to declare what makes up the fragrance of their product because it would leave them open to being copied by competitors. This means that in some cases no-one outside the manufacturer actually knows what chemicals they are using to give the fragrance.

The softness provided to your clothes is largely provided by a group of chemicals whose name is shortened to quarts. The Association of Occupational and Environmental Clinics, a leading international authority on asthma, calls these chemicals “asthmagens,” substances that can cause asthma to develop in otherwise healthy people. With Instances of asthma on the rise (especially in children) is this something we should or can afford to ignore?

By their very nature the chemicals are designed to stay on the clothes that you have on your skin, so some of them will be absorbed into your skin. For some people they can even cause contact dermatitis, eczema and body acne.

It’s quite amusing, and at the same time horrifying that the adverts for these products often focus on the natural, their imaging is of hillside, mountains, festivals (!) people taking deep deep breaths of their wonderful clean and fresh fragrances….

I hadn’t realised before we started our eco journey but Fabric softener is actually bad for quite a few materials;

Firstly because it makes them less absorbent, so at the very least you should stop using them on your towels! But also sports wear, which is designed to wick moisture away from your skin and allow your skin to breathe,(and is probably a large part of the reason you bought it in the first place!) is prevented from doing this by the film that is put on them by the fabric conditioner.

Also anything that contains spandex aka elastane – leggings, some jeans and ‘control shape wear’, swimming costumes anything that has ‘stretch’ are all likely to be weakened by the use of fabric conditioner and have a shorter lifespan.

Secondly because it makes them more flammable. Even if you buy fabrics that have been treated or made to be flame retardant (usually children’s clothes/costumes) then adding fabric conditioner to them will reduce their effectiveness by up to 7 times according to the Department of Chemistry at McGill University.

So in a lot of cases, fabric conditioner is actually completely unnecessary and a big fat waste of money!

So that’s the bad news! What of the good? What if you love your fabric conditioner? What if you are old friends going back years and you love smelling like spring mountain dew on the delicate petal of an alpine flower damn it!

Well the good news is: You can still have lovely soft clothes, you can even get them to smell pretty good (perhaps a more subtle fragrance, which is probably, upon reflection, what spring mountain dew on the delicate petal of an alpine flower was going for anyway….) 😉 without the chemicals!

The original fabric conditioners were made with olive oil but you do not even need to go that far.

If you are really not ready to kick the fabric conditioner habit then we have 2 great choices of fabric conditioners that are far more eco friendly and use natural fragrances.

Bio D

This comes as unscented or with a lavender fragrance (so your clothes can be a source of calm in your day!) As mentioned in Part 1, 100% of their range is hypoallergenic, they are also 100% natural, plant based products, they are committed to sustainable practices and are credited with the 14001 standard and are vegan.

If you do not wish to use fabric conditioners at all, then the easiest way to keep your clothes soft and nice smelling is to line dry them when possible. (I appreciate that in the UK this equates to roughly 5 days a year! But on those days go for it!)

At the very least keep synthetic fabrics out of the tumble dryer as they are the main culprits for static production.

But fear not for the other 360 days a year there are still options;

Ecoegg Dryer Egg.

They soften clothes and reduce drying time (by up to 28%) but also impart a subtle, natural fragrance to your clothes. The eggs should last…well for ages, you just need to change the scent sticks when they become less… scenty.

 

 

White Vinegar

You can also try adding some white vinegar to your washing machine during the rinse cycle. – The smell will not last, but it will make your clothes feel soft soft soft.

 

Essential Oils

You can use essential oil to give a lovely subtle fragrance, and its super easy to change the scent when ever you want! You can either add it to your fabric conditioner draw of your washing machine or make up a spray bottle of distilled white vinegar and essential oil and spray on your clothes before adding them to the dryer.  –
To 250ml of White Vinegar add 1.5 tsp of Eucalyptus essential oil (Lavender, lemongrass also work well or experiment with your own favourite scent!) and spray!

It is highly recommended that you swap out your detergent (see part 1) for one of the more natural alternatives if you are going to swap or stop altogether your fabric conditioner. Because the detergents and the fabric conditioners you have been using will be on your clothes still, and it may take a few washes for them to come out. This may lead to them feeling a bit stiffer and starchier than usual for a little while. It is also worth giving your washing machine a bit of a detox to get any residue out of it.
(THESE handy little tabs can help with that)

Phew, so there you have it, and now you know why fabric softeners needed their own post! In the 3rd and final part of this laundry series we will have a look at what we can do to tackle any particularly stubborn stains in an more eco way.

Cleaner Laundry Part 1

Many people believe that eco practices need to be big bold statements, a complete 180 on the things they currently do, which scares people off the idea.
This is a shame, I am a big believer in taking small steps, making small changes and it adding up to a big difference.

Many people also believe that using eco friendly products is automatically more expensive. This is not true. And one area that addresses both of these points beautifully is the humble laundry, the humdrum, everyday, not exactly thrill a minute (unless a red sock got in with the whites) practice of washing ones clothes.

But actually, in eco terms it is quite exciting because EVERYBODY (or their Mum!) does it. Perhaps not everyday, but every few, or every week for most I would wager, and it is a chore. We wear clothes, we would usually like to re-use them (a good eco practice right there!) and so we wash them, not for the fun of it but the necessity. And for most its quite habitual. We find a washing powder, liquid or tabs that we like, a fabric softener that has a pleasing scent and that’s what we use, because we like them, they do their job, so why change it?

Well, if we did all change our laundry products it would make a massive difference, to both ourselves and the environment at large. And, before you ask, yes eco friendly laundry products can be just as effective on dirt and cost effective too.
Lets look at some of the things in mainstream laundry products that in eco terms are less than ideal.

Phosphates

These are probably the one that most people would have heard of, they are there to help with removing dirt from clothes (also found in washing up liquids or dishwasher products) but when they get washed down the drain they can cause problems.

When they find their way into waterways they cause algal blooms, which is a big problem if you are living in or dependent upon that water as they can harm or even kill the organisms by depleting the oxygen in the water, blocking the light, and even

blocking the gills of fish. Whilst the quantity of phosphates or phosphonates has decreased in the last 30 years, there is still along way to go.

Just as bad, is how phosphates are obtained. They are often strip mined, which has lead to the environmental devastation of many areas it has been mined in, the small pacific island of Nauru which once a paradise has seen 80% of its surface strip mined, leaving it a barren waste land. But this is also a problem in Florida, Brazil, Africa and other countries.

Surfactants

These are pretty essential to washing. They break up the dirt and stains allowing them to be lifted off the clothes and washed away. LAS is the ingredient generally favoured by the industry (Linear Alkylbenzene Sulfonate), but the trouble with it is that it does not biodegrade without sufficient oxygen.

Bio or non-bio?

Many people automatically reach for the Non-bio because they believe it to be kinder and safer on skin and so it is especially popular for those with small children or sensitive skin. The difference is the presence of enzymes, which are present in order to help break down stains that are protein or fat based. But, whilst they are naturally occurring they can cause skin irritation.

Many people turn to eco friendly laundry products simply because they have a reaction to mainstream brands, with the most common being contact dermatitis. But there are some ingredients that even though more eco friendly and natural can still cause irritations, so it is good to know that there are an array of options out there, not only for your skin, but for how much of a ‘change’ you are comfortable making or how much money you would like to spend/save.

So here are our favourites;

Bio D 

 

These are really good products. We have found them to be just as good as mainstream products for general soiling and are a great choice if you are looking for something that is much more eco- friendly but not too far our of your laundry comfort zone!

 

  • 100% of their range is hypoallergenic,
  • they are also 100% natural, plant based products,
  •  are committed to sustainable practices
  • and are credited with the 14001 standard
  • not to mention also vegan.
  • The bottles are made from 100% recycled plastic, and are recyclable.
  • Available in 1L or 5L sizes!

EcoEgg Laundry Eggs

 

A complete replacement for laundry detergent, you just place it in the drum of your washing machine and let it work its magic. While a little quirkily different from regular detergents, they are independently laboratory proven to perform just as well as regular detergents.

  • They are supported by Allergy UK and the National Eczema Society they are perfect for even the most sensitive of skin.

They also score big points for being economical, with their 720 egg, being good for 720 loads of washing!! That is 3 YEARS worth of washing for the average family and works out at under 3p per wash!

They are also not tested on animals and have a very good environmental policy. And are vegan.

Soap Nuts

 

Organic SoapnutsOur most quirky offering is the wonderful soap nut, which literally grows on trees!

These amazing little shells are highly effective cleaners, you just pop half a dozen in an old sock or muslin bag with your clothes and let them do their thing!

  • They are great for all fabrics and all temperatures.
  • They are great for allergy sufferers or those with very sensitive skin.

Contrary to what their name suggests they are actually a berry not a nut, and so nut allergy suffers need not fear. They contain Saponin a natural detergent, when placed in water the soap nuts absorb the water and release the saponins which act as a natural surfactant and lift dirt grime and oil from clothing.

They are also very affordable, being inexpensive to buy and you can use the same 6 or so shells 6 or so times and then when they are all saponin-ed out you can compost them! Making them truly sustainable, non-toxic and waste free! An amazing eco option. Soap nuts can also be used for washing up, soap or shampoo!

 

So at whatever level you feel comfortable there is a way you can make your washing less impactful on the environment but better for your health too, if we all made a change to one of these alternatives (or any of the others out there) this would equate to not a big effort on our individual parts but a massive difference to our wider environment and perhaps even personal environment and purses!

In part 2 we are going to look at Fabric conditioners and why you perhaps do not need them at all!…