Reduce harmful toxins in your home: how to make your own ‘clean’ laundry detergent at a fraction of the price
Chemicals commonly found in commercial laundry detergents are anything but safe. Phosphates, dioxanes, sodium hypochlorite (bleach), synthetic dyes, and sodium lauryl sulfate/sodium laureth sulfate (SLS/SLES) have been linked to irritation, inflammation, internal organ damage, and even early death.1,2,3 Many of these compounds are also carcinogens.4
Unfortunately, you live in an increasingly toxic world. Trendy detox diets only scrape the surface. But LivAmend can help.
Cleaning clothes with toxic substances doesn’t make a lot of sense.
That may be why you’re seeing non-toxic cleaning products like MyGreenFills everywhere. More than half of people say they’re often or always influenced by eco-friendly and ethical products when shopping for laundry and household cleaners.5
The convenience of the internet is also a money-saver. It’s never been easier to research and replicate a DIY recipe so you don’t have to pay full price.
Whether you want to make your own or ensure a safer pick when you buy, read on to find out which clean ingredients to look for.
Are you overdue for a laundry room detox?
Unless you’re already a green product user, the odds are good that there’s a chemical cocktail lurking in your laundry room. It’s not just your health at stake — laundry detergent may also endanger the environment.
Scented laundry soaps, some of the top-sellers, have been shown to release hazardous and carcinogenic chemicals from household dryer vents.6
The University of Washington scientists studying six leading laundry and air freshener products in the 2011 dryer-vent study detected close to 100 VOCs (volatile organic compounds) emitted. Not only that, but each product released at least one known contaminant confirmed under federal regulation.
Yet none of these toxins were found on the products’ labels.
A decade later, and not much has changed. Today’s cleaning product labels can still read more like a science experiment than a list of ingredients — if the harmful ingredients are even listed.
Here are some of the biggest offenders:
1. Benzisothiazolinone: A chemical primarily used as a preservative and antimicrobial, benzisothiazolinone is also a pollutant and a notorious irritant of the skin, lungs, and eyes. Industrial antimicrobials are known to wreak havoc on the gut microbiome.7
2. Bleach/brighteners: Highly toxic bleach, or sodium hypochlorite, can cause serious injury to the skin and eyes, as well as allergic reactions. Using cleaners that contain bleach inside your home can also generate indoor air pollution.8
3. Dioxane: 1,4 dioxane and its other derivatives are confirmed carcinogens that can also inflame the lungs, skin, and eyes.4 Because previous tests revealed such high levels in commercial laundry products, some big-name brands are now aiming to keep dioxanes under 25 ppm.
4. Dyes and fragrances: Hundreds of chemicals may be combined to create a synthetic fragrance, making clothes smell fresh even though they’re loaded with toxic compounds. Added dyes are frequently behind mysterious rashes and allergic reactions, while fragrances can penetrate the skin to reach the bloodstream.9
5. Parabens: A chemical class used most often to preserve personal care products, cosmetics, and even household cleaners, parabens are also endocrine disruptors. The chemicals have been linked to irritation, reproductive toxicity, and hyperplasia (tissue overgrowth).10
6. Phosphates: Phosphates are added to detergents to boost cleaning power in hard water conditions. Phosphate chemicals impact the environment, and even among healthy people, exposure could result in osteoporosis, heart disease, and early death.3
7. Phthalates: A chemical group used as a solvent, phthalates may promote prostate cancer growth and childhood allergies, among many other health issues.11,12 And while they’re found in most chemical-based laundry detergents, phthalates aren’t usually listed on product labels.
8. Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS)/sodium laureth sulfate (SLES): In commercial detergents, sodium laurel sulfate and sodium laurel ether sulfate, both foaming agents, are typically used as main ingredients. These chemicals are damaging to the environment, as well as to internal organs, reproductive/neurological function, and the microbiome of the mouth.2,13
As mentioned, manufacturers of commercial laundry detergent aren’t required to list all product ingredients. And for those they do, it’s possible — and quite common — to alter the names of harsher chemicals so that they sound more attractive.
This is only the tip of the iceberg. Get the latest gut health & wellness news in your feed.
Your complete guide to finding — and making — toxin-free laundry detergent
If you’d rather buy than make, keep your eye out for some of these frequently used “clean” ingredients:10
1. Coco glucoside: A plant-derived soap found in many green laundry products, coco glucoside works as a non-ionic surfactant. It helps a detergent foam and cleanse without using chemical agents.
2. Enzymes: Some green laundry cleaners contain enzyme blends derived from amino acids used to improve cleaning power. Natural enzymes may also include digestive enzymes like amylase, lipase, and protease to target stains from food.
3. Essential oils: Optional but effective as a synthetic fragrance substitute, it’s not unusual to see essential oils like bergamot, citrus, grapefruit, and lavender in natural laundry cleaners. Lemon and rosemary essential oils are also antibacterial.
4. Glycerin: Glycerin forms as a natural byproduct of making soap and works as a solvent. It’s also hygroscopic (moisture-absorbing) so it can help with stain breakdown and absorption.
5. Soapbark: Chilean soapbark (Quillaja saponaria) is extracted from evergreen trees and can be used as a natural cleaner. The word Quillay actually means “to wash,” with the bark creating a mild lather.
6. Sodium bicarbonate: Good old baking soda, or bicarbonate of soda, is an inexpensive but effective household cleaner. It works as a deodorizer and stain remover and can also naturally brighten laundry by balancing pH levels.
7. Sodium carbonate: Sodium carbonate, also called washing soda, can bind to hard water minerals, making it easier for detergent to penetrate. Similar to baking soda, washing soda is a more potent solvent as it has a higher, or more alkaline, pH.
8. Sodium cocoate: This sodium salt, produced from coconut oil’s fatty acids, can be used as a cleanser, emulsifier, and surfactant. It’s a common cleaning ingredient found in natural soaps because it’s gentle and non-toxic.
The Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning ranks brands like 365 Everyday Value, AspenClean, Better Life, Eco-Me, Greenshield, Martha Stewart Clean, and PUR among the safest over-the-counter laundry detergents.10
Want to cut costs and keep it simple? Do it yourself and make your own non-toxic detergent:
- 5 cups water, divided
- ⅔ cup super washing soda
- ½ cup liquid castile soap, unscented
- 3 tbsp. baking soda
- 2-3 drops of any essential oil (optional)
1. Boil 5 cups of water, then separate 2 cups and set aside.
2. In a large glass bowl, gradually whisk 2 cups boiling water into 2/3 cup washing soda and stir until fully dissolved.
3. Then slowly add 3 tablespoons of baking soda and stir until combined. Baking soda will cause the detergent to thicken.
4. Stir in ½ cup liquid castile soap, the remaining 3 cups of boiling water, and 2 to 3 drops of the essential oil of your choice.
5. Allow the mixture to cool and then store in a large glass jar. Use 1/3 to ½ cup for each load of laundry.
- Once cooled, the detergent mixture will naturally separate. Just stir or whisk to combine again before using.
- Prepare this detergent only using stainless steel and glass cookware as washing soda should not be used in aluminum pans.
- When diluted, castile soap can be used on its own as a non-toxic laundry cleaner. Many brands are fragrance-free and biodegradable, made with certified fair trade and organic ingredients.
- Cost breakdowns for this DIY recipe can vary, with some estimates coming in at under $0.12 per load.
Depending on how long you’ve been using chemical laundry products, your liver could benefit from a detox.
Combining herbs like milk thistle, wasabi powder, and sarsaparilla and artichoke extracts can increase bile flow and help decongest the liver. The liver and bowels are the body’s main organs that cleanse blood and tissue of toxins. Used medicinally for over 2,000 years, milk thistle, containing the liver-protective compound silymarin, is proven particularly powerful at buffering toxicity from numerous chemical compounds.14
- 1. GHS Data from ECHA Website – European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), 2020.
- 2. EC (Environment Canada). 2008. Domestic Substances List Categorization. Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) Environmental Registry.
- 3. Pizzorno L. Canaries in the Phosphate-Toxicity Coal Mines. Integr Med (Encinitas). 2014;13(6):24-32.
- 4. Wilbur S, Jones D, Risher JF, et al. Toxicological Profile for 1,4-Dioxane. Atlanta (GA): Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (US); 2012 Apr. APPENDIX D, HEALTH ADVISORY.
- 5. GlobalData 2018 Q3 global consumer survey.
- 6. Anne C. Steinemann, Lisa G. Gallagher, Amy L. Davis, Ian C. MacGregor. Chemical emissions from residential dryer vents during use of fragranced laundry products. Air Quality, Atmosphere & Health, 2011; DOI: 10.1007/s11869-011-0156-1.
- 7. Limin Zhang, Bipin Rimal, Robert G. Nichols, Yuan Tian, Philip B. Smith, Emmanuel Hatzakis, Shu-Ching Chang, John L. Butenhoff, Jeffrey M. Peters, Andrew D. Patterson. Perfluorooctane sulfonate alters gut microbiota-host metabolic homeostasis in mice. Toxicology, 2020; 431: 152365 DOI: 10.1016/j.tox.2020.152365.
- 8. Chen Wang, Douglas B. Collins, Jonathan P.D. Abbatt. Indoor Illumination of Terpenes and Bleach Emissions Leads to Particle Formation and Growth. Environmental Science & Technology, 2019; DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.9b04261.
- 9. Taylor KM, Weisskopf M, Shine J. Human exposure to nitro musks and the evaluation of their potential toxicity: an overview. Environ Health. 2014;13(1):14. Published 2014 Mar 11. doi:10.1186/1476-069X-13-14.
- 10. “EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning.” Environmental Working Group, 2020.
- 11. Chuang SC, Chen HC, Sun CW, et al. Phthalate exposure and prostate cancer in a population-based nested case-control study. Environ Res. 2020;181:108902. doi:10.1016/j.envres.2019.108902.
- 12. Susanne Jahreis, Saskia Trump, Mario Bauer, Tobias Bauer, Loreen Thürmann, Ralph Feltens, Qi Wang, Lei Gu, Konrad Grützmann, Stefan Röder, Marco Averbeck, Dieter Weichenhan, Christoph Plass, Ulrich Sack, Michael Borte, Virginie Dubourg, Gerrit Schüürmann, Jan C. Simon, Martin von Bergen, Jörg Hackermüller, Roland Eils, Irina Lehmann, Tobias Polte. Maternal Phthalate Exposure Promotes Allergic Airway Inflammation over Two Generations Via Epigenetic Modifications. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 2017; DOI: 10.1016/j.jaci.2017.03.017.
- 13. Edgar NR, Saleh D, Miller RA. Recurrent Aphthous Stomatitis: A Review. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2017;10(3):26-36.
- 14. Szilárd S, Szentgyörgyi D, Demeter I. Protective effect of Legalon in workers exposed to organic solvents. Acta Med Hung. 1988;45(2):249-56.