Cleaner laundry options for your non-toxic home

Welcome to the third part of the ongoing series on non-toxic home and body care. We’ll take a close look at laundry options. If you missed the earlier posts inClothes line the series, make sure you check them out here.

Doing laundry is all about cleaning our clothes, right? Unfortunately, many products on the market today are a source of toxic exposure for humans, pets and the environment. This post covers detergent, dryer sheets, fabric softener and dry cleaning.

What’s wrong with the mainstream products

  • Fragrances in dryer sheets, detergent, fabric softener and dry-cleaning products are associated with hormonal imbalances, decreased fertility and other health problems that you can learn about here. Fragrances are the lowest common denominator among all commercial laundry and cleaning products, but there is definitely more to the story.
  • Commercial laundry detergents often contain surfactants, allergens, endocrine disruptors and phosphates. Laundry pods are more concentrated and thus even more problematic than the detergents, and more dangerous to children who may get their hands on them.
  • Dryer sheets and fabric softeners contain carcinogens, central nervous system disruptors, narcotics and stimulants. Learn more about dryer sheets here, and read about the chemicals in fabric softeners here.
  • Common dry-cleaning chemicals have been found to be endocrine-disrupting and cancer-causing, with implications for the health of workers and consumers alike. Read this government report on drycleaning chemicals to learn more.

Safer alternatives

Laundry detergent

I find that the only detergent I need for laundry washed in the washing machine are “soap nuts” or “soap berries.” soap nutsThey have been used for washing and many other applications for centuries. They are very affordable and easy to use. I place about 6 soap berries a well-closed drawstring cotton or hemp baggie (usually supplied in the soap nuts package). Never heard of soap nuts before? Learn some basic facts here. Soap nuts don’t activate well in very cold water, but work very well in warm and hot water.

You can use castile oil soap as a liquid detergent for machine-washing and hand-washing your laundry.

If you also wash clothing by hand, you can find a gentle liquid detergent on the Environmental Working Group’s guide to cleaning products.

Are you a crafty do-it-yourselfer just dying to learn how to make your own detergent? Here are some good recipes:

Fabric softener/dryer sheets

You don’t actually need either of these. I haven’t used them in years and haven’t found the need to replace them with anything. As I sometimes have to explain, I may be “crunchy,” but my clothes are not! I don’t even have a dryer – in the warm weather, I hang my clothes outside in the sun, where the clothes take on a clean sunny smell that you can only understand through experience. In the winter, I hang the clothes on a rack near the wood-burning stove in the kitchen.

If you like using a dryer and want something to replace your former dryer sheets, you can try using wool dryer balls. You can make them yourself or buy them. They remove static, reduce drying time and soften the laundry.


Depending on your clothing style and your profession, you may or may not be able to cut your dry-cleaning significantly or altogether. When I was a teen, one of my mom’s cardinal rules of shopping was never to buy anything with a “dry-clean only” label on it. Even many “non-toxic” dry-cleaners use fragrances that many, myself included, find noxious. That being said, my husband owns a few pieces of work clothing that require dry-cleaning, but we use a dry-cleaning shop that avoids toxic products to the greatest extent possible.

Wool sweaters can be washed by hand rather than dry-cleaning. I don’t love hand-washing sweaters, but I do it anyway. If your washing machine has a hand-wash cycle, you may be able to get away with washing your wool sweaters in the washing machine. Once you have washed your wool sweaters, they need to lie flat to dry. They will lose their shape if you hang-dry them, and will shrink in the dryer.

Pre-conception support for individuals and couples

The Feed Your Fertile Body!™ program offers nutritional and lifestyle tips to prepare you for conception and help you grow a healthy baby. See the program outline here. To sign up for an upcoming group or to learn about a self-paced option for going through the program, email me at Sign up between May 1st and May 8th and receive a 10% discount in honor of Mother’s Day!


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