Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A Natural Approach to Laundry

I met a woman in my local grocery store recently, who picked my brain around what laundry detergent I used and what I would recommend.

The truth is that I don’t use any.  This invited a deeper explanation, and this is what has motivated the writing of this blog post.

When my daughter was a baby, she had severe diaper rash and hyper-sensitive skin.  I had to wrap my mind around laundry alternatives very early on in my housekeeping career.  

Most people smell like their laundry detergent and they don’t realize it.  Just walking down the laundry/cleaning aisle in the grocery store gives me a headache. The ‘McFrugal’ in me also wants to mention how unnecessarily expensive these commercial laundry products are. 

I notice is how powdered laundry products build a residual in fabrics and make them feel stiff and rough.  This is especially true in regard to silk, linen, and rayon.  I am a Thrift Store junkie and I have a hound’s nose for finding treasures.  Often I have to soak and rinse clothing dozens of times, just to get out the residual laundry products. I just keep rinsing until the water is so longer soapy.  Fabrics get noticeably softer with each rinse. 

Instead of detergents:
Replace laundry powders with 1/8 to 1/4 cup of regular white vinegar.  Vinegar cuts the skin oils, deodorizes and helps to keep colours true, especially in cotton, rayon and silk.  If I need a little extra oomph, try adding about a tablespoon of dish detergent to the load. If you prefer to use a natural liquid laundry detergent, I would still suggest using as little as you can get away with.

I don’t own a dryer so I have no advise here.  I lightly spin the clothes in my machine or prefer to hand wash and wrap in a towel to sop up the water.  I hang the clothes up right away on a hanger carefully.  This means that I never need to iron.  Dry clothes can be hung right into the closet.  

Wash and Wear?  No - oils from our skin can go rancid in fabric.  A better plan is to wear and wash.  Wear something once then rinse or wash lightly in vinegar, then rinse in clear water.  

I wash whites in warm water.   I grate some of a bar of basic laundry soap into a wash-cloth by using a micro-plane grater.  I gather it up loosely and throw it in with the rest of the load.

Soaking is the old fashioned way to really get clothes clean without wearing them out, physically or chemically.

Oxygen Bleach is a safe and effective way of whitening without weakening and destroying fabrics.  

Even regular medicinal peroxide can be used to treat a stain on white fabric.  For extra care use a Q-tip to get spot-on, and then dilute quickly with water as soon as the offending spot is faded to your satisfaction.

Make your own heavy duty laundry soap:
Buy a good basic laundry bar in the Health food store (or make your own).  Grate the bar with a micro plane or grate in a food processor.  Add equal parts of Washing Soda and Borax (a natural bleach and disinfectant).  This is excellent for serious man-type laundry.

Stain Removal:  
If you become a Master at treating stains, many articles can be saved from the rubbish bin.  Removing stains may only require a spot of dish detergent or a dollop of your foaming hand soap on it.  Put it in the hamper until wash day.

I make my own foaming hand soap.  Buy a foam dispensing product and when it is empty fill it with 1 Tlbs organic shower gel to 1 about cup distilled water.  Body Shop’s ‘Satuma’ is what I use.

Stains from the oil from salad dressing can spell the ruin for natural fabrics.  I feel that I have nothing to lose by trying and if the detergent or soap trick alone doesn't work, I spray the spot with Orange Appeal or TKO (a natural solvent made from the outer skin of oranges.  Just to note that this orange essence it is very toxic to cats).  Let the garment sit until it is dry to the touch; then put a dollop of foamed hand soap on the same spot, let it dry and then re- wash it again.

I have used Laundry Discs in the past and many people swear by them.  The purchase cost is high ($70) but the discs can last for years with good care.   I have had these, but never bothered to replace them.  

I never have to face a mountain of family laundry.  I look for machines that include cold wash, soak, gentle and hand-wash settings rather than heavy duty settings.  I am not in any way suggesting that this is the ‘right way’of laundry, only offering this as being ‘my way’. 

If you have persistent skin or respiratory issues, consider this; towels, linens and clothing treated with commercial laundry products may be the culprit.  These products also have a harmful environmental impact. I hope this answers your questions.  Thanks for asking.

Take care



  1. Fabulous article Nelda - I had been waiting for this post! Thank you! Can you suggest around 'Oxygen Bleach'?

  2. Right now I am using 'Nature Clean' liquid. Borax will work too.