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Living Spaces—Rx: Wipe out those Laundry Stains
By Misty McNally
What could be more satisfying than clean laundry? Well, how abut the fact that hard-working appliances and detergents do the scrubbing, rinsing, and wringing for us. Yet all this spot-be-gone wizardry comes with a dirty secret: The chemicals in conventional stain-removal products can qualify as health hazards.
Melissa McCarty, ND, at the Bastyr Center for Natural Health outside of Seattle, says chlorine bleach and stain-lifting solvents produce harmful fumes, can irritate skin and eyes, and can be fatal if swallowed. She adds that researchers have linked the chemicals to cancer and reproductive disorders as well. The greatest risk, McCarty says, might be our repeated exposure to thousands of chemicals over our lifetimes. “Your toxic burden builds up, and your sensitivity increases,” she says, “and you’re more likely to have side effects.”
Conventional spot removal products may also damage the environment. Ingredients like surfactants and solvents often come from petroleum, a nonrenewable resource, which biodegrades slowly if at all. The harsh chemicals get washed down the drain and into the water supply, upsetting fragile ecosystems. Christopher Gavigan, CEO of Healthy Child, Healthy World, an organization dedicated to protecting the health and well-being of children from harmful environmental exposures, says, “It’s wise for parents and for anyone who is concerned about the health and welfare of themselves and the planet to be very attentive to laundry chemicals.”
Point taken, but how do you get that iced mocha stain out of your new white jeans?
Martin Wolf, director of product and environmental technology at Seventh Generation, a company that makes eco-friendly household products, suggests a few tricks from the pantry:
• Hydrogen peroxide. Spray on stains caused by such things as juice, soda, coffee, and tea. Test it on an inconspicuous hem first for colorfastness.
• Club soda. Soak the stain in it. (Be sure to use plain, unflavored soda water.)
• Corn starch, corn meal, or baking soda. Sprinkle on a greasy spot to blot up the oil. Wait, then brush off.
Wolf adds, “Just pretreating with your detergent will accomplish a lot of what a stain removal product would do.” He suggests washing in cold water, as warm or hot can set the stain. Finally, hanging whites to dry in the sun can keep them bright—plus, it saves energy.
And just what should—or should not—be in a detergent? McCarty looks for these key words on labels: biodegradable, nontoxic, solvent-free. She also suggests avoiding perfumes or colors. Phosphate-free, chlorine-free, and preservative-free also make Gavigan’s must-have list.
Unfortunately, Wolf says, few guidelines exist to regulate what can be labeled “natural,” “-free,” or even “biodegradable.” Eco-friendly companies, however, set standards for themselves that emphasize health and environmental ethics.
Author: Misty McNally
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