Now that you’ve learned eco-friendly and non-toxic ways to clean your kitchen, let’s work on ‘greening’ your laundry room. No, not literally green; no green paint involved here! I want to share some simple ways to clean your clothes without harmful detergents, too much water use, and too much energy use. And as with cleaning your kitchen, these laundry tips will not only be safer for your family and the environment, they will save you money, too!

Typical Toxic Laundry Detergent

Commercial laundry detergents contain many toxic chemicals that are washed down the drain and then wreak havoc on the ecosystems. These toxic chemicals also leave residues on your clothing that could be absorbed by your skin or breathed in. These toxins can build up in your system and cause unknown effects. These toxic ingredients include:

  • Petroleum distillates (aka napthas): Linked to cancer
  • Phenols: Can cause toxicity throughout the entire body
  • Artificial fragrances: Linked to various toxic effects on fish and mammal, as well as allergies and skin and eye irritation in humans
  • Phosphates: Stimulate the growth of certain marine plants when they’re released into the environment and contribute to unbalanced ecosystems
  • Optical brighteners: Can be toxic to fish and can cause bacterial mutations and allergic reactions. (Makes laundered clothes appear whiter (although does not actually affect the cleanliness of the clothing.)

If you want more information, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a website that lists the key characteristics of laundry detergent ingredients such as surfactants, bleaches, colorants, optical brighteners, and solvents and the areas of concern with each.

Non-Toxic and Eco-Friendly Laundry Detergent Options

For starters, look for laundry detergents that are frangrance-free or hypo-allergenic to avoid triggering allergic reactions. You also want to avoid those toxic ingredients listed above. If you are looking for a typical liquid- or powder-type detergent, you can check out these more natural brands:

Also Consider Soap Nuts

I wrote about our initial experience using soap nuts in December of 2008, and I am happy to say it’s still our laundry cleaner of choice!

Soap nuts grow on the Chinese Soapberry tree and have been used for thousands of years. When they fall from the tree the inner fruit is removed from the shell and the shell then dried in the sun, using no chemical processing. That outer shell contains saponins which act as water surfactants.

To use, simply put 2-3 soap nuts into a small cloth bag and toss in your wash. The nuts release their saponins which reduces the surface tension of the water and frees dirt, grime, and oils from clothing. When washed downstream the saponins remain harmless to the environment. There are no synthetic chemicals, no fragrance chemicals, no foaming agents or other toxins; just nut shells grown by nature.


I’m holding three soap nuts which, when put in the little cloth bag, will wash 2-3 loads of laundry (on warm setting) or 1 load (on hot)

I admit that soap nuts can seem a bit odd when first presented as a clothes-cleaning option, but after reading how non-toxic they are and seeing results, I feel this is the best option for non-toxic, eco-friendly clothes cleaning. Be prepared, there are no suds. Suds are actually not needed to clean clothes; commercial detergents add sudsing agents to give the impression of more cleaning power.

But have no fear, these nuts do work well; they even passed our “smell test”! If our stinky work-out clothes can become odor free, they are a keeper! There is no smell to the clothes – no stink and no perfume – that means they are clean!


bag of soap nuts, which came with the smaller bag to toss in the wash

And soap nuts are cost effective as well, at about 15 cents per load! We just finished that initial bag of soap nuts; it took us 15 months to go through it. We use NaturOli Soap Nuts ordered from Amazon. (Updated 10/11/15)

Because of their pure and simple nature, soap nuts would be a great option for anyone with sensitive skin, especially babies.

Natural Laundry Booster

Borax is a good natural laundry booster and cleaner (it can even remove mold) and is safe and non-toxic. Borax will make your laundry detergent work harder for you.

Baking soda can also be used as a laundry booster. By adding 1/2 cup of baking soda to each laundry load, detergents can work more effectively and reduce bacteria.

Use vinegar in the wash cycle to prevent fabrics from fading.

Natural Fabric Softener

Baking soda can be used as a natural fabric softener in your laundry. Adding 1/4 cup of baking soda to each rinse cycle acts as a balance to suspend detergent or mineral deposits that can make clothing feel stiff.

Vinegar can also be used as a fabric softener, and it’s great for reducing static cling. Just add a cup of white vinegar to the final rinse.

Non-Toxic Stain Removers

I use Earth Friendly Products Oxo-Brite to soak any clothes that have stains. After a good soaking (several hours+) I wash normally with other clothes. If you want more information, here is the spec sheet.

Biokleen makes several kinds of stain and odor eliminators that get good reviews.

Sun & Earth makes a stain remover pen for those needing something for “on the go”.

Also, you can pre-treat stains with a mixture of half water and half vinegar; it can do the trick with  many common stains on clothing. Keep a spray bottle of this solution in your laundry room and spray mixture on stains before washing.

Here is a recipe for a homemade stain remover:

  • 2 parts hot water
  • 1 part baking soda
  • 1 part hydrogen peroxide

Spot treat stains and soak overnight. Mix only as much as you need for immediate use because it won’t store well over long periods of time.

Alternatives for Dryer Sheets

Never use dryer sheets, they are toxic and do not biodegrade in landfills. The fragrance in the dryer sheets rubs off onto clothes, and can be absorbed by your skin. An examination of the toxic chemicals used in artificial fragrance showed as many as twenty-three identifiable carcinogenic compounds.

For softer clothes, follow the recommendations above in the Fabric Softener section.

Another way to get around using dryer sheets is to stop using the dryer! Speaking of that…

Hang Dry Clothes to Save Money and Resources

One of the biggest environmental burdens in your laundry room is your clothes dryer. Clothes dryers emit carbon dioxide and waste electricity, not to mention create extra wear-and-tear on your clothing. Drying clothes on a clothesline can help reduce the burden caused by a clothes dryer. Sunlight is a natural disinfectant and it is also an excellent bleaching agent. There are many different types of outdoor clotheslines available, ranging in price from $10-$55.

If you do not have a yard for an outdoor clothesline, consider several options for drying clothes inside. My mom always used her outdoor clothesline in the summer and used several folding racks inside during the winter. I guess that habit followed as that’s the only way I dry clothes. (I only use our dryer for towels and bedding.)

There are many types of clotheslines and drying racks available, from the basic clothesline to ceiling-mounted indoor laundry racks. They exist in every shape, size, and type to match your needs.

Check out this picture of our drying racks in use:


Our two clothes racks holding one load of laundry

Wear Clothes More Than Once

Besides the rule to always wear clean underwear, most of us can wear garments more than once. The exception to that might be kids; my son’s clothes get dirty daily! The most effective way to save money, energy, and resources in your laundry room is to just do less of it. Wearing your clothes more than once before tossing them in the dirty pile is the first step.

As you have seen, the great news is that being eco-friendly in the laundry room not only protects your family and the environment, it also saves you money! Now that you know some new ways to be “green” in the laundry room, which of these tips will you try first? Leave me a comment and share!

Wendy –

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