Washing clothes is an important part of a homecare routine for everyone. If you would like to transition to a non-toxic lifestyle, changing how you wash laundry is vital and without that we cannot talk about having a non-toxic household. 

Why is this important and we consider natural laundry washing as a key pillar of non-toxic care? 

It is because of our philosophy where “less is more”, when we try to reduce the impact of chemical substances in our bodies and lives. When you think about our body, our skin is in constant contact with the textiles. Textiles are made, coloured, and preserved by using various synthetic substances and chemicals. On top of that we treat it with washing, because we need to get rid of the stains and dirt, and we learnt to have it fragranced for perception of purity and cleanliness, so we use other chemical substances to achieve that. Everything we wash with stays in the textile fibers and we are exposed to it all day every day. That is why non-toxic natural washing is inevitable for the non-toxic household.

Let’s have a closer look at how to start with natural washing

Start with cleaning your washing machine

In transition to non-toxic laundry washing, it is crucial to give your washing machine a thorough cleaning. The reason is simple - residues of detergents settle in the washing machine and can be further released during subsequent washing. In addition to the initial cleaning, do not forget about regular cleaning (we recommend approx. once a month) to keep the washing machine in the best possible condition.

  • To remove scale, odor, mold, as a disinfection and when switching to a non-toxic detergent:

200 g of citric acid or 4 liters of vinegar directly into the drum (CAUTION! add vinegar only when the washing machine is filling with water, modern washing machines drain the water at the beginning of the program, which would invalidate the entire cleaning process) and start the program at 90 °C.

  • To remove grease, soap residue or odor:

    200 g of washing soda or 0.5-1 kg of powdered soda, again at 90 °C, choose the length of the program according to the washing machine's clogging.

    It is recommended to regularly alternate the mentioned cleaning methods.

    You may come across claims that vinegar damages the washing machine (e.g. seals or plastic parts) during regular use. However, this statement is false. The concentration of vinegar (even lower during washing/cleaning due to dilution with water) is low and, on the contrary, works well for the washing machine (it helps remove deposits and limescale, which any other conventional means of cleaning also does).

    How does natural washing work?

    Before we start analyzing detergents, let's find out on what principle detergents work.

    Since ancient times, soap has been commonly used for washing clothes. Detergents started to appear only in the middle of the 20th century, when they stole the lead from soap, proud of their higher efficiency and lower price.

    Classic soap is made from oil/fat and lye. When sodium hydroxide (NaOH) is used, a solid soap is created, when potassium hydroxide (KOH) is used, the soap is greasy, liquid.

    Vegetable soaps (i.e. soaps made from vegetable oils) have one outstanding feature – compared to all other active substances, immediately after use they chemically react with scale, which is always present in waste water, to form calcium soap. This neutralizes the effect of soap on aquatic organisms (so-called primary degradation). Calcium soap is then completely decomposed by microorganisms into carbon dioxide and water (so-called secondary decomposition). The use of soap is therefore ecological and environmentally friendly.

    Natural washing soap

    When washing, we have only one goal – to get the dirt from the laundry into the water, with which it then travels to the waste water. Surfactants (tensides) which include, among others, soap, serve to dissolve and remove impurities. These are surfactants obtained using acids from sugar, starch or coconut oil. They bind dirt on themselves and "pull" it from the laundry into the water, in which it is then washed away. However, surfactants alone are not enough for white laundry, and since soap washes best in soft and alkaline water, it needs to be supplemented with a softener, substances that adjust the pH of the water and, in the case of white laundry, also with bleaching agents. Easy, right? So are you wondering where the problem is? 

    What can be found in a detergent

    We hear it all the time from all sides - do you want your laundry to be sparkling white? So that the colors do not fade? To make the blood stain go away? So that it is soft and fluffy like a fluffy cloud and smells good until next spring? But do you have any idea how a conventional washing powder can achieve all this?

    If we ignore the harmless (for our health, but not for our wallet) sodium sulfate, which adds volume to the washing powder without having any effect on its effectiveness, and focus on the most problematic components of conventional washing powders, definitely cannot be omitted, for example:

    • surfactants (e.g. alkylbenzenesulfonates, diethanolamine) – surface-active substances used in conventional detergents are produced synthetically, most often from petrochemical raw materials (oil or tar), and have a negative effect not only on human health, but also on the environment.
    • phosphates (eg sodium tripolyphosphate) – substances used to soften water, which are strongly ecotoxic. Their use in detergents was significantly reduced by the EU regulation.
    • optical brighteners (e.g. stilbene derivatives) – substances that absorb UV radiation and emit blue light, which causes the impression of whiter laundry. So it will not actually whiten your clothes, it will just make you think so. These substances are demonstrably one of the causes of skin irritation and at the same time they are toxic to the environment.
    • preservatives (eg quaternium-15, methylisothiazolinone) – highly irritating substances causing, among other things, strong contact skin reactions, both substances are toxic to human organs and have a negative effect on the environment.
    • chlorine – chlorine-based bleaches are demonstrably toxic to both humans and the environment.
    • synthetic perfumes (usually listed only as perfume/fragrance on the label) – synthetic fragrances (most often petroleum derivatives) are highly irritating, some are even confirmed carcinogens, and are thus considered one of the most harmful components of cosmetics. Hundreds to thousands of different substances can be hidden under the general name. Fragrant components of natural origin (e.g. essential oils) are often explicitly stated on the label. You can read more about synthetic fragrances in our blog article.

    The list of harmful substances is understandably not exhaustive, but that is not the purpose of the article. Even this brief overview excludes 99.9% of commonly available products when choosing a detergent.

    And what about a softener?

    When we focus on what is key for most people in connection with laundry, it is (perhaps) surprisingly not just washing powder. Yes, we need a detergent to remove dirt and wash stains, but what makes clean clothes? The most common answer to this question is FRAGRANCE. A lot of people can't imagine washed clothes that wouldn't smell from the closet for several days, so they feel that there is no cleanliness without smell. The time has come to bust this myth once and for all.

    Fabric softener performs the function of softener and fragrance component in the washing cycle. Problematic fabric softener components are mainly the following:

    • synthetic perfumes (mostly stated on the label only as perfume/fragrance, specifically e.g. benzyl acetate, alpha-terpineol) – synthetic fragrances (most often petroleum derivatives) are highly irritating, some are even confirmed carcinogens, and are thus considered one of the the most harmful components of drugstores and cosmetics at all. Hundreds to thousands of different substances can be hidden under the general name. Fragrant components of natural origin (e.g. essential oils) are often explicitly stated on the label.
    • preservatives (eg methylisothiazolinone, benzisothiazolinone) – highly irritating substances causing, among other things, strong contact skin reactions (eczema), both substances are toxic to human organs and have a negative effect on the environment.

    How ro remove synthetic perfumes from the detergent or softener from your clothes? 

    Because the synthetic fragrance components that are found in almost every conventional detergent are, as already mentioned, highly harmful to health, often even carcinogenic, it is inevitable to mention instructions on how to remove these toxic substances from your laundry.

    The recommended procedure for cotton clothes is as follows:

    1. Sort the laundry by color.
    2. Soak the laundry in a bath with washing soda, crystal soda or baking soda. The cotton fiber opens up in an alkaline environment, the fiber changes its profile, making it easier to remove toxic substances. The ratio is approx. 1 cup of washing soda and 3 heaped spoons of baking soda per 20 liters of water. Leave soaked for several hours.
    3. Rinse and wring out the laundry.
    4. Wash the clothes at least 2 times in a row in non-toxic detergent (you can also add baking soda in the amount of 1/3 of the amount of detergent, (i.e. for 60 g of powder 20 g of soda) and also add a non-toxic rinse aid (vinegar or citric acid). If possible, give an extra rinse.
    5. Ideally, hang the washed clothes outside for at least 24–48 hours. Frost and rain are not an obstacle.
    6. Repeat points 4 and 5 as needed.

    How to take a non-toxic care of your laundry?

    And now it's time to move from toxic waters to non-toxic ones. Don’t worry, non-toxic washing is not complicated, you have several options, which way to go.

    So what makes non-toxic detergents better? If we start from the overview of toxic substances that conventional detergents contain, it is clear that in ecological and gentle products we will (not) primarily find:

    • gentle surfactants – no oil, no synthetics, but purely natural soap made from vegetable oils, or surfactants derived from natural raw materials (eg sugar, coconut oil, etc.).
    • zeolites or citrate for softening water – zeolites are a gentler variant of the softener, thanks to their porous structure. These are aluminum-silicon minerals that occur in nature, but are also produced synthetically (with synthetics predominating). Thanks to their porous structure, they are able to exchange other molecules, and when washing, it is mainly calcium and magnesium ions.
    • gentle preservatives - not in all cases the use of a preservative is necessary. If so, gentler preservatives are used in non-toxic products without negative effects on health or the environment.
    • no or purely natural perfumes – the ideal option is products without any perfumes (how to use scented laundry, if you can't do without fragrance, you can read further in the text), however, if the detergent is to be scented in a non-toxic way, essential oils are used most often (their use is usually explicitly stated on the label).
    • gentle bleaches - most commonly sodium percarbonate.
    • no optical brighteners.

    Liquid detergents vs. Powder detergents or Soap Nuts

    A frequent question when choosing detergents is whether to choose a washing powder or a washing gel. The final decision is up to each of us, however, here are a few facts that can help you make an informed decision:

    • the advantage of liquid detergents is that they do not contain bleach;
    • in liquid detergent, however, it is not possible to use zeolites to soften water, therefore it must contain a double dose of surfactants (which is more burdensome in terms of impact on the environment);
    • liquid detergents must contain preservatives;
    • according to German consumer tests, powder detergents are more effective than liquid detergents (see e.g. Stiftung Warentest detergent test from 2009 or Öko Test detergent from 2010);
    • liquid detergents are not so effective when washing heavily soiled laundry, in which case the stains must be pre-washed.
    liquid detergentwashing powder

    Soap nuts as an ecological detergent have become a big hit in recent years. Their shell contains approx. 15% highly concentrated saponin, i.e. a substance that works like soap in contact with water. In 2009, the German organization Stiftung Warentest examined the cleaning ability of soap nut shells and the result was surprising - they did not remove any stains from the laundry and the laundry quickly turned gray. Moreover, according to tests, saponins are not more biodegradable than comparable surfactants in other detergents. Soap nut products are therefore recommended especially for washing materials other than cotton.

    How to alter a fabric softener?

    In order to soften the laundry, rinse the remaining washing powder and minerals from the water and adjust the pH to a more acidic one, we recommend choosing one of the following with each wash:

    • VINEGAR – either classic fermented alcoholic 8%, or colorless white vinegar
    • CITRIC ACID SOLUTION – choose the concentration according to the hardness of the water (the softer the water, the lower the concentration), approximately in the range of 10–20% (10% solution = 900 g of water and 100 g of citric acid, other concentrations can be calculated analogously).

    ATTENTION – Never pour vinegar or citric acid solution with soapy detergent directly into the washing machine drum (use the fabric softener compartment), otherwise the soap will precipitate back into oils, and the washing will be degraded.

    Keeping the white laundry white

    An option is to add sodium percarbonate to white and light-colored laundry. It helps prevent graying of laundry. We also recommend drying in the sun for the effect of whiter clothes.

    Alchymisty Perlos sodium percarbonate

    Sodium percarbonate decomposes in hot water into sodium carbonate (washing soda) and hydrogen peroxide, which subsequently decomposes into oxygen and water. And it is the active, releasing oxygen that has a disinfecting and whitening effect.

    You can read in many articles that percarbonate itself is effective from a temperature of 60°C and if you wash light-colored clothes at lower temperatures, it is necessary to add an activator to the percarbonate, the so-called TAED (we consider it to be a compromise from the point of view of toxicity). But you can use percarbonate for washing from lower temperatures without adding anything to it, because it starts working with lower temperatures already, decomposing in 40°C already, just at a slower pace.

    In addition to bleaching, percarbonate has also a disinfecting effect, thanks to the released oxygen. You can use it to wash colored laundry with a stable color (which is not white), but keep in mind that it can cause colors to fade with long-term use. When washing stable dark laundry, it is possible to add a teaspoon of percarbonate to the wash from time to time, but there is a risk of color fading in this case as well.

    Hydrogen peroxide itself (which decomposes into oxygen and water during washing) can also be used at lower temperatures, but you will always achieve the maximum effect only in combination with hot water.

    Adding natural fragrance to laundry

    Almost everyone deals with the problem of how to fragrant the washed laundry when switching to non-toxic detergents. People's fixation on synthetic scents, which are somehow inherently associated with cleanliness due to media and marketing messages, is huge. However, if you think about it, there is really no equality between fragrance and cleanliness.

    Most people who are used to artificial fragrances in cosmetics and drugstores miss scented clothes. However, if you once “clean your nose” from these toxic smells, on the contrary, synthetically scented laundry will bother you, its smell will be unpleasant to you, sometimes you may even feel that the smell is suffocating you. Your body reacts completely naturally to an inappropriate chemical substance.

    If you insist on the scent, we recommend trying one of the following options:

    • Essential oils for washed laundry - EO can also be used to scent already washed laundry. Just put a few drops on a piece of fabric, unvarnished wood, wooden beads, a pinecone, a ball of wool and other absorbent materials. You then put the material between the clothes, hang it in the closet, etc. You can read more about essential oils and their use in our blog.
    • Essential oils for the dryer – EO can also be dripped onto a ball of wool and put in the laundry in the dryer.
    • Fumigation mixtures and scented fumigation papers – suitable for those who lack a stronger scent. These are natural materials without toxic components, which are primarily used for fumigating rooms as part of meditation, purification or treatment of certain health problems. In our case, however, it is sufficient to simply insert them loosely between the clothes. In the case of scented papers, it is enough to tear a few of them from the pad and place them among the clothes directly in the closet. In the case of powder fumigants, we recommend pouring them from a plastic bag into a bag made of organza or other breathable material (old curtain, gauze) and putting them back directly into the laundry closet. Some compounds smell very intense and remain aromatic for a long time, just use a small amount of them.

    Where to start after you know everything about washing your laundry? 

    If you want top quality natural products that are also REALLY ecological, try this special brand of handmade products for washing and cleaning - Alchymistky. We are convinced that you will love them as we do!

    Are you also interested in other non-toxic topics? You might like: 


    Pavlistova, Pavla and Hrivnakova, Katarina. https://svetnontoxic.org/netoxick-svt#/pran-a-prac-prostedky/ 

    October 29, 2023