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All-Natural Laundry

4 Jul

In my previous post about family skin care,I shared a little bit of my opinion on the issue of separate “non-toxic” stuff for the little people. If you’re spending a boatload of money on some high-end fragrance-free detergent for your little people so you don’t irritate their skin, or if you’re having to use a separate detergent free of optical brighteners for your husband’s military uniforms, you’ve got two problems:

  1. You shouldn’t need artificial fragrances on ANY of your laundry, and it’s not good for ANY family member, and
  2. That’s too much work!

And as I showed you before, it’s not that hard to make non-toxic, non-irritating laundry stuff to keep your clothes looking nice that’s also FRUGAL!

Laundry Detergent

I like to mix up a big batch of this stuff and this is pretty much all I use. Here’s my recipe:

  • 1 bar Castile soap (I like Dr. Bronner’s Lavender for laundry.)
  • 3/4 c. washing soda
  • 3/4 c. borax
  • 1/2 c. Oxi-Clean

Now the Castile soap & Oxi-Clean can be a little pricey, but this is still a pretty cheap recipe. I put the Oxi-Clean into my food processor, add the Castile soap (you may have to cut it in half to get it fed into the machine), then the washing soda & borax. Easy peasy!

Pre-Treating

Let’s start with one very simple thing: There is no pre-treater that will get out EVERYTHING. But any time you spill something or get something on your clothes that is likely to stain, there are a few rules to follow:

  1. Don’t get it hot until the stain is out. If you’re going to use hot water, make SURE it’s okay for the stain. Hot water will set some stains (like blood).
  2. Take it off and treat it immediately. The sooner the better!

Basic Stain Removal

There are hundreds of different types of stains, but most stains fall into one of four main categories: protein, tannin, oil, or dye.
Protein stains include a LOT of common household stains: milk, baby formula, blood, cheese sauce, mud, eggs, pee, poop, vomit, etc. Do NOT use hot water on these! When you think of protein stains, think of raw eggs. If you have raw egg on your countertop and you use really hot water to try to clean it, it will get kind of sticky and thicken up. What’s happened is that the hot water has “cooked” the egg. The same is true with protein stains in your clothing: If you “cook” the proteni, it will be harder to remove.
If a protein stain is new, try rinsing in cold water to get it out. If it’s old or dried, soak it in cold water. You might want to try adding a little detergent to the water to let it soak, depending on how bad the stain is. After treating the stain, wash it in cold water and check it.
Tannin stains include most of your alcohols, coffee, tea, juices (including tomatoes), berries, and so forth. Wash these in HOT water; usually you won’t even need to pre-treat it. But if you’re using a homemade laundry detergent or a detergent that includes a soap, you’ll need to use a pre-treater.
Oil stains can be a pain! Whether it’s automotive grease, butter, lotion, cooking oils, or whatever, oil can be hard to get out. Stains caused by sweat (ring around the collar, underarm stains, etc.) are also oil-based. There are three ways to get oil out, depending on the severity of the stain. The easiest way (which works best for smaller stains or for stains without much color to them) is to use a pre-treater. The slightly harder way is to use dishwashing soap and wash the garment like you would wash your dishes! This tends to work great on most automotive garments.
But if it’s something REALLY intense, you can pull out the big guns (but I caution you that this is NOT natural. Or safe! Be forewarned!). You can use gasoline to remove the stain. The problem is that you’re really not supposed to rinse gas down the drain because it will get into the water supply, and you absolutely MUST rinse & hand-wash the garment perfectly before laundering it. AND you have to launder it separately from everything else and make sure that you can’t smell any gasoline vapors before drying and if you DO smell any vapors you have to wash it again and again until you get it because if you try to dry it without getting all the vapors out, it’ll catch fire. Look – don’t go the gasoline route. Seriously. I know it’s technically an “option”, but it’s an “option” like mastectomy is an “option” to prevent breast cancer. It causes way more problems than it solves. I mention it ONLY because at some point, somebody will recommend it to you. Don’t do it.
Dye stains are the hardest to get rid of – even worse than oils! Cherries & blueberries leave dye stains, as well as grass, ink, paint, magic marker, and drink mixes (like Kool-aid). Pre-treat with a pre-treater, then soak the entire garment in a solution of about 1 tbsp. hydrogen peroxide to 1 c. cold water for 15 minutes, then check to see if the stain is gone. And good luck!

My Pre-Treater (like “Shout”)

Here’s the recipe:
  • 1 c. water
  • 1/2 c. hydrogen peroxide
  • 1/2 c. washing soda

Put into a spray bottle and use like any other pre-treater.

Fabric Softener

You really don’t need fabric softener, you know. But if you DO feel the need for fabric softener, add a little bit of white vinegar to a Downy ball and throw it in the wash. I feel the need to warn you, though, that although this remedy is very popular, it’s not really that useful.

WARNING: Basic chemistry lesson to follow!!!
Distilled water has a neutral pH of 7. Solutions with a pH lower than 7 are acidic and solutions with a pH above 7 are basic. “Hard” water is water with lots of minerals in it, like iron and calcium and magnesium; this water is usually acidic (the acid in the water dissolves metals that it comes into contact with, making it more mineral-rich). “Soft” water tends to be more basic. Incidentally, if your water is very soft or you wash your clothes with a water softener, you will probably want to reduce the washing soda & borax in the above laundry detergent recipe to 1/2 c. each.

When you mix an acid and a base, the resulting compound will have a pH that will be closer to neutral. If you use vinegar and baking soda in the same cleaning product, you’re using water, and water’s much cheaper than vinegar & baking soda.

Washing Soda has a pH of 11 and Borax has a pH of 8.5, whereas vinegar has a pH of 2.4. When you add vinegar to the same wash water that you just added your washing soda & Borax to, you’re neutralizing the water.
Chemistry stuff over!

Smelly Good Spray & Wrinkle Releaser

I do keep a bottle of “smelly good spray” (as my kids call it!) and wrinkle releaser that I use on some of my garments. I do NOT use it baby clothes, but they don’t need it.

  • 1 c. water
  • 1/4 c. white vinegar
  • 1/2 c. alcohol (either rubbing alcohol or clear unflavored vodka)
  • 15-20 drops lavender essential oil (go by smell)

You use it like you would use Febreeze or Downy Wrinkle Releaser, but check it on your fabric in an inconspicuous place before using it because you want to make sure that it won’t damage your fabric. Usually it hasn’t been a problem for me, but it’s better safe than sorry!

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