In 1881, the Rational Dress Society challenged the fashion industry of its day. The Society protested against dress that "either deforms the figure, impedes the movements of the body, or in any way tends to injure health." Seeking to do away with constricting and deforming garments such as corsets, the Society sought to insure each person would be "dressed healthily, comfortably, and beautifully."
How are we doing today when it comes to our health and fashion? Our modern clothing industry is a $7 trillion enterprise utilizing more than 8,000 synthetic chemicals. Are we sacrificing our health in the name of fashion yet again?
According to the U.S. Department of Defense, synthetic fibers pose such fire and burn hazards that Marines based in Iraq are prohibited from wearing synthetic clothing while off base.
The environmental watchdog group Greenpeace International released Toxic Threads: The Big Fashion Stitch-Up in 2012. After purchasing 141 items of clothing from 29 countries, Greenpeace noted the presence of endocrine-disrupting chemicals like phthalates and nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs).
When making the switch to natural products, laundry detergent and fabric softeners play a key role. From the clothes we wear to our pillows and sheets, chemicals used in laundering come in contact with our skin 24 hours a day.
To get an idea of the types of chemicals found in products like detergents, see this article listing the most common chemicals found in 31 fragrance products.
Thankfully, there are many non-toxic options.
Soap nuts grow on the Chinese Soapberry Tree and are sometimes call soap berries. Soap nuts contain naturally occurring saponins, which foam when combined with water. Sources for soap nuts include Eco Nuts and Green Virgin.
Another alternative is to make your own laundry soap. Note that laundry soap will be more natural than detergent, as detergent is made from synthetics while soap is derived from natural elements.
Here are three simple recipes for homemade laundry soap.
Washing soda makes a great addition to any natural household. It offers a nice punch for cleaning since it has a higher pH than its "cousin," baking soda. Washing soda is sodium carbonate. Baking soda is sodium bicarbonate. Baking soda has a pH of 8.4, washing soda a pH of 11. (To view the pH values of other common household items, see our Chemistry of Stain Removal Chart.)
Just as its name implies, baking soda is great for baking since it reacts with an acid to create an airy, spongy texture. (This is why baking soda, an alkali, is combined with cream of tartar, an acid, to make baking powder.) Washing soda, on the other hand, is great for cleaning since it consumes twice as much acid as baking soda. It is too caustic, however, for baking.
Since the two are closely linked, it's possible to transform baking soda into washing soda simply by heating it. The heat causes the baking soda to release steam and carbon dioxide, leaving a more alkaline substance behind in the form of washing soda.
Since washing soda is not as readily available as baking soda, it may be simpler to make your own.