PROTECT Yourself: Avoiding Harmful Chemicals in Detergents

1. Use dry cleaning services that do not use perchloroethylene (PCE), or request “wet cleaning.” PCE has been linked to various cancers. Wet cleaning — a nontoxic, environmentally safe alternative to dry cleaning — has been growing in popularity since the mid-1990s, as have non-PCE dry cleaning alternatives, such as liquid carbon dioxide. If you must use traditional dry cleaning with PCE, open the plastic bag outdoors on a porch or in the garage, discard the plastic immediately, and air your clothes out before hanging them in a closet or wearing them.

2. Avoid commercial fabric softeners, which often contain undisclosed chemicals and harmful fragrances. Make your own fabric softener using baking soda or white vinegar. Add baking soda with your detergent in the wash cycle, then add vinegar during the rinse cycle or add vinegar added to your regular detergent in the wash cycle, and then add baking soda during the rinse cycle.

3. Minimize your use of chlorine bleach/ fluorescent whitening agents. Chlorinated hot water in the washing machine, kitchen sink, or dishwasher can release chloroform, believed to be a carcinogen. Many optical brighteners are structurally similar to diethylstilbestrol, or DES, a potent synthetic estrogen. To whiten clothes naturally, rinse them in lemon juice and let them dry in the sunlight. Sunlight also helps get rid of mold and mildew; use diluted bleach solutions only as a last resort.

4. Never use mothballs when storing your clothes. These products contain naphthalene or, more recently, paradichlorobenzene; both chemicals are believed to be carcinogenic; use cedar products instead. If you have stored clothing in mothballs, open the containers outside and let the clothes air out thoroughly before wearing them.

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Image credit: Photo by Kim MyoungSung on Flickr.