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Laundry Woes

I went to visit a friend with asthma a few nights ago, and just about choked when I had to close the door to her bathroom, where several just-washed garments were hanging to dry. I have not been able to walk down the laundry aisle of a supermarket for years without struggling to breathe-and I don’t have asthma. The fragrances and petroleum base of the products are profoundly irritating.

I don’t understand why this isn’t a huge issue for people with breathing problems, and especially, for their doctors. We spent a week with my mother last month, who also has asthma, and she helped out by throwing a load of our clothes into the washer with her regular laundry detergent. When I got home I rewashed them with hot water, a pre-soak, and a second rinse with my non-toxic laundry liquid (usually Bio-Pac, but I have also used Seventh Generation and LifeTree). They still were extremely strong-smelling. I ended up washing them 4 times before it didn’t make my nose itch to put them over my head; even after that I could smell the fragrance when I opened my drawers.

The problem isn’t just the fragrance, but the petroleum base that almost all commercial soaps and cleaning products use. Petroleum is a “sticky” molecule-think about how hard it is to wash oil off your hands. It binds tightly to whatever it contacts. That means it’s going to stick to the tiny hairs and fibers that line and protect the respiratory passages. I recently read an article warning people to wash their dryer lint filters. Clogged filters can cause dryer fires, and the article pointed out that the fabric softener dryer sheets people use leave a transparent film on the screen. Although it may appear to be clean, you may find that water can’t run freely through it, so you need to use soap remove the residue. That residue is why consumers have to buy fabric softeners; the detergent leaves a film that requires an additional purchase to remove….great business model. I find it interesting that so many people buy “natural” fabric softeners; while they are certainly a better product for people and the planet, they are not necessary if you’re not using commercial soaps. My towels are “downy” soft even when they dry outside-and I don’t ever use a softener or other additional product.

We blame germs, pets, dust, or hereditary issues for causing bronchitis, sinusitis, asthma, and allergies, when we are likely causing the problem by the unnecessary junk we breathe. One of my items that got washed was a slip I have had for years; since the petroleum wash it is covered in “pills” that make it rough to the touch instead of smooth. I imagine lots of people’s airways feel the same!

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