Laundry for me, is one of my least favorite tasks and subjects. It's one of those things that just NEVER goes away. I spend a day doing load after load and by the end of that very same day, there's more! I also admit that my family's organic lifestyle does not extend into my laundry room. I do not use organic laundry detergent. I'm a mom of 3 boys and have a husband who's business creates a daily supply of dirty socks, pants, shirts and towels. I need a "dirt buster", and the conventional detergent I've used for years, has delivered. Don't worry, I'm not marketing laundry soap or selling washing machines. I was actually working on some new things for Moms Organic House and I needed as many non-organic products as I could come up with, so I headed straight for the least organic area of my house, the laundry room. What I was specifically in search of were ingredients. What did I discover? I found that there were no ingredients listed on the laundry detergent container. I looked, looked again, walked away, came back and looked again. But still no ingredients. I've since learned that it's not required that these manufacturer's list their laundry detergent ingredients. Maybe you've known this, but I was clueless and learned how uninformed I really was about laundry detergent. I hit the Internet and wanted to share what I learned in the event there are other uninformed "moms" out there, like me. (I hope I'm not the only one, anyway! ) LAUNDRY SOAP The mineral salts in hard water and dirt, do not effectively interact with soap. The reaction when the two meet is soap film or scum. That film builds up on the inside of our washing machine and leaves deposits of it on our clothes. Meanwhile, the soap is unable to perform its' real job of penetrating the clothes and removing the dirt. What our clothes need to do when they are in the washing machine, is soak up water and allow the cleaner, soap or otherwise, to penetrate and clean the many different types of fabrics, in any range of temperatures. LAUNDRY DETERGENT Laundry detergent is formulated to do what soap doesn't do. Most laundry detergents include chemicals called surface action agents, or "surfactants." These agents help loosen soil, and actually suspend it until it's then washed away. Surfactants are said to make water wetter. So of course, once I learned these basics, I then wanted to know more about "surfactants". I've compiled a list of the most common surfactants and other laundry detergent ingredients and what they mean to our environment and your family's health and well-being. SURFACTANTS Linear Alkylbenzene Sulfonate (LAS) is the most widely used surfactant in the world, primarily in laundry detergents but also in cleaning products. LAS's are low to moderately toxic to both the environment and humans. LAS are synthetic and the pure compounds may cause skin irritation on prolonged contact. Allergic reactions are rare. Alkyl phenoxy polyethoxy ethanols. This group of surfactants are slow to biodegrade and have been implicated in chronic health problems. Research indicates that in trace amounts these surfactants activate estrogen receptors in cells, which in turn alters the activity of certain genes. For example, in experiments they have been found to stimulate the growth of breast cancer cells and feminize male fish. One member of this family of chemicals is used as a common spermicide, indicating the high level of biological toxicity. A synthetic family of surfactants, Diathanolamines are used to neutralize acids in laundry detergent to make them non-irritating. Diathanolamines are slow to biodegrade and they react with natural nitrogen oxides and sodium nitrite pollutants in the atmosphere to form nitrosamines, a family of potent carcinogens. OTHER INGREDIENTS Artificial fragrances are included in almost every laundry detergent. Made from petroleum, many do not degrade in the environment, and may have toxic effects on both fish and mammals. Additionally, they often can cause allergies and skin or eye irritation. There are other synthetic compounds used in all conventional laundry detergents that claim to make the detergent more effective and our clothes cleaner. The truth of the matter is they are simply unnecessary, add to that they are basically non-environmentally friendly, and pose a moderate level of health risks. ALTERNATIVES The healthy, environmentally friendly alternative is to use a natural laundry detergent that is hypoallergenic, biodegradable, non-toxic and free of allergens, dyes, perfumes and petroleum-based solvents. Although soap is not recommended for washing machines, hand-washing with soap is an effective cleaner for natural fabrics, leaving such items as diapers softer than detergent can. For cotton and linen, use soap to soften water. Vinegar added to the wash can help keep colors bright (but NEVER use vinegar if you are using bleach -- the resulting fumes are hazardous). Baking soda will leave clothes soft and fresh smelling. For synthetic fabrics or blends (including most no-iron fabrics), there are oleo-based laundry detergents widely available that are biodegradable and do not contain phosphates, fragrances, or harsh chemicals. CONCLUSION So do we purchase only natural fabrics and hand wash with soap, vinegar and baking soda? Or do we ignore what we now know about surfactants and sacrifice the environment and our family's health for the confidence our synthetic detergent offers? Or, do we choose a natural, oleo-based laundry detergent alternative that is good for everyone?