From Memorial Day to Labor Day, nothing says “summer wardrobe” quite like the color white. But it can be challenging to keep everything from billowy cover-ups that invariably get sunscreen-stained to that favorite pair of white jeans (nothing seems to make my dogs want to jump on me more!) white. What most people turn to is bleach. The problem is that most products on the market (that are staples in most people’s homes) are not as “clean” as you think.
Most commercial store-bought bleach is chlorine bleach—a highly corrosive, chemical antimicrobial pesticide and fungicide that can damage skin, eyes and other membranes. Chlorine bleach, a commercial panacea for everything from sanitizing food-processing equipment to disinfecting public drinking water, is in fact a hazardous air pollutant, according to the Clean Air Act of 1990. And when it decomposes in the hot water of your laundry cycle, you end up with chlorate, a chemical that is highly toxic to fish and invertebrates—not to mention the fact that fumes you’re exposed to when you open the lid or door of your washing machine can irritate the lungs. This chemical is particularly dangerous for people suffering from heart conditions or chronic respiratory problems. Babies and children are also more sensitive to the effects of chemicals in their environment.
The good news is that more and more eco-friendly alternatives to chlorine bleach products are available. Look for biodegradable products that brighten whites and colors without dyes, phosphates, fragrances or chemicals. The active ingredient in many safe bleaches is good, old-fashioned hydrogen peroxide—which degrades into oxygen and water. Remember those brown bottles your mom used to use to clean your cuts and scrapes? Well, hydrogen peroxide doesn’t just disinfect. It’s also found in mouthwash, teeth whiteners, contact solution, veggie cleaners and more! You may also want to try soaking your stained clothing items in a nontoxic laundry detergent or make a spot treatment of baking soda paste (with water or lemon juice) and let it sit on the fabric before washing.
For basic laundering of clothing, consider products that get the job done with mineral- and plant-based ingredients, rather than synthetic, man-made ingredients (which are often petroleum based).
Remember, cleaning those lovely summer whites really can have a bright side!