One astonishing obvious thing about me is this: I am a slob. If I am eating something, I will inevitably spill some of it on myself. If I am moving a large object from one spot to another, I cannot do so without leaving a giant black mark on my torso. And sometimes, I get home from a day out and have absolutely no idea how my clothes got so filthy. I amaze myself sometimes.
Which is why it was probably a bad idea for me to cook anything with beets. Well, not that bad... the beets were delicious! However, I ended up with not one, not two, but three giant beet colored stains on my shirt. (I think beets would make an excellent dye for clothes, incidentally. Those stains were a fantastic color!) Not fantastic enough to leave the shirt all stained, though. I needed to get em out!
Which lead me to the next logical challenge of the greening up my life project: stain removers.
Stain removers or laundry pre-treatments have been around since the 1960's and are part of a multi-billion dollar industry in the US. (Apparently, I am not the only slob out there!) However, like many of the products we use in our homes, the commercial stain removers are not only highly toxic and bad for the environment, but unnecessary as well.
Some of the ingredients found in commercial stain removers include:
BENZENE (also called benzol, benzole, annulene, benzeen, phenyl hydride and coal naphtha) This is a petroleum based chemical which, like many other petroleum compounds, is an irritant of the eyes, skin, and lungs. It has been linked with damage to the central and peripheral nervous system and with the respiratory system. It has been classified as a possible carcinogen and is listed as a hazardous air pollutant.
PERCHLORETHYLENE (PERC) A man made solvent, PERC is an irritant for skin, eyes, nose and throat. Repeated exposure to PERC has been associated with liver, kidney, and central nervous system damage. PERC has been shown to cause cancer in lab animals. Pregnant and breast feeding women should avoid contact with products containing PERC, as it can interfere with fetal and early infant development.
TRICHLORETHANE (TCA) An organic solvent, TCA has also been shown to irritate the skin, eyes, throat, and nasal passages. It can damage the liver and kidneys and at high levels can cause sudden death. Pregnant and breast feeding women should avoid PCA as its effects are similar to those of PERC.
DIPROPYLENE GLYCOL METHYL ETHER This compound is an irritant to the eyes, nose and throat. It is a neurotoxin and interferes with fetal development. It also is a hazardous air pollutant.
NONOXYL- 4 AND 9 These compounds are irritating to the eyes and lungs. They can be absorbed through the skin and can cause birth defects. Nonoxyl 4 and 9 and also toxic to aquatic life.
Clearly, these are chemicals we do not want to come into contact with! When we also factor in the environment of the average laundry room: small room in the basement with poor ventilation -- it is easy for the chemicals in commercial stain removers to become concentrated and inhaled in large amounts.
So what is a slob like myself to do? Are we all just supposed to walk around with stains all over our clothing in the name of good health? Luckily, we don't have to make the choice between looking good and protecting our health. Even though the labels on these commercially available stain removers suggest that they have top secret, almost magic stain removing properties, the truth of the matter is stain can be removed quite easily with natural, non-toxic household ingredients.
BAKING SODA: Make a paste out of one part baking soda to one part water and rub on the stain. Let sit for an hour prior to washing.
LEMON JUICE: The citric acid in lemon juice is especially effective at lightening stains on white fabrics. Make a paste of equal parts lemon juice and baking soda and leave on stain for 1/2 hour before washing.
HYDROGEN PEROXIDE: Water down hydrogen peroxide with water in a 1 to 1 ratio and saturate stains for 1 hour prior to washing. Especially good for blood or make-up stains.
VODKA: Dilute in a 1:1 ratio and spray onto stain. Then make yourself a cosmopolitan while you wait 1 hour to throw in the laundry.
LIQUID DISH SOAP: Especially good for oil based stains. (I have many shirts stained from salad dressing. This is good to know!)
GOOD, OLD FASHIONED SOAKING: Simply soaking the clothing overnight in a bucket with a teaspoon of laundry detergent will usually break up the stain.
If you're a mom of 5 or a busy executive and just don't have time to whip up a paste or soak clothes overnight (or if you just hate laundry) a commercially a safe, environmentally friendly commercial option is OXYGEN BLEACH. Commercially known as Oxi-Clean, Bio-Kleen, or Ajax, oxygen bleach is essentially hydrogen peroxide and baking soda. When added to water, the oxygen bubbles are released, breaking the bond between the stain and the surface of the clothing. It breaks down into water, soda ash, and oxygen and is therefore much safer for both people and the environment.
Resources used in this post:
Green This! by Deidre Imus
Easy Green Living by Renee Loux