Anyone who knows me knows that when it comes to clothes shopping I’m much more into charity shops than high street shops. Let’s face it, charity shops are one of the most environmentally friendly sources of clothing you’ll ever come across, and they’re bloody cheap too! As long as you have a good idea of what clothes suit your body shape and a reasonable knowledge of decent clothing brands you can come home with bundles of lovely new(ish) outfits for under a tenner. And if they don’t fit quite as you’d like it’s much easier to get the scissors and unpicker out to remodel them into something more flattering when the garment in question has only cost you a couple of pounds.
Just recently I’ve been running into a spot of bother with some of my charity shop finds. I bought a gorgeous Wallis jumper for just 99p and (foolishly) decided to wear it that day. It smelled fresh and clean and I just didn’t think. Even when the burning rash spread up the left side of my face it didn’t occur to me that my lovely new jumper might be to blame. I just slapped on some aloe vera gel and let it settle down. It wasn’t until I put on the jumper a couple of days later (guess what, it still smelled lovely and fresh) and my face flared up again that I made the connection.
The thing is, laundry detergents and fabric conditioners contain some of the most toxic chemicals in the home but for some reason modern thinking (i.e. what the box in the corner of the room tells you) has decided that if your clothes don’t have a strong fragrance then you aren’t clean and acceptable. However there is a vast amount of research which shows that the VOC’s (Volatile Organic Compounds) which make up these products are having a profound effect on health. In fact, recent studies have shown that the air quality inside the average home is WORSE than it is outside, regardless of whether you live in the countryside or in the heart of the city centre. Is it any wonder that there’s been a sharp rise in allergies such as eczema and asthma in the last few decades?
Now I’m a smoker, so I’m not going to lecture anyone on the dangers of airborne chemicals. Life would be pretty boring if we didn’t take some risks, but where the health effects of smoking are well documented, the health risks of fabric conditioners, laundry detergents, air fresheners and cleaning products are nowhere near as widely recognised by the vast majority of people. The general opinion seems to be that if it’s on the shelves at the supermarket then it must be safe. Sadly the reality is that detergent manufacturers have no legal obligation to even disclose all the ingredients they but in the box or bottle, let alone test them all and how they react with all the other airborne chemicals which are in the home. If you look at some of the ingredients that are disclosed, the results are pretty scary.
• Benzyl acetate: Linked to pancreatic cancer
• Benzyl Alcohol: Upper respiratory tract irritant
• Ethanol: On the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Hazardous Waste list and can cause central nervous system disorders
• A-Terpineol: Can cause respiratory problems, including fatal edema, and central nervous system damage
• Ethyl Acetate: A narcotic on the EPA’s Hazardous Waste list
• Camphor: Causes central nervous system disorders
• Chloroform: Neurotoxic, anesthetic and carcinogenic
• Linalool: A narcotic that causes central nervous system disorders
• Pentane: A chemical known to be harmful if inhaled
Some of the other health effects that come from using these kinds of conditioners and detergents include:
• Blood pressure reduction
• Irritation to skin, mucus membranes and respiratory tract
Yet we wear clothes that release these chemicals all day before settling down to sleep on pillows and duvets that are infused with them. It’s just crazy! Not to mention the effect these chemicals are having on our waterways and wildlife. Do you suffer from headaches, fatigue or skin problems? Maybe you should re-think what you are putting into your washing machine?
As someone who has used only green products for the last decade or so, I realise that I’m probably quite over sensitive to the chemicals found in non-eco brands. I notice the smell on people in the park, and the next door neighbours washing line regularly has us begrudgingly heading indoors. Like anything, we get used to what surrounds us so I guess that’s why detergent manufacturers come up with ever more inventive ways to get those fragrances out there. “Keep your clothes huggably fresh, even after 12 hours” says one well known brand which comes with “state of the art scent release technology”. I just don’t get it. They make my eye’s water and my skin flare up and my kids hate them too.
Even after washing again without softener, these chemicals stay in the fabric which makes them even more hazardous for those who have sensitivity to them. I’ve been known to wash hand-me-down clothes which have been donated to my kids up to four times to get rid of the smell and even then it can malinger. There are many individuals who have unwittingly put a new brand into their washing machine, discovered they are allergic and then been unable to rinse the fragrance out of their machines and keep suffering from the allergic reaction long after they have stopped using the product.
So what are the alternatives? BioD is a UK based company which uses only safe and natural ingredients in their products and they’re nowhere near as expensive as Ecover (which isn’t actually as green as they would have you believe). You can get Eco-Wash Balls from a number of different manufacturers, with varying results its true, but I can vouch for the fact that the one Wikaniko sells works and works well. Soapnuts are another fantastic detergent. They are so natural they grow on trees, keep your clothes soft and have the added advantage of being completely compostable once you’ve finished with them. As for fabric conditioners, I just don’t use them. I’d much rather smell of nice organic perfume and put pomander bags in my drawers. Old fashioned I know, but so much nicer than the smell of “Black Diamond & Lotus Flower”. What does a black diamond even smell like anyway?
Anyway, I’ve learnt my lesson about charity shop clothes. No matter how much I’m itching to get into my latest treasure, it’s not worth the risk of itching all over and having a rash for the next two weeks. Won’t stop me charity shopping though, got to love those brand new second hand clothes.