Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Superwash


Dealing with a chronic skin irritation issue in the household, we've determined to get detergent out of the schoolhouse. It sounds so easy, doesn't it? Just substitute something in the laundry . . . .

I wish.

A lot of reading about the lingering presence of detergent suggests that simply switching products doesn't do the trick. So we've been doing the Superwash: it's four cycles in the washing machine, the first two with detergent-free soap, and the second two with plain water. Not my idea; it comes from the motivated folks at Solve Eczema who have been looking at this problem for years.

I'll just say up front that this is not a lot of fun. On a really focused day I can get four loads of laundry done. And it's not just the clothes. Towels, kitchen linens, rugs, curtains, slipcovers: when you start looking at the detergent in your life it's kind of scary.

And then go and read your shampoo, soap, and toothpaste labels. We've found alternative detergent-free products for most of our needs (the dish liquid and dishwashing powder come from an awesomely retro company in California that clearly hasn't done a label redesign in decades). I'll share a list of resources in the future, or visit the link above. In the meantime, I'm going to put another load in the washer.


33 comments:

SolaceMama said...

I have the nicest clothes ever since I gave up almost all my detergent. I use ton of baking soda and vinegar. The smell nice but not perfumed. They are never staticky. They wear longer without spots and residual stains.

Eczema always comes from the gut. Check out Natasha Campbell-McBrde's book Gut And Psychology Syndrome. Changed our lives.

Erin said...

You have my sympathies with eczema struggles. I battle it along with two of my kiddos, but I've not tried the super wash method. Good info to file away.

Water filters, especially in the bathroom, have done wonders in our house. As well as diet changes--just as frustrating as washing a load of laundry four times. But we do what we must for our health and comfort.

I look forward to your list of resources!

Polly said...

Wow! That is intense! I will be interested in your findings, though, so please do share. I've had to do a lot of shuffling/switching of detergents due to some respiratory issues I had a couple years ago that I am positive were linked to the stuff. But I am not 100% content with what we use now.

Kris said...

Thanks for this info. I read often, but don't comment. I'd be interested to hear how you get on too.

ALoadofOldTat said...

Thank you so much for blogging this and the link. My adult excezma is out of control at the moment so I am most interested alternative approaches. I need to do a bit more research on products because most listed are not available here but I am sure there are alternatives.

Anonymous said...

Been using homemade laundry stuff for a while now and often using my own homemade soap to make it. Also use the homemade soap to wash dishes unless it is an especially greasy thing, then break out the Dawn. For hair: baking soda to wash (2 tbs in about 4 cups water), apple cider vinegar to rinse (15:1 water to vinegar dilution).

The baking soda/vinegar for hair has worked great. My hair does not have split end anymore.

Anonymous said...

Natural soap nuts are the answer you have been looking for. We have used them now for 2 years with great success. Add 5 soap nuts to the cotton bag and throw it in the wash. No double washing needed.The only slight difficulty we find is that the bag of nuts gets thrown inthe dryer as well and that reduces their use greatly.

Kerri said...

@ Solace Mama,
I am currently reading GAPS by Natasha Campbell!! Incredible book and I am having success with my son and his Eczema! Unbelievable how our gut can produce so many issues! HIGHLY recommend this book if your struggling with Eczema, Asthma, or any other allergy!

Sleen said...

Thank you for posting this. I look forward to your list of resources. My 13yo dd has asthma and also eczema. The eczema gets worse and worse every year, despite treatments with various prescription creams.

It is frustrating to not be able to trust doctors' advice. Will be reading the site and other posters' book rec's also. Thank you all.

Anonymous said...

I tried homemade laundry soap, (seems like the recipe you're using). It did not get my sons' clothes clean, especially the armpit area. I never tried washing them 4 times though. What temperature is the water you use? It also might be our water. Sometimes you can smell the chlorine in it, and other times you can see rust in it. I'm sure that has something to do with my lack of success. That said, have you tried making your own soap? My skin seems healthier since I started using unscented, triclosan-free homemade soap. Fun to make, too. (The recipe from Down to Earth blog is terrific).

Paula said...

Anna-
Thank you for your post. I needed this post... I had to get up in the middle of the night and take an allergy pill. I get severe contact dermatitis from most soaps. I am not sure what I came in contact with yesterday, but my hands broke out in hives. The sad thing is it was from something at home. Today I will be going through the products I used to see what new item I may have used. My son suffered from eczaema when he was young. All of my children seem to have inherited this gift of sensitiviy from me... I bought my daughter some pretty bath soap a month ago and she is just now healed up. She had never showed any signs of sensitivity until than... Thank you again!
Paula

Lynn said...

Please read this - I just finished being tested for 102 chemicals after having a 6 months chronic bout of excema - have had it for over 40 years. i tested allergic to dimethylamine and trimethylamine. So, i read all the ingredients on shampoos, conditioners and lotion and make up - tada! that was the problem also cut out dimethicone. cured! I kept trying "natural" products, turns out i am also allergic to chamomille and arnica - always in "natural" products. it was called a patch allergy test.

Knitters Notebook said...

Both of my daughters have skin allergies...but I have found cutting out all sugar has helped us so much. I use detergent free products..but if they eat a hint of sugar they would still break out.

So..look at how much sugar you are eating...and see if cutting back helps any...

Keep us up-dated on the process of the laundry detergent.

~~Renee

Anonymous said...

Hi Anna,
Isn't this fascinating? So many people have had trouble with eczema. We are starting GAPS in the new year for learning difficulties but I will be interest to see if it clears DS's skin.
I have worked out my extra is due to citric acid, so I use castile soap and citric acid free shampoo and conditioner (it's a little bit hard to find).
We do use homemade laundry powder (no borax though) and it's a really nice feeling scooping the powder out of the jar regardless of the health benefits!
Keep perservering, it's what we mothers do!
FH

kath said...

2 of my children, and both of my granddaughters have suffered from excema. We've tried different options but I'm curious about your super wash system. Also, I think I'm going to check out the book SolaceMama recommended!

Stickhorsecowgirls said...

My granddaughter suffers eczema and I suffer rosacea! It's miserable at times. I've often wondered about sensitivities--it just seems so overwhelming to find out the cause. I've wondered if wheat could be a problem, since hybrid wheat replaced ancient varieties in the early 80's.
I've heard that white vinegar in the rinse water gets rid of residual soap in laundry.

Katherine said...

Bless your heart!! We have eczema here too. Keep on keeping on. It's just a different way of life. And if you can figure out specific triggers, it makes management much easier.

Lisa said...

Four loads - you mean, sixteen loads. Mama mia! Your water bill.

Lisateresa

Natasha said...

If anyone's looking for laundry options that don't use detergent, I've had success with home made laundry soap:

In one small 11-litre (3-gallon) Rubbermaid bin, grate a small bar of soap. Add hot water to about 3/4 full. Stir until soap dissolves. (My mother dissolved her soap in water on the stove.) When not too hot, add a cupful each of washing soda and borax. Stir and let cool.

Use about half a cup in a load.

This does fine for light and regular-soiled items. Because it doesn't have detergent, it isn't as good at scrubbing out tough dirt, so you'll want a laundry brush and a habit of pre-treating stains. But it's cheap, scent-free (if your soap is), and doesn't use detergents.

Anna said...

The trick with grating soap is to find one that really is free of sodium lauryl sulfate. Most of the labels don't give this information ("natural surfactants derived from plants"? detergents, or can be). I'm using 4.5 ounces of soap flakes combined with a cup each of Borax and washing soda, and I put about 1/4 cup in each load.

Lisa, you have done the math correctly. That's 16 runs of the washer.

Harmony said...

Anna, thanks for posting the link to Solve Eczema. My son has been dealing with this for most of his three years and I had not run across this site or theory. Not sure I'm ready to take the plunge as he doesn't have the rash distribution she describes, but this is definitely something I'll be considering if I keep on having no luck identifying food triggers (currently I've cut out tree nuts and peanuts and citrus because those were associated with flares, but this time he's not getting better). As much work as all that detergent-clearing is, it's got to be easier than committing to GAPS! Do let us know if this turns out to be the solution for you folks.

Anonymous said...

hi I just use the machine for rinsing I went and bought 4 buckets and soak everything at least overnight longer if dirty (I change the water if very dirty) in a safe soap I use euclyptus oil for stains and elbow grease when needed (most things I just lightly squeeze) the clothes go though 3 to 6 cycles in the machine (that'a a lot of rinsing) and come out clean and fresh I also use white vinegar sometimes in one of the rinses towels go in the large laundry sink and sheets in the bath most dirt comes out just by soaking I boil my kitchen cloths Ive been doing this for five years and if your don't mind buckets (lids on if you have little ones)you also save lots of money as the water does most of the work

nicole said...

Both my kids went through phases of great irritation with washing detergents. I used soapnuts for years when my daughter was little before switching back to my favourite somewhat green detergent.

For us it's mostly scent that makes us itch all over and not so much the detergent itself.
Soapnuts don't smell so nice, but I simply put a cloth with some drops of lavender essential oil (from the healthfood shop, so no artificial anything in it) into the dryer. Like an old fashioned dryer sheet :-)

I hope your "eczema struggler" will soon be out of the woods.

Anonymous said...

ecxema is often a food allergy so for my son's its milk and when they drink milk they can't go near grasses and one's skin gets so sensitve that he gets hives from lots of things for me it was wheat I haven't had wheat for 7 years and no skin problems. before my skin was allergic to so much even my sweat now people stop me to say how beautiful it is, my doctor explained that the body makes the skin as a protective layer and if it's not then we need to find out why that said I don't use any chemicals or wear any synthetics I put organic cold pressed coconut oil on it when it's dry and eat perfectly no junk at all home made cakes made with rice and nuts flours or fruit are our sweets. find the cause and life will be much better

Anonymous said...

just to explain 3 to 6 is just one normal cycle on my machine so I push 3 and it washes then rinse, rinse and light spin or the longest 6 is pre wash, wash, wash, rinse, rinse, and rinse and spin dry I didn't want you thinking I put the wash through six times happy washing

Ripple Dandelion said...

Diet has been the ticket for me. Never had eczema until a couple of years ago. Now I don't eat wheat, any grain but rice, dairy, nuts, soy or nightshades. Whew! It simplifies food shopping, that's for sure. I haven't been able to keep myself totally away from citrus during this holiday season, but mostly I avoid that and stone fruits too. On this diet, no eczema, no itching, no joint pain and best of all, no migraines.

Mary said...

I'd be interested to know whether the Superwash cured the skin irritation in your household. I did a detailed comb-through of the website, and it was very focused on eliminating eczema in infants and children. I'm curious for the opposite reason -- my mom and her brother have had lifelong, severe skin irritations. Diet changes have helped her brother, but not eliminated the problem entirely. And my mom is a somewhat obsessive neat-freak, so the Superwash is a task she would probably be capable of taking on as long as she had specific directions. If you think it has a good shot at eliminating severe skin sensitivity in older people, I'm going to recommend that she try it.

Anna said...

Mary, the superwash has been helpful, though not a cure-all for my main sufferer. A minor but persistent case of eczema on the backs of the hands has been completely cleared up though--I credit the switch away from detergent hand soap to a great extent.

One family member finds that nighttime skin discomfort is much better with superwashed sheets--even now I have to double rinse them to keep them from irritating, but they are so much better.

Anonymous said...

Hello Anna,

We are an African-American family who suffers from eczema/allergies.

We have been making our own detergent for about a year now -- even my husband explained that his skin feels better. We have also seen a decrease in our dry skin.

The bar soap we grate is Kirk's Original Coco Castile Bar Soap. The website describes it as "Kirk's Original Coco Castile contains no animal by-products that can irritate sensitive skin. No synthetic detergents, like sodium lauryl sulfate, either."

We purchase it from W____mart.

We use vinegar in our rinse.

Hope this helps.

Thanks so much for your wonderful and encouraging website.

Kimberly said...

Anna, clicking to your link off this post has started me down quite the product renovation around here. The only thing I can't find at this point is dishwasher powder that is detergent free. You mentioned above a California company. Would you mind sharing where you're finding this? It's frustrating - we've got a decent health food store with many brands of "natural" dishwasher detergent, but they're . . . detergents.

Anna said...

Here you go:: Seafoam Destain, from calbenpuresoap.com.

Celeste said...

Anna, can you tell me which brand of soap flakes you used, and how it is all working for you? My grandson was just diagnosed with eczema (only his elbows are affected at this time, but he is very itchy). I want to try changing soaps around the house, especially laundry soaps. I have read recipes online with liquid homemade soaps, but I like your powdered soap better. (I also love the glass jar you store it in!)
Thanks, Celeste

Anna said...

I'm using DP Dry-pack soap flakes, mixed with borax and washing soda. The mix certainly keeps the clothes clean (I often double-rinse on darks, because sometimes the soap flakes haven't totally dissolved). Skin issues are much better. The only downside is that now none of us can tolerate commercial laundry detergent smells at all, they're so strong and we've lost our immunity!

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