Safe clothing can be a huge challenge for people with MCS/ES. Most clothing is not chemical free. Even organic clothing can be treated and finished with the same toxic chemicals found in regular clothes (see link at the end of this post for more details)
Sometimes it is possible to detox regular clothing. For mildly sensitive people it might just take a few regular washes with a tolerable detergent. For more sensitive people, a more involved protocol may do the trick. For others, we often end up without much in the way of clothing and bedding, because even the trace chemicals can be too much.
Here are some methods many people have used to successfully detox their clothing. As always, individual results may vary according to personal sensitivities, water conditions, products available, and whatever might be in the clothing to begin with.
Updated Version of Ellen’s Laundry Decontamination Protocol
Originally posted at MCS-Canadian-Sources and at The Canary Report (copied with permission)
When I joined the MCS… list in 2005, I learned what other members of the list were doing to decontaminate their new clothes. I made some changes, the main one being that I soak the new items in plastic bins, rather than soaking them in my washing machine.
I have an expensive front-loading washing machine, with a maximum soaking time of 35 minutes, which is totally inadequate for decontaminating new or really smelly fabrics. I continue to make changes as I find problems or improvements.
If you have a top-loading washing machine, soaking times can be set much longer, because the timer can be turned off after the soaking ingredient and machine water are completely mixed.
I am including the latest version of my protocol here.
Please note that I have only tested this protocol on cotton, cotton/bamboo blends, cotton/polyester blends, and a very few totally synthetic fabrics. It is not safe to use on silk.
I have been getting fairly good results by doing 24-hour soakings of new clothes, towels, or linens in a series of detoxing agents.
These items are usually cotton, often pure organic cotton, or else cotton plus bamboo. But this protocol has also been successful for the few synthetic clothes I have bought or needed to detox.
Unfortunately, I have had poor results when attempting to decontaminate clothes that had been dried hundreds of times with dryer sheets, such as Bounce or Snuggles. I am not sure there are any safe chemical solutions capable of dissolving the toxic chemical residues from those products. The protocol
doesn’t damage the clothes, but it also doesn’t remove enough of the Bounce residue to make them safe for me to be around.
WARNING: DO NOT USE THIS PROTOCOL ON SILK.
Silk should be washed only with mild low pH liquids, such as hair shampoo or diluted natural vinegar. Alkaline agents can destroy silk, so don’t use baking soda or washing soda on silk.
WARNING: Clothing May Stretch or Shrink As A Result Of This Protocol
As far as I can tell, the milk soaking, to remove formaldehyde, is the stage at which fabrics can change shape. As a result, I now use no more than 1/4 cup skim milk powder in a full bin of water, instead of the 1/2 cup (or more) skim milk powder that I used to include in that step.
WARNING: Wear Safe Gloves To Protect Your Hands while Handling the
Solutions. Wear a Mask or Respirator If You are Sensitive to the Chemicals in the Clothes or to the Soaking Media.
END OF WARNINGS
I use large or small plastic (polyethylene or polystyrene) bins for this, depending on the volume of fabric I am detoxing, and mix whatever amount seems right into the bin of filtered water.
Other people have recommended using enamelled metal pots, but I don’t have any in the size I would need, so I use some plastic bins I originally bought for storing clothes. These bins fit well into a pair of kitchen sinks conveniently located several metres from my washer and dryer.
For very large items, I use large bins that fit into the pair of laundry sinks located very close to my washer.
One thing I didn’t clue into right away is the importance of rinsing well, sometimes rinsing several times, after each soaking, to remove everything that the detoxing liquid has pulled out.
When I am detoxing heavy items, such as towels or sheets, I do the rinsing in my washing machine, with a bit of vinegar in the fabric softener compartment to minimize the amount of chlorine that ends up on the machine-rinsed fabrics.
Because of worse shoulder and hand pain, I have recently also been tending to rinse clothes in the washer after each soaking. My strategy is to soak one or more garments of identical or similar colour in each of the 2 bins that fit into my basement divided kitchen sink. Decontaminating by colour, I can rinse all the items in the washer at the same time without worrying about dye exchanges. As always, I add vinegar to the fabric softener compartment of the washer, to knock out the chlorine in the rinse water.
For smaller items, I used to be able to rinse out the soaking item fairly well by using clear filtered water, squeezing the items gently, pouring the rinse water down the drain, adding more filtered water to the container, squeezing gently, … repeating as many times as necessary for the rinse water to turn clear.
The measurements I list are for soaking items in small bins about 3 gallons
For soaking in washing machines (not practical for me), the correct quantities are probably double what I list.
My usual order of soakings, inspired by several postings on the MCS-CanadianSources support group, but adapted by me, is:
1. sea salt (or table salt) in filtered water, about 1/4 cup salt to many cups of filtered water, as many as it takes to dissolve all the salt, to help lock the dye into the fabric. TSP soaking, which used to be my first soaking step, is especially good at removing dye from fabrics, not always a good thing.
I have recently started using a salt soaking as the first step for all fabrics, even those not dyed. It seems to help with decontamination as well, although I have no idea why. But white clothes I decontaminated without a salt soaking retained more odours by the time I had finished all the steps, so I started soaking them in salt as well.
Salt is sold in boxes or in bulk at many supermarkets, grocery stores, and health food stores, so it’s an easy ingredient to obtain.
2.TSP (tri-sodium phosphate, real, not substitute).
If you can use hot water for this, all the better, since TSP seems to work best in hot water. But choose a water temperature suitable for your clothes.
I mix about 1/4 cup TSP into very hot water, then add sufficient cold filtered tap water to bring the mixture to the required temperature for soaking the fabric. With towels and sheets, I use hot water, as I do all my machine washing of towels and sheets in hot water anyway, because of my dust mite allergies. So I don’t bother to use cold water when detoxing them in TSP.
However, most of my clothes have labels warning that the water temperature
should be either cool or cold. So I add lots of cold water to the hot water and TSP for those items.
TSP is often sold in powder form in paint sections of hardware stores because it is a good de-greaser for preparing walls for painting.
TSP is able to dissolve out oily chemicals in fabrics. If you can’t tolerate this product, then please skip this step.
3. milk (apparently this helps get out formaldehyde). I mix about 1/4 cup skim milk powder into a plastic bin full of cold water. Other people dilute whatever form of milk they normally drink, e.g., 2 % fat content, in water.
I prefer to use powdered skim milk, rather than liquid milk, for the simple reason that I can store the powder where I do the laundry decontamination, in my basement, rather than having to go upstairs each time I need more milk. Also, the milk we currently buy, organic whole milk (3.8% milk fat) for making wonderful lactose-free homemade yogurt [for the Specific Carbohydrate diet], is very expensive compared to the skim-milk powder.
Some people use more than 1/2 cup milk for this step, but I have found 1/4
cup to be a reasonable amount that doesn’t reshape my clothes.
I usually do the milk soak for less than 24 hours, to prevent the milk from
spoiling. And I always make sure the lid of the container is on tightly, to keep out curious, milk-loving felines who could be poisoned by the formaldehyde and other chemicals absorbed by the milk.
I buy the powdered skim milk at a supermarket.
4. Grain vinegar (I use President’s Choice brand. I think that Heinz vinegar in the USA is similar). 1/2 cup in a bin of cold water. I think that the vinegar reacts with alkaline contaminants in the fabric, to neutralize them, but I’m not positive of the chemistry.
President’s Choice vinegar is sold at “National Grocery” stores in Canada, such as Loblaw’s, Zehr’s, and Fortinos supermarkets. Heinz vinegar is available at all supermarkets I have checked.
Try not to use a vinegar that is made from petroleum products.
5. borax and washing soda, or if I can’t find scent-free washing soda (fragrance either deliberately added by manufacturer or contamination in store), borax and baking soda, plus a bit of powder oxygen bleach. This combination was devised by LaVerne, a genius who is a moderator of this list, and from whom I have learned a lot about clothing decontamination. LaVerne came up with the recipe to mimic the action of an AFM product that is scarce and very expensive in Canada.
If you can’t tolerate baking soda, you might want to use the AFM product,
whatever it is.
Mix 1/4 cup borax with hot water to dissolve, then add 1/4 cup washing soda
or 1/4 cup baking soda plus 1-2 teaspoons powdered oxygen bleach, and enough
cold filtered tap water to dissolve all of these ingredients.
Borax and washing soda are sold in the (contaminated) laundry detergent aisles of supermarkets. But some non-toxic stores also sell these products in bulk.
Baking soda is usually found in the baking products section or the bulk foods aisles of supermarkets and other food stores.
6. If the fabrics still smell, I soak them in a very weak solution of rubbing alcohol (99% isopropyl alcohol, 1/4 cup-1/2 cup in bin of water). LaVerne is the genius who thought of this as well. Some chemicals are soluble in alcohol.
I usually buy the 99% isopropyl alcohol in 500-ml bottles at pharmacies, but I wish I could find larger bottles, as I go through them fairly quickly.
7. machine wash with non-toxic laundry detergent, using vinegar in the fabric softener compartment to neutralize chlorine and to soften. Typically I will wash checking the smell after each washing, until I am satisfied that I will be able to wear or use the item safely. At that point, I dry the items in our electric dryer, or else dry them on a rack or clothesline, depending on the manufacturer’s
Examples of the laundry detergent I use are Simply Clean (a Canadian company) and Seventh Generation Free & Clear.
I tend to do the first washing with Simply Clean, because of its alcohol content.
So far, I have not reacted to Seventh Generation Free & Clear 2X liquid, and
I hope I never do.
Repeat all steps if required. So, I allow at least a week to detox every new item of clothing or fabric I buy.
Hope this helps. Ellen in Toronto, Canada
More notes and methods…
– Most people with MCS will need a separately ventilated space to detox new things in, as the chemicals being released can affect air quality.
– Some people find airing things out in the sun and rain (watch out for mold) helps a lot. Others (like myself) don’t find it helps much with the end result. It might depend on what chemicals are in the textiles to begin with, and if the sun can break them down or not.
– Some people might find it necessary to use large stainless steel or enamelled pots or bowls as the plastic from wash tubs or containers can either off-gas itself, or absorb and re-release chemicals from whatever is soaking in the containers. Large enamelled canning pots or SS stock pots are options.
– Heinz vinegar in the USA is made from corn. They cannot say how much of that corn is from GMO’s. In Canada, Heinz uses fermented ethyl alcohol from beech trees. Loblaw’s/President’s Choice refused to say what their white vinegar was made from (updated summer of 2012)
– Lemon juice might be used instead of vinegar, if it’s tolerated
– Bulk Barn and some health food stores, environmental goods stores or bakeries can sell you the 50 lb bags of baking soda so they don’t pick up store fragrance contamination…
Note also that there are a few different ways of manufacturing baking soda, so one type may be ok but another might not. Arm and Hammer baking soda is different that those sold by Natural Soda that get rebranded (Bob’s, Fleishmann’s and another brand whose name I forget are all the same, and no longer agree with me). Plus, pharmaceutical grade might be different than another grade, and some even have preservatives!!!
– Non-chlorine bleach is sometimes helpful as a stage, mixed with borax or baking soda. If additives (usually preservatives) are an issue, then food grade hydrogen peroxide can be used. Food grade must be used with care, and can be found at sprouting suppliers.
– Isopropyl alcohol contains additives that may not agree with some people with sensitivities. Vodka is a good alternative. Sometimes it may take some sampling to find a tolerable vodka, as they are not all made the same.
– Very importantly, if you are having clothing problems, water quality might be an issue. Chlorine and chloramines, as well as the other chemical residues in tap water can be problematic for many with MCS/ES. Whole house filtration is advisable, or minimally a good shower filter might be enough to make a difference. Hooking up a shower filter somewhere else might not be easy though…
Boiling clothing can make a huge difference too, usually as a last step, once as many as possible of the other chemicals have been removed. The water may need to be changed several times.
More on detoxing clothes by boiling can be found at the link below (remember not to pollute your living space doing this, use a hotplate and do it outside or in a separately ventilated room, or at the very least, have a huge fan blowing the toxic fumes out the kitchen window, if you are well enough to tolerate some exposure):
The Golden Rules for boiling clothes
Note, the link no longer works, but there’s a copy of the post text part of the article in the comments below
Even with all this work, some people find regular clothing and bedding cannot be made safe, and that includes some organic stuff as well.
That blog addresses inherent problems, but not the post manufacturing issues, which are pesticides used in shipping, and fragrances used in storage or retail environments. Pesticides are difficult (and dangerous for people with MCS) to remove, and fragrance chemicals like phthalates are often impossible to remove because they are designed to absorb into whatever they come into contact with, and remain permanently.
There is a real demand for chemical free, non-toxic clothing. It is one of the top 3 terms people search for when arriving at this blog.