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.
I love my old clothes! I just bought a giant tub of Nellie’s Bulk Laundry Soda (16.5 kg) at costco.ca – delivered at no charge (and with no contact) to my door. And, it’s on sale right now. 1100 loads in the pail. I’m on a well so this product works well for me at the suggested one TBSP per load.
Sounds great (even tho I personally don’t tolerate washing soda)!
Are there any additives in this product?
The website doesn’t say.
Checking the website I noticed Nellie’s sell plastic dryer balls. Even tho they are PVC free, plastic isn’t good, especially heated. Wool dryer balls would be a much better option. Just in case anyone is wondering…
Linda if you de-sensitize yourself then you will no longer have as many of these problems.
Do you mean with the de-sensitization drops? Those don’t work for everyone, and are expensive. Plus, you need to be able to enter a practicing Dr’s office to do them.
As my health slowly improves here, I am becoming less sensitive to some exposures and recovering faster from them, so eventually it should also be easier to detox clothing.
A month or 2 ago I tried some underwear overnight that hadn’t gone through the extensive process, (only half) and woke up with a severe fibromyalgia flare from them, so I’m not there yet…
My main obstacle now is not having a laundry sink or machines in the laundry room here, so I can’t soak things anywhere but outside, and I’ve wrecked my back and arm so can’t carry the water from inside to outside. That also prevents me from doing some of the safer work inside as the heavier things like sweatshirts are too difficult physically…
That said, I’m grateful for the things I was able to detox that 1st summer when I had running lake water while at the cabin, because now I have heat here and don’t have to wear them all at once to be warm enough.
Some day things will be easier…
Linda, I would like to find out what you are doing now that your health has been improving due to the MCS. Are you detoxing yourself in some way? If so what are you using?
Hi Carole, I did have some slow improvements after moving to safer housing in 2011, but due to numerous unresolved issues and accessibility barriers, plus some extensive pesticide drift from spraying wild parsnip in the Ottawa Valley the other year, the removal of almost all of my molars (in my living room as dental offices are not safe for me), among other things…, my health and abilities are not great these days. Plus, with a lack of laundry equipment and physical inability to detox clothing by hand due to the ways things are set up here, I’m going to have nothing to wear soon… Fun times with poverty and no accessible social supports due to systemic accessibility barriers!
@ zakstev – My sensitivity to some things waxes and wanes but my skin sensitivity to chemicals is a lifelong issue (from childhood) and does not improve. For example, I can now tolerate ECOS laundry soap (on others) when before the smell of it sent me reeling. Underwear is a huge issue for me since chemically-treated elastic or elastane tends to be present or inorganically grown cotton fibres cause blisters which bleed. Some people, so delighted with their results from desensitization, may not be aware of some of the severe chemical reactions some others experience. I try to remember that these are toxic substances that I want out of the world; not just out of my clothes.
EPD worked for me. It takes 3 years but it’s worth it.
Pamela Reed Gibson has conducted research on what kinds of methods have helped people in the past (note that there are a couple of new ones since this was published). See http://www.mcsresearch.net/journalpapers/treatmentefficacy.pdf
This, and her other research can be found here: http://www.mcsresearch.net/papers.htm
THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU. bought a bunch of expensive organic stuff and it is AWFUL!!! hope this helps! can i repost on my blog with link back to yours?
I hope it helps Heather!
I used variations of soaking and washing with salt, vodka, baking soda, borax and food grade hydrogen peroxide, plus muscle, time and boiling to successfully detox some organic and non-organic clothing with lake water while at the cabin – the photos are from there.
If soaps or detergents can be used, the process is probably easier.
Regarding re-blogging, you may copy a paragraph (not the whole post please) and the link. Thank you.
This illness makes the basics 10 full times jobs! Grr.
Only because so many toxic chemicals are allowed into everyday products and materials…
i know, i tell people “i don’t have any special needs, i need what EVERYTHING needs.”
Some more info on the problems as they relate to all beings and the environment:
Unravelling the corporate connections to toxic water pollution in China
Cleaning up the Fashion Industry
Click to access Report-Textiles-One-EN.pdf
The Toxins Return: How Industrial Poisons Travel the Globe (44:00)
In an era of high-speed international commerce, safety standards and import inspection procedures are riddled with loopholes. The result? Quantities of dangerous substances found in goods manufactured overseas have risen dramatically. This program investigates the alarming global mobility of synthetic toxins, tracing egregious—yet often repeated—hazardous material violations from supplier to storefront. Textile producers in India, a popular retail outlet in Germany, and ports and ground-shipment depots in between all reveal their roles in transporting industrial residues and waste. Activists, government authorities, and workers all-too-familiar with toxic exposure speak out on the dangers. (44 minutes)
yeah i grew up off the grid in the 70s and we washed ourselves and the laundry in a creek with Dr Bronners and rinsed hair with apple cider vinegar. no phone, no electric, no solar, no generator, no running water, homesteading. i never really got why people bought fabric softener and perfume and microwaves. but then again i didn’t have a tv til i was 27 when a boyfriend bought me one because he said my house was boring. (translation: he was boring, LOL) since i grew up that way and was a homeless street kid later and always an activist, i never got used to consumerism or chemicals. i mean growing up i thought coke was how you take rust off a car not something people drank! anyway, i grew up assuming that everyone knew all the eco stuff and corporate lies i knew. plus i knew people with EI as a kid. the “real world” horrified me. still does. wish we still had that place but it has wood stove and oil lamps and that is a big NO for me. BTW thanks for this blog. i saw that some really nasty things were said about you by ignorant strangers and have nothing better to do than judge strangers online and i just want you to know i am sorry that happened. EI is like rape, the victim is blamed as a crazy liar. i am glad you hung in there and i hope the new apartment can be turned into a beautiful safe nest! thanks for forging paths for the rest of us! i was a journalist once at the toronto star.
ingredients listed on websie for Nellie’s http://www.nelliesallnatural.com/blog/2012/05/11/whats-in-this-awesome-laundry-soda-you-ask/
I just found the other good post on laundry detox that I couldn’t find when I put this one together:
MCS laundry by Julie
New report on more toxic chemicals in clothing:
“The chemicals found included high levels of toxic phthalates in four of the garments, and cancer-causing amines from the use of certain azo dyes in two garments. NPEs were found in 89 garments (just under two thirds of those tested), showing little difference from the results of the previous investigation into the presence of these substances in sports clothing that was conducted in 2011. In addition, the presence of many other different types of potentially hazardous industrial chemicals was discovered across a number of the products tested.”
Thanks! Shared this one.
I was tested for skin allergies and I’m allergic to coconut which is really limiting what I can use. I’ve tried making my own laundry detergent going by recipes I’ve found online but I still have skin irritation. I think the washing soda and Borax may be bothering me as well in the ingredients. My skin is also irritated when I use soaps containing palm or olive oil in the ingredients. I use an he front loader to wash my clothes and things like shirts and underwear I can use Ivory Snow if I don’t use too much and my clothes come out OK. But things like sweat shirts and blue jeans are a different story. If I use Ivory Snow snow on them they come out of the wash smelling like mildew or something else that’s disgusting. When I do a wash I have to separate my shirts from my sweat shirts from my underwear from my blue jeans and I also keep trying different things which takes a lot longer to do my wash besides also wasting a lot of money on energy and water being used to do my wash. Besides this I’m also allergic to the dyes in my clothes. I have to keep washing my clothes and putting them through rinses before I can wear them and by that time my clothes are starting to wear out. I’m starting to run out of options. I’ve also tried using a regular washing machine but the clothes came out reeking of Ivory Snow and the clothes did not seem as clean. Maybe I should go naked?
Doing laundry should not be so difficult!
I had to give up all Ivory products in the mid 2000’s or so, as they were no longer 99 3/4 pure like they used to be. They now contain more fragrance and other chemicals.
Regarding other soaps, I think there is something petrochemical in modern lye that does not disappear when soap is made, but I haven’t been able to research the life cycle.
Front loading washers often get moldy, but I’ve never had one, so can’t offer suggestions on what to do about it, except not to close the door between uses.
Another thing about front loaders is that they use so little water that anything you use will not be properly rinsed out.
You could try running an extra wash and rinse cycle without adding anything, except perhaps some hydrogen peroxide/bleach alternative to the wash, not rinse, to see if that helps.
I now have an HE top loading machine. I had to wait for it to finish off-gassing, then learn how to use it. It is actually awesome as long as I use the correct setting. I always add an extra rinse. I have now tried other washing sodas-ones with borax ok on dish towels but not on my clothes. So it would seem that borax is no good for me. Chris, I also find the fragrance in Ivory Snow an issue. President’s Choice makes a good alternative but recently discontinued the powder form. Although I tolerate the product well, for environmental reasons, I don’t buy liquid detergents in plastic containers. We could collectively lobby for the return of the powder!!
I find I need many extra rinses no matter what I use, and I did need the baking soda wash as a final one to get the borax or anything else out.
As someone who is housebound and severely affected by trace levels of some chemicals, I found that PC changed their “free of” product in about 2005 and added fragrance although they don’t declare it. I have to close my windows whenever anyone in the area uses it. It might be a better choice than other conventional products, and is what I used for my children before the change, but afterwards I can no longer be around people who use it.
I have also had problems with all the powdered products, even Ecover and Nature Clean. It may be the washing soda, but something in them makes me choke up and get a headache. They also leave residues in clothes, so unless people who use them rinse many extra times (not just the one extra rinse some machines offer) like by using a whole new cycle without product, I get affected, and the residue also stays on my furniture, even wooden chairs! It’s also there a week later!
That said – for people who don’t have severe MCS, these are still much better products than conventional ones. I have trouble with trace contaminants now, it wasn’t always like this, and could have been prevented – but that’s a very long story requiring a number of policy changes.
The plastic bottle issue is another big one. Some environmental stores carry detergents in bulk, where you can go and refill your bottle. I know Nature Clean offers bulk products, I don’t know if other brands do as well, but I think that is a solution that needs to go main-stream.
I’ve found that “Smartwool” wool longjohns, socks, and shirts are not as hard to decontaminate in the laundry as organic cotton, even when saturated with perfume. (I currently can only tolerate corn starch and baking soda to take contaminants out of clothing.) I contacted the company and they told me that they do not use pyrethrins on their merino wool (something other manufacturers of merino wool clothing do). If you are not allergic to wool, these items are worth a try.
Thanks Molly. Good to know. Did they say what they used instead?
I’ll look into them some more when I have the energy (and after I’ve found safe toilet paper), as their website doesn’t seem to go into their processes.
I do tolerate wool that is really organic, although some of the things people wash wool with have caused me problems and are difficult to remove. Even the eco detergents… So while this might not work for me now, it could very well be a safer option for people without severe “sensitivities”.
I am allergic to wool so don’t have to deal with the ethics of merino wool…http://www.theethicalman.com/wool.html RE: toilet paper – my best investment was a bidet toilet seat – NO TOILET PAPER – and my doctor commented just yesterday she hadn’t seen “THAT” skin so intact in a long time.
Good idea Elaine! Especially now that I have double filtered water!
I just wish the bathroom here was big enough for me to petition them to install a bidet!
Are there modifications available to transform regular toilets into dual purpose units? Or toilets that do both?
I’m not sure I can convince them to make the expenditure, but it might be worth a try.
Regarding wool, regular wool (or any bird or animal fiber, including silk) is derived by very cruel means.
Organic certification should address most if not all of these issues.
Trying to stay warm when synthetics are not tolerated means we might sometimes have to use animal or bird materials, and if I could, I’d only use animal product from the end of their natural lives, so as to not waste anything…
In the meantime, certified organic (or equivalent/better) is what I look for.
New report from Sweden:
We have listed hazardous substances that may be found in textiles
The Swedish Chemicals Agency has identified hazardous chemicals that may be found in clothing and textiles in our indoor environment.
Thx for this grear info! :-)
This link is broken- any idea where I might find info on boiling?:
The Golden Rules for boiling clothes
Sending love & light,
Oh darn… I don’t know if I ever copied and saved the text. I’ll have to go through all my disorganized files to see if I can find it. It could take a day or few!
Thx so much Linda! We’re having trouble getting appropriate clothes for my husband, as his are suddenly full of holes. I haven’t been able to wear anything but organic cotton for quite some time & know I can’t tolerate him.bringing new non organic anything inside to wash. We can’t afford to get him organic versions of his outside clothes. It’s cold here & he has no jacket bc the cargart one I got him.3 yrs ago picked up some nasty contamination that even though he had in baking soda outside for a wk, when he brought it in from garage to do multiple washes & soaks in laundry caused me anaphylaxis for 3 or 4 days. I told him I think that nice jacket is a goner, then I remembered the boiling thing! Thought maybe I could buy a hotplate & a really big cheap.soup pot for the jacket & have him cook it outside. I guess it’ll shrink as it’s cotton but hopefully not much since it’s been washed many times. I dont know whether to just abandon it- they arent cheap but I can’t allow it into.house to be treated. I have lemon juice & thought of having him spray it with it & hang on sun, when we have a sunny day, to bake some out. Then boil. Then see what else. Then wash probably not here. Then I need to get him some new pants, regular cotton. If this works for the jacket, I’d have him treat them.boiling outside before ever bringing in to wash, hoping to release chemical residues outside, but I don’t know if thgs like this can even be made safe for me to allow him to wash inside. I thought about getting used on the clothing exchange group.but we have a latex allergies, polyester allergy & others which makes it so difficult even with other MCSers as I notice many using thgs with synthetic fabric.blended with cotton plus non compatible detergents for us bc of other conditions. I wish I had the ability to make clothes myself!
for that broken link (on a December 2016 post) http://www.kemi.se/Documents/Publikationer/Trycksaker/Rapporter/Report6-14-Chemicals-in-textiles.pdf?epslanguage=en
This worked for me: go to the main address of http://www.kemi.se on google & choose translate page……then you can easily search for “chemicals in textiles” and you’ll see the pdf option there :-)
thanks for the help… after a few years of experimenting and trying everything, this is the best I’ve found (for me):
1 if it’s real bad, don’t bring it home.
2 wash in hot with baking soda, quick ok
3 soak in salt and vinegar (both in the same soup)
I can interrupt / pause the machine. overnight should do it,
might rinse and start over sooner if the house stinks. agitate every few
hours if I remember.
4 wash again with baking soda. seems to take it down to dyes and
pesticides that just won’t wash, hanging out in the sun for a few
weeks might help that, or it’s time to give up.
Using salt and vinegar together is a new one for me! I know they are both useful independently.
I will try this next spring when I can soak things outside again (I still don’t have machines).
I finally found a document with the main points from the “Golden Rules for boiling” blog post that is no longer up…
I would add:
Boiling is the last step (or 2nd last) after going through x number of soaks and washes to remove the more easily removable chemicals.
When you are done boiling, then another wash may or may not be needed.
DO NOT DO THIS INSIDE unless you have a big fan to blow the toxic steam out a window right beside where you are doing the boiling.
Also, some people do frequent water changes, others do not. In my mind, it makes more sense to change the water periodically and dump the chemicals that have been released… otherwise, where do they go? I don’t think they all dissolve into steam.
From “The Golden Rules for boiling clothes”
1) Never boil your clothes in the pot you cook in. If your clothes are particularly chemmed, you may have to spend hours boiling the chemicals back out of your pot to avoid ingesting them- unless you want to roll the dice and try eating chemicals that you can’t even tolerate wearing.
2) Never use dyed tongs to turn your clothes or handle them in any way while they are boiling. I recently stained a light-colored hobby piece while baptizing its chems out with red rubber tongs.
3) Keep rocks on hand for parachute clothes, and I don’t just mean your pants. Certain hobby pieces balloon into parachutes when they are boiled. They will continue to float to the top of the water unless they are held down. Holding them down with dyed kitchen utensils may discolor your precious loved ones (see #2); however, rocks will not stain your clothes because they are accustomed to being in water. I use Petoskeys that I rescued from Lake Michigan.
4) Stand back when you throw a new piece of clothing into the boiling pot: some clothes hiss and let off invisible chemical fireworks.
5) Wear your respirator AND EAR COVERS in case of #4, and also to avoid getting messed up by the continuous off-gassing of chemicals from the boiled clothes. I didn’t wear my ear covers today, and I have been harshly reminded of the importance of doing so.
6) Don’t boil your clothes during a dinner party: the chemicals reek. I don’t know if “normal” people can ever smell them or not, I know one who can’t. But if you get a breather who can smell the chems, they’ll be thinking you have dead bodies stashed in your kitchen cabinets. Boil alone.
7) Boil like colors to avoid transitioning to an all-tie-dyed wardrobe.
8) If the chemicals have not finished off-gassing, don’t bother taking your clothes out of the pot. There have been times that I’ve gotten tired of boiling clothes, and figured, “Well, they must be better, anyway,” and taken them off while I still smelled the chemicals coming off, and found out that it’s a waste of time: no matter how many times you follow an incomplete boiling with vinegar and baking soda washes, the clothes are destined to be either back in the pot or in a big plastic bag on the curb.
9) You can’t boil away chemicals that are used to hold your clothes together. Yes, this sounds obvious, but I uselessly boiled a pair of dance pants tons of times trying to get the chemicals out of the glue that was used to apply the pants’ design. And wrecked a dance top in the process, because…
10) Clothes that boil together, live or die together. If you boil more than one article of clothing at a time, and one of the articles’ chemicals can not be removed via boiling, you will kill the other article of clothing with the perma-chemmed article’s poisons. If the chemicals can be removed from all articles in a shared pot, then they will all live happily ever after.
Remember, 45% of the world’s pesticides go into the making of cotton!
Happy Boiling! : -)
Thank you so much Linda! This information is very helpful! What kind of pot do you use to boil your clothes in? What size of a pot do you use?
I was using the large enameled canning pots when I was at the cabin as I had no clothes and had a lot of detoxing to do at one time, but the enamel will wear off and they made me choke a bit when I took the lids off then.
The old enameled basins that have many layers of thicker enamel might be better, (the canning pots apparently only have a single layer), or large stainless steel pasta or turkey pots (the large pots are expensive, but they are an indestructable investment).
Hi, Friend! I can empathize with you. I struggle with the same. Very hard to find those who can relate, at least locally. I have tried every chemical imaginable for removing perfumes from clothing. I realize that heat and agitation are noteworthy, but I have settled with buying “organic” and then soaking or gassing them with MMS (chlorine dioxide) between washings until they are tolerable. I do the gassing outside on a closed-in porch, or the soaking in sealed plastic or glass screw-top jars or containers. MMS is much safer for me than chlorine bleach. Also, we are presently looking for a supplier for organic garments. Rawganique is available but I am frustrated with their customer service.
For other non-clothing items I may soak with baking soda or boil.
Sorry to hear you too are having issues finding safe clothing. This club is getting bigger all the time!
I don’t know anything about MMS, first time I’ve heard about it!
I have had, as have so many others, terrible customer service from Rawganique. We are not sure what their problem is, but they haven’t been able to get it together in years. It’s really too bad, because they could be a great company that people would love to buy from if they weren’t so flaky and inconsistent. They are losing a lot of money because people don’t want to go to the trouble of having to return ordering mistakes, things that weren’t as advertised, or shoddy quality for the price. I rally wish they’d make the decision to address those issues and become as great as they could be.
Hopefully some other companies will seize the opportunity soon. There’s a big market for safe, chemical-free clothing now.
Hi all – Great posts here! I was a nutritionist for 25 years before contracting necrotizing fasciitis (flesh eating disease) that caused sepsis shock. This left me with debilitating chronic autoimmune diseases that include chemical sensitivity.
I’m wondering about a few of the ingredients used here since they are chemicals I try to avoid. Perhaps there are healthier alternatives?
Isopropyl alcohol (aka also rubbing alcohol, denatured alcohol, etc.) is an alcoholic mixture intended for external use as an antiseptic. It is intentionally made into a neurotoxin by the addition of methanol for the sole purpose of keeping people (employees or kids who are under drinking age) from drinking it like ethyl alcohol (which is usually made from grain or fruit). It usually contains 70% by volume of absolute alcohol; the remainder can consists of water, denaturants, and perfume oils. This is also a carcinogen. It is not something you ever want to touch or inhale and I think that would include avoiding residue that might remain in the clothing. You might be trading one evil for another….
I honestly think you would get the same results by using the far less toxic ethyl alcohol like a cheap vodka. You can even get organic ethyl alcohol, but it is expensive. I use this when making my organic herbal tinctures/extracts.
Next, I question the use of Borax. This is boric ACID and is a toxic irritant to skin, eyes and lungs. I think this also might contaminate the clothing.
Lastly, I’m not so sure about tricalcium phosphate. Admittedly I don’t know much about this one except that it can cause lung problems is inhaled.
Just some thoughts…
Lastly, What do you think about Pottery Barn’s organic covered sofas? I am allergic to down so their down wrapped cushions are out for me which means polyester wrapped cushions, but at least there is an organic option for the upholstery and no use of flame retardants.
Any thoughts about safe sofas?
Thank you for such a great (and much needed) website — keep up the great work!
Hi Leslie, sorry you’ve had to go through all that.
I agree rubbing alcohol isn’t the best choice, but it’s the cheapest for those with limited incomes, and depending on people’s ‘sensitivity’, it might cut through some nasty chemicals in textiles and be washed out if used early in the process. I don’t use it myself, I use vodka, but I have known a few others who did find it helpful.
I don’t recommend borax for everyday use, but in the clothing detox process, it can be helpful. Yes, it can irritate the lungs if not used carefully, but it generally doesn’t cause MCS symptoms, as many other cleaning/detox tools do. So, it’s perhaps the lesser evil. Personally, I have to have it in my toolkit because I have so few other things I can use. I have found it does wash out. I use borax when I have something with extra stains or stink, sometimes with food grade hydrogen peroxide, and wash it out with baking soda, and have been fine (and my clothing and chemical sensitivities are extreme…)
TSP is something that has to be used with real caution. I haven’t used it on my own clothes but do know people who use it for one of the 1st steps of many. I use it to degrease new metal materials, but we do need to protect our lungs and skin (gloves or plastic bags on our hands) when using it. I’ve only used it when outside.
It’s insane that so many toxic chemicals are in textiles, and that we have to go to such lengths to try to remove enough of them so we have something to wear.
Lastly, I have no idea about Pottery Barn’s sofas.
I have heard some people discuss EKLA has furniture they tolerated and were very happy with, and have seen a company on facebook that seems to use really good materials, Ecobalanza, but their furniture may cost more than Pottery Barn’s. I have no idea as I haven’t looked into details myself, as new furniture is not an option for me at this time.
It sure would be nice to have safe and comfortable clothing and furniture that is also affordable. Hope you find what you need!
Thank you for your thoughtful response. Very helpful!
Just a friendly warning to anyone using Isopropyl alcohol (aka also rubbing alcohol, denatured alcohol, etc.). Be sure to use rubber gloves and a face mask if you can tolerate them. You want to avoid making skin contact or inhalation. Even if you are not sensitive to this chemical. It sets up in the body and can feed parasites and can even lead to cancer. Use the cheapest vodka if you can afford it instead.
Also, something to consider with MCS is this could be the result of brain inflammation. They know very little about brain inflammation except that it absolutely exists – and they’ve only admitted this the last several years.
There is something called AE – autoimmune encephalitis. It can affect different regions of the brain with different results. Often it is associated with psychological reactions, but I believe reactions to environmental toxins should be suspect too.
Blessings to all for regained health no matter the course!
Thanks Leslie. Interesting about the alcohol. Where did you hear about that?
in 2008 I finally identified what was causing me to be sick a lot: MCS. it’s almost ten years later and i’m still finding things that make me sick and having to modify my life and habits to keep myself healthy. i’ve been washing new clothes (i don’t get new clothes OFTEN, but when i do…) multiple times in hot water with seventh generation free and clear detergent in the wash and wool dryer balls in the dryer. i’ve never had anything retain the chemical smell and feel after that, until today. i’ve lost weight and needed to buy smaller jeans and they are STICKY with chemicals. i washed them three times in the hottest water my house can produce last night and they are STILL sticky. i am unable to find these in my size anywhere else, i actually had to order these. i will wear them until they wear out (or if i lose more weight LOL). so finding these tips will hopefully be very helpful to getting that crap out of my new clothes.
I hope it works! It’s probably a good idea to contact the vendor and manufacturer to ask what chemicals would have that effect and how to wash them out. They may not have a clue, but push them to find out!
So happy to find this. Anyone have any luck with a process for detoxing wool sweaters? I bought one treated with Febreze and so far can’t find a safe process other than vinegar. It was purchased on a used clothing site, so I want to see if I can save it.
In most people’s experience (unless you have very mild sensitivities) many products and fragrances just don’t come out enough.
You could contact Febreze and ask them how to remove all traces of their product as you are being adversely affected by it.
The more people who do that, the more they will recognize there’s a problem. If they tell you, and it works, please let us know here too!
As for what else you could try, maybe vodka would help, but I haven’t tried it on wool.
I’ve had luck with Castile soap on formaldehyde after nothing else worked.
Thanks, Monique. I may have some Dr. Bronners around somewhere. :)
I contacted P&G and they said that it would probably take about 8 days of airing out. They also said not to put it in water. A chemist friend of mine believes it is hydrophobic and will probably require soap for removal. However, at this point I’m not sure it will ever come out. I was going to return it, but now I believe I will continue this as a science experiment. At least the person who sold it to me is now educated and is throwing the product away. I’m hoping to start a green movement on the used clothing website–perhaps sellers will use the green tree emoji to at least indicate they have not treated the clothing with these smell masking products. The clothing could have been treated by someone else before them, so it really is a slippery slope when you want to buy used clothing to help the planet.
Thanks so much for calling them! Shows how uninformed they are :/
Fragrance chemicals NEVER simply air out. And who knows what other chemicals they have in the product.
Since the introduction of ‘longer lasting freshness’ and other toxic textile products (for laundry) many of us had to give up on used clothing as the effort and cost (physical, exposures, plus water and products and electricity) of trying to detox laundry products that won’t come out of them, became too much – not to mention not at all environmentally friendly…
New clothes can be so hit and miss too… unless we can afford process certified (not just organically grown).
I appreciate all of the info and discussion here. I often hear references to odor and I realize that different odors from chemical compounds can trigger MCS symptoms. In my case, it is not the odors, it is the chemicals making contact with my skin. The lack of clothing is very frustrating, as is feeling ill within minutes of trying on clothing items. I have been trying all of the methods described here for detoxing clothing and so far anyway, none have worked for me. Keep up the discussion, who knows what may be discovered just by us experimenting.
Some chemicals don’t seem to come out, ever.
Others can take 20-40 soaks in various substances and a few boils before being suitable.
Starting with the least toxic things available reduces the effort somewhat, but I have had to do 20 soaks and washes and then several boils on some organic clothing too.
I also have clothing chemicals affect me that I can’t smell, but they still triggered major fibro flares. More soaks and washes a d a few boils did work… but we have to really develop patience… and have the ability to keep at it… and then have some luck that it will actually detox…
I don’t have the set-up here to detox things easily and I don’t have the energy to do the labour needed. A washer and dryer would make things much easier… as would safe outdoor water and air… I do not have access to those luxuries…
I haven’t yet worked with GOTS or the other organic textile certification textiles, they should theoretically be easier to detox, but I suspect asking the manufacturers a few life cycle questions would still be in order…
For instance, years ago, we discovered that Cottonique shipments from overseas were being pesticided en route… other vendors use incense or essential oils or other fragrance-emitting devices which cross contaminate the textiles…
This toxic economy causes so many problems … and certified less toxic materials are more expensive too… at a time we usually have no income…
Maybe if people (allies) took to the streets naked except for gas masks?
Thanks so much for your insight. And it’s true, we have so poisoned the environment it is crazy trying to figure it all out and successfully avoid exposure. I’ll keep trying with the clothes and appreciate all your info. And I like the gas mask idea :-)
What’s the best washer and dryer to get that does the least out-gassing?
I wish I knew!
It used to be Speed Queen, from what so many people said, but they have recently redesigned their machines and I haven’t heard of anyone who has bought the new ones.
Things to look for:
Top loading, with long (overnight) soaks possible (not drain after 10 minutes like new machines do), no smart chip technology, metal drums (inner and outer – some machines have a SS drum that is visible, but the outer drum is plastic, and that can hold on to and re-release some of the pollutants we’re trying to detox from clothing… but this will be very hard to find apparently ), extra rinse(s)…
I wish manufacturers of all kinds of appliances made motors that did not have /need air vents that allow the motor materials to spew into the air. We really need VOC and offgassing emissions labels and certifications for all appliances.
Info about the chemicals used in textile manufacture, and some research links:
I am curious about the author’s assertion that phthalates are impossible to remove from clothing. I purchased two white cotton tshirts that had artificial scent on them, and after a 12-hour 30% vinegar soak followed by a 24-hour saltwater soak and a run through the washing machine, I can no longer smell the offending scent. But is the underlying chemical still there? I can find no other online resources to back up this assertion about the impossibility of expunging phthalates (nor much in the way of stating that it can be done and how).
GOTS certified clothing etc: