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August 22, 2012 9:40 AM   Subscribe

Clothes Detergent Filter! What are good and easily available fragrance-free detergents that work well when hand-washing garments?

This is all going to sound really "Princess and the Pea" esque, and I'm sorry to put you through this. Not that sorry, though, because I feel like I may be keeping the aloe vera/oatmeal/Desatin business fiscally solvent these days.

I got severe contact dermititis from Woolite Complete, and the local stores don't seem to carry Woolite Delicate anymore. Plus I'd like to have more options than just the one.

I need recommendations for detergents that meet the following characteristics:

  • Fragrance-free
  • Effective at actually getting clothes clean (especially in terms of removing sweat, blood, tears, and other organic substances - these are bras we're talking about, not sweaters.)
  • Appropriate for use in hand-washing garments
  • Rinses away really really well (this is part of the "appropriate for hand-washing" thing.)
  • Not going to make me gag when I use it (please, don't tell me to wash things in vinegar.)
  • Basically colorsafe, gentle on the clothes, etc.
Highly desirable but not required
  • Dye-free
  • Actually backed up by dermatologist surveys or whatever
  • Doesn't smell anything like Ivory Classic Scent liquid dishsoap, Dawn Classic Scent liquid dishsoap, or any variety of Cascade Complete (I don't want to smell like my dishes)
  • Carried by Wal-Mart or Meijer in Ohio/the American midwest
Totally irrelevant
  • All-natural, organic, etc. - I don't care. I don't want to spend a fortune or truck out to Whole Foods, however.
  • Whether it can be used in washing machines - I have good solutions for that.
I am extremely sensitive to all kinds of things - I even get rashes from Aveeno Ultra "Calming" products, and occasionally from my dish soaps (on my hands/arms.) Please, confine your suggestions to things that are actually fragrance-free if at all possible; I know of whence I speak.

Oh - and if the answer is Dreft, All Free Clear, Ivory Snow or Tide Free & Gentle, please show me the documentation that says you can actually use the product when hand-washing things, and tells you how much to use. Everything I've been able to find suggests it's all formulated for washing machine use, and I don't want to spend $8 on something that won't work. :(

(I'm provisionally willing to give both Dreft and Ivory Snow a try despite the fact they are not fragrance-free, if someone can prove to me that they can actually be used for hand-washing, because I am under the impression that the pickings are slim, but I'd really rather not, because the only way Dreft worked for my siblings - using washing machines - was to do an extra full wash cycle, with just water.)

Thanks in advance!
posted by SMPA to Home & Garden (28 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Dreft handwashing is made specifically for this - its a powder. I can't seem to find it availalbe in the states, though.
posted by dpx.mfx at 9:54 AM on August 22, 2012

Have you tried Soak Wash? I get mine at the lingerie store and at the yarn store. There is a scentless one.
posted by sillymama at 9:55 AM on August 22, 2012 [5 favorites]

I use Tide Free on my bras. It does the job. I use about half a cap for a sink's worth of water.

The page for Tide Free Coldwater ( ) says washing machine only.

The faq for the hot water version ( ) says no such thing.
posted by fbo at 10:00 AM on August 22, 2012

You might try Doctor Bronner's liquid soap. I just looked on their website and they sell one that is unscented ("Baby Mild" is the name). I can vouch for their hand-laundering abilities.

It's my understanding that the scented liquid soaps just contain essential oils although I couldn't confirm that on the website -- some people who react to chemically "scented" cleaning products can handle essential oils without a problem but of course that is up to you.
posted by gauche at 10:01 AM on August 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

I use Dr. Bronner's Baby liquid soap for this. It hits all your points and is unfragranced and doesn't freak my skin out.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 10:02 AM on August 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

Have you ever tried Forever New? I get eczema when I just think about cheap perfume, and this stuff doesn't give me a rash. I usually buy it at Dillard's here in Colorado, so I think it is only sold in department stores, but it's not crazy exotic or expensive.
posted by pickypicky at 10:07 AM on August 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Charlie's Soap. Used it for nearly a decade now.

Fresh Market, Sprout Soup, and Vitamin Shoppe are all local to you retailers that purport to carry it, but call ahead.
posted by tilde at 10:25 AM on August 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Came to suggest Forever New. Caveat before you go out and buy it is that it does have a pretty distinct/strong scent in the opinion of this lifetime Tide Free user.
posted by telegraph at 10:34 AM on August 22, 2012

Best answer: I always handwash things in either dish soap or regular detergent (some sort of free of dyes and perfumes formulation). Wear dish gloves.

if the answer is Dreft, All Free Clear, Ivory Snow or Tide Free & Gentle, please show me the documentation that says you can actually use the product when hand-washing things, and tells you how much to use

I have no idea if it says anything about this on the bottle. I think some of the washer detergents aren't recommended for hand-washing because the are tough on your skin in the washing process -- thus, gloves. I don't actually measure the amount of detergent, but less for a sinkfull than for an entire washing machine of course -- using too much will require more rinsing.

For handwashing you are going to have to do more than one rinse to get rid of the soap, because you aren't removing the soapy water from the fabric as well as a rapidly spinning washing machine.
posted by yohko at 10:55 AM on August 22, 2012

A friend of mine who is incredibly skin sensitive makes her own soap for hand-washing as well as everything else. It is cheap, but "make at home with leftover bacon grease" might not be quite what you meant by readily available -- no need to drive out to anyplace though.
posted by yohko at 11:01 AM on August 22, 2012

Soak is great - I have the scentless and it really has no smell, it's rinse-free and I have used it to successfully remove spaghetti sauce from a white sweater.
posted by kyla at 11:03 AM on August 22, 2012

I don't have official, written documentation on Ivory Snow being safe for handwashing, but my mother has used it her entire life and I have used it for most of mine. I use about 2T of powder per sinkful of water, which is quite effective and not too tough on my hands. That said, when I'm out of Ivory Snow, I use my regular shampoo on my hand laundry, which is surprisingly effective. Since you (presumably) already know that your shampoo is safe for your skin, you might give this a try.

Wait, here's documentation on Ivory Snow being appropriate for hand laundry.
posted by dizziest at 11:14 AM on August 22, 2012

We use Method free and clear and I like it-and I have crazily sensitive skin. To be honest, I usually use the hand washing setting on my machine. For hand washing in the sink, I'll use this or shampoo.
posted by purenitrous at 11:19 AM on August 22, 2012

If there's perspiration odor that doesn't come out with your chosen detergent, you can use an spray like Nature's Miracle (available at pet-supplies stores). The instructions say to spray it on and then wash as usual, but it works better if you let it sit for a while. I usually spray it on generously and then toss the garment in the hamper. These enzyme cleaners are good at removing any biological stain/odor, including blood.

For hand-washing, I use either Tide Free or Planet dish soap. Planet laundry detergent is also very good.
posted by wryly at 11:46 AM on August 22, 2012

For handwashing you are going to have to do more than one rinse to get rid of the soap, because you aren't removing the soapy water from the fabric as well as a rapidly spinning washing machine.

And or.

According to this, Ivory Snow changed their formulation in 1991 and is not a soap but a detergent now. I don't know if that matters to you.

Charlie's Soap used to include instructions for hand washing but I can't find them any more. No reason not to. :)
posted by tilde at 11:56 AM on August 22, 2012

Best answer: Any laundry detergent will work for hand-washing. There's no reason it wouldn't. What you do when you hand-wash garments is exactly what happens inside the machine, but in miniature.

(You may be drawing an equivalence between hand-washing dish soap and dishwashing machine detergent. These are indeed totally different, non-swappable substances. But the mechanics are completely different.)

Woolite somehow managed to convince people that you need something different for hand-washing. This is just marketing. Also, Woolite is terrible stuff that is harsh on your clothes and your skin.

As a fellow sensitive skin person who often hand-washes things, I'm currently using Arm & Hammer fragrance-free stuff. In the past I have used Biokleen with good results, although it's a little pricey.

As for how much to use, I add about two tablespoons per 5-gallon bucket. If the clothes are dirtier I don't use more soap - I let them soak longer (30 minutes instead of the usual 10). More soap doesn't mean more clean.

If you want to get unnecessarily precise, a standard laundry machine holds 30 gallons of water. You can use that to calculate the exact amount for your specific sink size and laundry detergent measurements.
posted by ErikaB at 12:00 PM on August 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I also really like Soak, I'm super sensitive to scents. I buy mine online, which is convenient for me, so maybe that's an option for you.

How much vinegar did you try using? You really only need a tablespoon or so for a gallon or two of water, which is hopefully not enough to make you gag. It does really, really help with the funk that some fabrics are prone to.
posted by anaelith at 12:07 PM on August 22, 2012

I use Bio-Kleen powder (I don't buy it from Amazon; it's available at food co-ops and, I think, Whole Foods) both for hand and machine washing. It's awesome, and if you follow the recommended amounts, economical. It's also truly unscented and residue/soap-free. Sometimes it's a little reluctant to dissolve completely in very cold water, so I mix it with a couple quarts of hot water to get it started.
posted by pullayup at 12:14 PM on August 22, 2012

We use Country Save. It's odor and dye free and doesn't seem to leave a residue. We started using it when our youngest son was born as it was recommended for cloth diapers. Can't say I hand wash much clothing, but it seems to meet all your other criteria.
posted by rube goldberg at 12:15 PM on August 22, 2012

Rinsing is very important. Have you considered loading your hand washed items into a mesh bag and running them through several rinse cycles in your washer? Power rinsing might help get rid of the irritants in the soap/detergent.
posted by Cranberry at 12:57 PM on August 22, 2012

Strongly seconding Charlie's Soap. I've used it since my kids were babies and never stopped. I get it on Amazon when there's a deal.
posted by Dragonness at 2:01 PM on August 22, 2012

I use the Tide Free (non-cold-water) all the time with handwashing. I don't have documentation. I just look t the size of the container I'm washing in, compare it to my typical load of laundry when I machine wash, judge accordingly. (Minding that I usually use less than what is called for in my machine wash, too.) It rinses away fine... it just takes more than one rinse. I am allergic to all kinds of things but have never had a reaction to it, though, and everything comes generally as clean as it does in the wash. Stains, I soak stuff with Oxiclean first, sometimes overnight.
posted by gracedissolved at 3:00 PM on August 22, 2012

Make it yourself. It's about a tenth of the price, if I remember correctly. Half of a box each of borax and washing soda (both in the laundry aisle) and one bar of ivory soap grated with a cheese grater. It doesn't smell like anything in the end.
posted by cmoj at 4:23 PM on August 22, 2012

Oh, and use a lot less than commercial detergent. In proportion to about a quarter cup for a machine load.
posted by cmoj at 4:25 PM on August 22, 2012

I like Soak liquid (which comes in scentless) and Forever New powder, which doesn't have a scent exactly but does have a bit of a smell, I think.
posted by mgar at 4:37 PM on August 22, 2012

Best answer: documentation that says you can actually use the product when hand-washing things, and tells you how much to use.

Unless you have tried using regular made-for-machines detergent and run into problems, I think you might be making this more complicated than it needs to be. I've always washed things by hand with a squirt of machine laundry detergent (I transfer some to an empty dish detergent squeeze bottle) and have never had a problem.
posted by needs more cowbell at 5:48 PM on August 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

I have fragrance issues too, so for my lovely expensive handwash bras I use Seventh Generation unscented dish soap. It does a good job of removing body gunge, rinses out easily, and leaves no residue. Hasn't harmed my Chantel or Wacoal bras and my skin is happy. I figure if I am supposed to eat from things washed in this, it is probably ok on my skin.
posted by monopas at 5:46 PM on August 23, 2012

Response by poster: Update (because someone MeMailed me today and made me realize I never did come back and say what I did that worked.)

I finally decided on the following regimen; basically I kept adding steps till I found something that worked, and then stopped messing with it. I'm quite certain it could be altered further, but I'm so happy the rash is mostly gone that I'm not messing with this any more unless I have to.

Tools: Plain white vinegar, All Free & Clear detergent, lots of hot water, small dishwashing tub, my shower.


0. Put the tub in the shower, making sure to wear clothes that I don't mind getting splashed.
1. Fill tub with clothes, then about 1/2 cup of vinegar, then hot water.
2. Agitate (make a mess, basically) the vinegar/water/clothes combo for about five minutes.
3. Add enough water to fill it back up again.
4. Wait at least an hour.
5. Rinse it all out (I typically just keep filling with water, agitating, dumping the water, etc., till the vinegar smell goes away.)
6. Fill tub with clothes, then about 1/6 cup of detergent, then hot water.
7. Agitate (make a mess, basically) the detergent/water/clothes combo for about five minutes.
8. Wait at least an hour.
9. Rinse it all out (I typically just keep filling with water, agitating, dumping the water, etc., till there are no more suds.)
10. Drip dry.

I'm totally guessing about the amount of detergent - basically it's not very much at all - but I'm using lots of vinegar. I somehow managed to desensitize myself enough to get the job done (I avoid the entire floor while the stuff is soaking, though.) Also: since I started doing this, the bathroom smells less musty. So.
posted by SMPA at 5:43 PM on March 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

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