An itch to find a laundry solution
December 30, 2007 3:44 PM   Subscribe

Laundry hacking for someone whose skin is hypersensitive to detergent residue.

My good friend B. has to spend an unconscionable amount of time doing his laundry because if there's any detergent residue at all in his clothes, it makes him itch horribly. He's tried unscented products – things like Ecover detergent – and it's made no appreciable difference so far.

He says: "Laundry takes forever. i think i ran my first load thru 4 soap cycles and 5 rinses plus a soak in hot water in the tub. In order to run hot rinses, for instance, i have to run a regular hot/cold wash (the only cycle with hot water) without soap, and cut it off after the hot wash cycle before it runs the cold rinse. So i have to program an alarm (my cel) and go and stop the machine manually."

The machine is a recent one and I suspect has been pre-programmed both to skimp on hot water and save on water generally. All very environmentally friendly I'm sure, but water isn't even metered here, and in any case what B. has to do probably uses more water than he strictly needs.

So two questions:

1. Are there any products that are sufficiently different from standard detergent, but get clothes reasonably clean, that he could try? I've just bought him some Himalayan soap nuts, so that's one thing he'll take for a spin. Anything else around?
2. I've googled for "washing machine hacking" but come up dry. Clearly somebody should know how to reprogram the machine's brain to allow for more hot water, longer rinse cycles, or some other combination that would get the detergent completely out of his clothes. Any leads on this (I know it's lame, but I can't tell you the brand or model) would be helpful.
posted by zadcat to Home & Garden (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Does he react to soap? If not maybe he can use old fashioned laundry soap instead of detergent?

We have some soap my mother made, real basic stuff made from oil and lye with no extras added, and it does a pretty decent job of getting the clothes clean. The trick is to shave some off and dissolve it in hot water before adding to the machine so it can act like liquid laundry detergent. You can buy laundry soap commercially too but getting some from a hobby soap maker (of which there are quite a few online) would guarantee the lack of added extras.
posted by shelleycat at 3:52 PM on December 30, 2007

1 - Most people use drastically more detergent than they need to in order to get clothes clean. 1/2 to 1/3 of what is indicated is usually more than sufficient.

2- Why exactly is he going through 4 soap cycles?

3- Look into using laundry soap. By which I mean actual soap, which comes in flakes or blocks that you shave off. I can't find the link at the moment but there are a few that have been mentioned on mefi before.
posted by hindmost at 3:54 PM on December 30, 2007

Best answer: Adding a cup or so of plain white vinegar to the rinse cycle helps remove detergent residue and also helps make the clothes softer. I do this regularly, but we don't have skin sensitivity issues here, so I can't say if it removes enough detergent to work for your friend.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 3:54 PM on December 30, 2007

Response by poster: hindmost: he uses soap cycles without detergent because it's the only kind of cycle where the machine gives him hot water.

good ideas so far!
posted by zadcat at 4:07 PM on December 30, 2007

Seconding SuperSquirrel's vinegar rinse and Fels Naptha laundry soap.
posted by hortense at 4:07 PM on December 30, 2007

Also, has he tried detergents for babies' clothes, like Dreft?
posted by SuperSquirrel at 4:14 PM on December 30, 2007

Or Charlie's soap, which looks pretty hypoallergenic? I use it and it's fab. It's local to me, but it looks like you can get it online. Crap, though. They might not send to Canada. But they do have a phone number and email addy (see bottom of the page) to ask. It might just cause you to have to pay shipping, when usually it's free
posted by Stewriffic at 4:45 PM on December 30, 2007

The only thing that helped me was Dr. Bronner's Sal Suds and borax. I buy a gallon of the stuff at a time, it lasts between six and nine months for two people in the NE (cold=more clothes). Good luck to him. Oh -what does he used when showering? Maybe he can use that for his clothes, as well?
posted by kellyblah at 4:46 PM on December 30, 2007

Ecover is organic, but not usually unscented. There are unscented and hypoallergenic products available in a health food store. There is a book: Better Basics for the Home that gives solutions for all kinds of chemical sensitivities in household and personal care products. I have heard good things about soap nuts or laundry nuts.
posted by davar at 4:53 PM on December 30, 2007

Why is he so gung-ho on the hot water? Hot water tanks can have residues and mineral deposits that end up in your clothes. Use cold water. Hot water doesn't get more soap out and it makes me more itchy than cold.

Anyway, hacks:
1) Find cold water hose control, turn it off completely during "hot" rinses. (Follow the hoses back to wall from the machine, there will be shut-off valves there). Then, on the warm/hot cycles only hot water will get into the machine.
2) If you want to get really fancy, before you start the wash, switch the connections on the back of the machine or the wall (make sure you turn off the valves first). Then run a cold/cold wash (like for woolens). It will be hot/hot.
3) For soaking: Wait until machine fills completely with water, then open the lid. Soak as long as you want with the lid open.

Try All Free and Clear detergent, but use about 1/2 of what is recommended. Put it into the water before you add the clothes. Whatever he uses, it should be unscented.
posted by Eringatang at 5:10 PM on December 30, 2007

nthing vinegar. It works wonders.
posted by munchingzombie at 5:35 PM on December 30, 2007

I have also heard about using some kind of ball thing that contains no soap at all-you just put it in the laundry and run the cycle. Not sure if it really works, but he could try it.

Also, I use vinegar in my rinse cycle (I just put it in a Downy ball and throw it in at the start of the laundry cycle) and it works pretty well for me.
posted by konolia at 6:42 PM on December 30, 2007

I'm the queen of contact dermatitis. I can use Fels Naptha or Washing Soda. Both are available in my local Sears Essentials and are super cheap.

Also, what everyone said about not using so much soap. I have a HE washer and I use very little laundry soap. I do pre-treat stains which certainly helps. When something is extra icky (workout clothes) I presoak it in BIZ and then wash it once with soap and once without soap to remove all the residue.

Good luck - itchy is no fun.
posted by 26.2 at 9:16 PM on December 30, 2007

2nding to try Dr. Bronners
posted by gnutron at 9:28 PM on December 30, 2007

I know you asked about washing machines, but I presume these clothes get dried, too. I use the unscented laundry soap, and I use a lot less than they say to because I have a similar problem to your friend. But in the past if I used a communal dryer that someone else had used a dryer sheet in, I had a serious problem with itching and so on. Those little slippery particles get transferred to the machine and then the following clothes. It might feel or smell like laundry soap, but it could be the dryer sheet residue.
posted by Listener at 10:10 PM on December 30, 2007

I use vinegar in the fabric softener dispenser. Then after the normal wash is over, I add another dose of vinegar and do a second rinse. If I skip the second rinse, I get itchy hives all over my legs.
posted by happyturtle at 5:16 AM on December 31, 2007

Response by poster: B. tells me he's already getting good results with vinegar in the rinse. Thanks everybody - I can't favourite any of these great ideas yet. Have to see how it all works out. Happy new year!
posted by zadcat at 8:56 AM on December 31, 2007

Response by poster: Wow. Cheap easy solution. He says the vinegar really is a go!
posted by zadcat at 4:10 PM on December 31, 2007

This old Straight Dope article notes that washing with detergent doesn't do much better than without. Your friend might have a go at "none of the above."
posted by Zed_Lopez at 5:13 PM on January 4, 2008

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