As you all know I have an amazing, beautiful, well-behaved 5 month old that I just adore! What this also means is that I often find myself up to my elbows in baby poop! The first 3 months or so it seemed like she had a diaper blowout (which we lovingly call Poopsplosions!) at least once a day and I found myself wondering if I should buy stock in Spray’N Wash I was using it so frequently. Because I don’t have a real laundry room (my washing machine and dryer are in the garage and there’s no real horizontal or hanging space to speak of out there – definitely on my list of things to add when we finally get around to remodeling the house!) my bathroom was taken over by piles of dirty laundry, Spray’N Wash spray bottles, and old toothbrushes. I could literally have two outfits at a time draped over the side of my bathtub soaking in a chemical concoction in a desperate attempt to not ruin yet another outfit with a yellow/brown poop stain… I spent way too long in the detergent aisle trying to find the strongest stain remover money could buy and tried, in vain, to ignore the fact that if I took the time to actually review the ingredient list I would cringe.
When I started my blog and did the week long series on natural cleaning products I noticed that my
beloved Resolve Spray’N Wash MAX Laundry Stain Remover Spray was running low and I could no longer ignore the impulse to find out just how toxic this product was. So off to EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning I went to investigate and this is what I found on the ingredient list (Read at your own risk if you love your Spray’N Wash routine):
- Sulfuric Acid – Sulfuric Acid is a known carcinogen that (in mist form) has been linked to cancer in humans. It is a skin irritant that can cause contact dermatitis and severe skin corrosion, burns and eye damage as well as a respiratory irritant that can trigger asthma attacks and even cause pulmonary edema.
- Artificial Fragrance – Artificial fragrances can cause skin and lung irritation and in severe cases even nervous system damage, especially in small children. In addition, it is not anaerobically biodegradable and can cause water toxicity.
- Alcohol Ethoxylates (C12-16, 7EO) – There is limited data on the effects of Alcohol Ethoxylates specifically but what is known from the impurities this ingredient may contain (e.g., Ethylene Oxide and 1 4-Dioxane) is that there is some concern for asthma and respiratory irritation as well as skin irritation. More severe reactions such as pulmonary edema, nervous system impairment, liver damage, and reproductive effects are also possible. In addition, Alcohol Ethoxylates can be toxic to aquatic life.
- Benzenesulfonic Acid, C10-16-Alkyl Derivative – While there is almost no data and limited cause for concern for health risks, Benzenesulfonic Acid is known to be toxic to aquatic life and is not anaerobically biodegradable.
- Tetrasodium Iminodisuccinate – There is almost no data for Tetrasodium Iminodisuccinate but some to suggest that it is toxic to aquatic life.
- Sodium Cumenesulfonate – Again there is limited data on Sodium Cumenesulfonate but it is suggested that it could be a skin irritant and toxic to aquatic life.
- Surfactants – Surfactants are chemical compounds that are often used as detergents, to loosen dirt and grime, in cleaning products and could be a variety of different chemicals. This is primarily a concern on ingredient labels due to nondisclosure of specific surfactants and some are safer than others…
The concern for health risk is obvious but why the concern for aquatic life? Doesn’t my washing machine just drain into the sewer or my septic tank? How does that affect the rivers and ecosystems that rely on them?
When you are done washing your load of laundry, that dirty, soapy water is drained out of your machine through the pipes and into whatever waste collection system you have in your home. If you are particularly eco-conscious this may be a grey water collection system (but I’m guessing if that’s you then you aren’t using Spray’N Wash or other toxic laundry detergents already) but most likely it is a city sewer system or a septic tank if you live in a rural area. In a sewer system the water is run through progressively larger and larger system of pipes until it reaches the treatment plant where the raw sewage (this includes waste water from your toilet as well as any grey water from your sink, bathtub, washer, etc.) is processed. This is typically a three stage process. The first stage, or primary treatment, is similar to what a septic tank does in that it allows the solids in the waste to settle to the bottom and the scum to rise to the surface. The solids are then collected where they are either deposited into a landfill or incinerated. In a septic tank the water in between the solids and scum layer is filtered out through an outflow pipe and is sent to a drain field where it is absorbed by the surrounding soil and becomes part of the groundwater. The primary treatment generally removes about half the solids before the sewage either moves on to secondary treatment or is chlorinated to kill the remaining bacteria. The secondary treatment removes organic materials and nutrients from the water with the help of bacteria. After the bacteria have eaten the organic waste the water is then funneled to a pool where the bacteria then settle out. The bacteria in the secondary treatment may remove up to 90 percent of solids and organic materials. The third and final process, or tertiary treatment, usually adds chemicals to remove the nitrogen and phosphorous from the sewer water and chlorine is added to help kill any remaining bacteria. The remaining water, or effluent, is typically dumped into a nearby creek or river, although in some cases it may be recycled to be used in irrigation (again back into the ground water) or for industrial purposes. In some cases, treated sewer water may even be recycled into drinking water.
But this waste water is not benign and can have a detrimental effect on the aquatic life and ecosystems that depend on the running water from these creeks and rivers. The treated sewage water may still have trace chemicals that can suppress the immune systems of fish and other marine organisms which may allow for the onset of diseases. Heavy metals, pesticides, persistent organochlorines, plastics, surfactants and aromatic hydrocarbons may even disrupt the endocrine systems of aquatic life resulting in malfunction of sexual and bone development. While this may not result in immediate damage visible to the public, like the three-eyed fish in the Simpsons or a sea of dead floating fish, over time it can cause a disruption in typical fish behavior including normal swimming, schooling, and migration patterns that may have a detrimental effect on their survival. Larger fish and other organisms may eat vast quantities of smaller contaminated fish resulting in bioaccumulation that may be thousands of times larger than the original level of toxins absorbed. In addition, organic materials leftover from the treatment process will be consumed by natural bacteria in the waterways which consume greater amounts of oxygen and can suffocate fish and other sea creatures as the water travels towards and into the ocean. This leftover organic material, in extreme cases, may even block out sunlight preventing growth of aquatic plants that are food for fish and other animals that are part of the aquatic ecosystem.
So, now that you know more than you wanted to about sewage treatment and the effect the chemicals in our grey water has on aquatic life are you ready to start researching the ingredients on the backs of all your cleaning, dishwashing, and laundry products? Are you ready to throw them all out and start fresh with natural, chemical-free, and non-toxic products? Great! Join me on my journey!
Once I was aware of how toxic the Spray’N Wash I had been using was and the risks to not only my family’s health but also to the local aquatic ecosystems I naturally wanted to find an alternative that was less harmful. I had talked with several other moms in my wonderful Sugar Plums online support group and found that a few of them did use less toxic methods of stain removal. One mama in particular shared her recipe with me (so i can’t take credit for this but I’m not sure she’d want me calling out her name in a public forum) and I have been more than pleased with the results!
The one ingredient that the recipe called for that I didn’t have on hand is Dawn. I don’t know why all these DIY recipes call for Dawn in particular, often “blue Dawn” specifically. Maybe because it is such a popular brand of dishwashing liquid? But we have been using Kirkland Signature’s Environmentally Responsible Dishwashing Liquid (which in hindsight actually scores lower than blue Dawn on EWG, mostly due to poor ingredient disclosure, but does avoid SLS, phosphates, dyes, and artificial fragrance and claims to be a biodegradable cleaning agent made from plant-derived ingredients so I choose to continue to use it for these reasons, but do your research).
Also, don’t be fooled like I was into thinking that since this is a stain remover that it will be a spray… I don’t know what I was thinking (I guess I really wasn’t because a quick glance at the ingredient list should’ve told me that this would not spray) but I originally added all the ingredients to a recycled Spray’N Wash bottle which then proceeded to bloat and gave me a moment’s pause and concern that it might actually explode! I assume the bloat was a reaction between the hydrogen peroxide and the baking soda and thankfully it didn’t explode! lol But this is a GEL formula and once I switched over to a glass bottle I had much better luck. Also, the baking soda may settle to the bottom if you go too long between uses and you may need to occasionally stir your mixture.
DIY Stain Removing Gel
- 1 cup Dawn dishwashing liquid (or your preferred brand – I iused Kirkalnd Signature Environmentally Responsible Dishwashing Liquid and I may even try Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soap during future batches but I can’t vouch for it’s effectiveness yet)
- 1/2 cup Baking Soda
- 1/2 cup Hydrogen Peroxide
Combine ingredients into glass storage container. Allow ingredients to combine and settle for a moment before placing lid on container. Will create a gel.
Directions For Use: Spoon out a bit of gel and scrub onto stain using an old toothbrush. Allow gel mixture to sit on stain for at least 1 hour (or I’ve let sit for up to a day or two until I got around to doing laundry). Wash (We use Ecos Natural Laundry Detergent) and dry as normal.
I was super impressed with the results. Here is a picture so you can see just how well this stain remover worked on one of our Poopsplosions:
I admit I had some concern that the hydrogen peroxide would cause my colors to fade but I’ve used it with success on a variety of bright colors and even black with no fading or bleaching at all. In fact, this recipe works way better than my old Spray’N Wash MAX ever did. I had the opportunity over the weekend after a massive Poopsplosion to use this on one of my daughter’s Aden & Anais swaddle blankets (I almost cried when I saw the aftermath) and it got out ALL of the stain! I was thrilled!
Do you have a favorite DIY Stain Remover? I’d love to hear about it! Share the recipe below to keep the conversation going!