Chlorine, the active ingredient in conventional laundry bleach, can spur an allergic reaction or irritate your respiratory tract. Chlorine bleach mixed with ammonia, a common ingredient in commercial toilet bowl and other cleansers, releases toxic gases into the air (see References 1). If you use gray water from laundry to irrigate your landscaping, or you are searching for alternatives to toxic household chemicals, you can use a bleach alternative to keep your whites looking bright and your plants and family healthier.
Bluing, a laundry additive that has been commercially available since the mid-1800s, can still be found on grocery store shelves. Originally made from French ultramarine and added to wash water, bluing does not bleach white linens and clothing, but rather dyes yellowed fabric blue-white. Other bluing products contained indigo or smalt, glass powder containing crushed cobalt. Modern bluing ingredients may include Prussian blue or artificial ultramarine. (See References 2) According to the labeling, bluing is a non-toxic, biodegradable laundry aid.
Washing Soda and Hydrogen Peroxide
People have added washing soda to laundry for whitening for many generations. You simply mix a half cup into the hot water wash cycle. You can combine equal parts of washing soda with hydrogen peroxide to effectively bubble away stains. In fact, commercial oxygen bleaches contain these two elements as their primary ingredients, as a compound called sodium perborate. While oxygen bleach may take longer than chlorine bleach to get clothes whiter, it is non-toxic to humans and won't harm the environment. (See References 3)
Lemon juice contains citric acid, a solvent that breaks down some substances that stain clothing, such as red wine and rust (see References 4). Many commercial detergents and some chlorine bleach products include citric acid for stain-breaking power. For natural bleaching action, add 1/2 cup of lemon juice to your laundry rinse cycle, and then put the clothing outdoors on the line to soak up the sunshine. The primary drawback of using lemon juice to bleach laundry is that, unless you have a backyard lemon tree, it can be expensive.
To whiten fine linens and delicate heirloom quilts, try the traditional grass bleaching method that people used as late as the 1930s to bleach the print from flour sacks they planned to cut up for quilt blocks. Women spread the linens or quilt on a patch of grass in full sunlight, sometimes leaving them there for days until the fabrics reached a desirable degree of whiteness. The prevailing wisdom held that the sun and chemicals in the grass worked together to bleach the fabric. (See References 5)
Lynne Haley Rose has written extensively for Internet publications on topics in business, finance, fitness and renewable energy. Her poetry has been honored by the Washington Poets Association and published in "Poetry Northwest," "Willow Springs" and online at Fogged Clarity. She has a Bachelor of Arts from Gonzaga University and a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from Eastern Washington University.
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