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How to decontaminate new clothing and fabrics

Tuesday 29 March 2011

Clothes line

From The Canary Report:


How to decontaminate new clothing and fabrics

By Susie Collins
March 24, 2011

Most new clothing and fabrics are permeated with toxic chemicals during manufacturing, which can be a real problem for people with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity. Ellen from Toronto, Canada, shares her decontamination protocol.

Reprinted with permission.

Editor’s note: Linda Sepp posted Ellen’s Laundry Decontamination Protocol on our private network in 2009; I’m reprinting here on The Canary Report public blog for easy access to everyone. Many thanks to Ellen for permission to reprint. ~Susie


Some warnings before you start:

  1. Do not use this protocol on silk. 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. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

The Protocol

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 enameled 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 in capacity. 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 recommendations. 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.

Toronto, Canada


The above originally appeared here.


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