9 Ways to Detox Your Laundry for Truly Clean Clothes

Last Update: September 28, 2022

Laundry is a cycle—and we’re not just talking “spin” or “tumble dry low.” Rather, the task of laundry as a whole is just one big never-ending cycle. Today’s favorite jeans are tomorrow’s first load. So don’t you want to know that all this washing, drying, folding, and fluffing is actually doing something, like, oh… cleaning your clothes? Well, we’ve got news for you, and you’re going to like it as much as laundry day.

Rather than truly removing the filth itself, laundry cleaning products might just hide odors and dirt by caking on additional chemicals. “Fragrances, softeners, brighteners, enzymes, oils, and polymers in various laundry cleaning products,” says Taylor Sutherland, president of Charlie’s Soaps, “just add hidden layers of residue to clothes.”

Research has indeed linked health concerns to detergents: The Environmental Working Group’s examination of Tide, for example, reveals that some chemicals found in detergent products could be connected to respiratory issues, reproductive toxicity, and skin allergies.

Plus, back in 2012, Women’s Voices for the Earth tested 20 different commercial laundry detergents and found they contained various amounts of 1,4 dioxane—a solvent the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers a probable carcinogen. (Unfortunately, the FDA has not published a definite limit for what constitutes safe levels of 1,4 dioxane in consumer products.) Chemicals like 1,4 dioxane stick to your fabrics, day in and day out, and ultimately end up on your skin and in your body. Yikes, right?

Fortunately, there are healthier, safer alternatives out there, like Laundry Powder Packets from Charlie’s Soaps, for example, which are high-quality, biodegradable, environmentally safe, and hypoallergenic. Once in the washer, they actually attack any left-behind residues from other laundry products (in addition to dirt), leaving your clothes thoroughly clean and safe for skin.

And while switching detergents is a good start, there’s even more you can do to ensure you’re doing your clothes one better. Here, Sutherland gives us the lowdown on how to detox your laundry for good.

Wash your washer

Chemicals from commercial detergents linger not just on clothes, but also inside your washing machine, and continue to build up with each load. Using a product like Charlie’s Soaps detergent pods, which are formulated to clear away chemical residues, can also sanitize your machine. Sutherland suggests throwing in some old rags and lone socks with a single pod before doing your laundry to get the scuzz out.

Beware of hard water

If you’ve found soap scum on your tub, sink, or dishes, or dealt with scale buildup in your pipes, you probably have hard water.

Hard water has a high mineral content that, while not harmful to humans, is bad for your washing machine. It often leaves behind the aforementioned mineral build-up aka “scale” aka scum, and also hinders soap’s ability to produce lather.

Sutherland suggests adding potassium phosphate or a “laundry booster” (there are many commercial ones available), like Charlie’s Booster and Water Softener, to soften up your water supply.

Wash, rinse, spin. Repeat.

The layers on layers of chemicals that may be coating your “clean” clothes might not come off in one fell swoop. You’ll probably have to send garments through the wash with Charlie’s Soaps about three times, according to Sutherland. He warns: After wash one, if your favorite top starts looking faded or weirdly stained, don’t panic. It’s just revealing a layer of buildup left behind from other detergents. But the good news is, once you remove all those layers, you then have a perfectly clean garment that won’t irritate skin or expose your body to hidden chemicals.

If you want to see a real-life, before-and-after of a T-shirt detoxed using Charlie’s Soaps, check this out. (It’s pretty insane.)

Don’t overstuff the washing machine

Sutherland suggests approaching laundry like a three-legged stool: there’s water, agitation, and detergent. First, you need to make sure that your water is soft or softened. Then, keep your load light enough so that the washer really churns up the clothes, allowing the water and detergent to penetrate every piece. (In other words, don’t overstuff the washing machine.) Last up, as already noted, use a detergent that will actually clean clothes.

Find the right temperature (not too cold!)

Any detergent (Charlie’s Soaps included) will stop working below 55 degrees Fahrenheit. The water can be cold to the touch, but should still be warm enough to ensure the powder dissolves and the surfactant can get to work.

In certain areas, like the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Maine or Alaska, where tap water can be 40 degrees or less, you’ll want to use a newer machine that automatically adds some hot water to your cold cycle, otherwise it won’t dissolve your detergent.

Ignore the dispenser

According to Sutherland, often times a washer’s dispenser (that little plastic well, usually in the corner, into which you dump detergent before a load) just splashes a tiny amount of soap onto the walls, where it’ll dry—and never make it down onto the clothes. His advice: skip the dispenser. Instead, after adding clothes to the machine, throw detergent right on top of them and then start your wash cycle. Charlie’s Soaps pods are an even simpler solve. Just drop one in and be done with it.

Skip fabric softeners

Fabric softeners, says Sutherland, are nothing more than oils that cover up detergent residue with a soft and soothing new residue. It’s the old buildup that makes the clothes scratchy; softeners mask that rough texture, but don’t solve the underlying problem: you’re just adding more gunk to your clothes. Rather than using fabric softeners, try putting a few drops of your favorite essential oil on a damp washcloth, and throw it into the dryer along with clean clothes.

Same goes for dryer sheets

Oils from commercial dryer sheets can actually produce spots on clean clothes. If you have to kill static, try adding a damp face cloth to the last five minutes of the drying cycle. Or try these handy-dandy DIY sheets!


In addition to getting clothes their cleanest, you’ll want to make them last. So always read the labels and follow washing and drying instructions carefully.

You’ve properly completed laundry rehab. Happy folding!

Photo credit: Ella Ciamacco

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