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Best Laundry Detergents for Eczema & Why You Should Change Your Laundry Habits

Best Laundry Detergent for Eczema

In our family, we do a LOT of laundry. I’m sure you feel the same and that it’s just never-ending. Even though laundry was part of my daily routine, when my son developed eczema, I never considered the fact that his skin condition could somehow be related to our laundry routine. After my son was diagnosed with eczema I researched the condition endlessly, as I’m sure you did as well, but I kept coming across something time and time again. Laundry detergent. And it had me asking questions. What is the best laundry detergent for eczema? Is detergent even safe for those with sensitive skin? Are there safer alternatives to laundry detergent out there?

Are laundry detergents an eczema trigger?

The first thing I found is that some people can actually be allergic to laundry detergent ingredients, so in these cases the detergent can be an eczema trigger.
A second scenario is that detergent ingredients themselves aren’t actually the issue, but because detergents are very alkaline, and not pH balanced, they can further irritate already inflamed or open skin, which prefers a more acidic environment. Now to add a third factor, detergents build up in your clothing over time. They say it can take 10 or more times washing your clothing in plain water before all the detergent residue can be completely removed. So, imagine either this build up of detergent and potentially allergenic ingredients sitting on your child’s skin all day – rubbing and potentially causing further irritation. And then imagine if you wet wrap – the clothing is damp, so the detergent residue is damp as well and can more easily penetrate the skin along with the creams you’ve applied as a therapeutic treatment.

The three cases indicated above apply to all types of laundry detergents, even natural and free varieties. Just because the ingredients may not contain bleaching agents or chemical fragrances, which are an absolutely no-no where eczema is concerned, they can still be harmful to already irritated skin.

When I learned that laundry detergent could be triggering or further irritating my son’s skin, I tested him to see if he was allergic to laundry detergent using Solve Eczema’s simple do-it-yourself test (it’s free). While my son didn’t show any reaction, I was still concerned about the constant irritation from the detergent buildup.

Are There Safe Alternatives to Laundry Detergent for Eczema?

Soap nuts work great for eczema and sensitive skin as they leave on residue behind.There are quite a few ideas out there on what the best laundry detergent alternatives for eczema may be. You can find many recipes online for making your own laundry powder using grated soap to simply washing with vinegar and/or baking soda. I also discovered organic soap nuts, which are more like a berry and grow on trees in the Himalayas.  Because these were the most natural option in my mind, I decided to give them a try.

Before I started using the soap nuts,I washed my son’s clothing 10 times in just plain water. It was recommended that I do the same for the rest of the family’s laundry as well just as a precaution, but honestly, the thought was too daunting, so I only concentrated on my son’s clothing. Once the detergents were striped from the clothing, I tried the soap nuts and I was pleasantly surprised. My son’s skin seemed to calm down. The eczema was still there, as detergent wasn’t actually one of his triggers, but I could see that the soap nuts didn’t further irritate his skin. Happily, I continued using soap nuts for several years. I often added a few drops of tea tree oil to help fight any bacteria in the laundry.

smartklean laundry ball best detergent for sensitive skinSince the soap nuts, I’ve discovered another laundry detergent alternative, the laundry ball. We use the SmartKlean Laundry Ball and are quite happy with it because it’s so easy. With the soap nuts, you need to soak them prior to the first use and then you have to change out the nuts in a little muslin bag every five washes. With the SmartKlean Laundry Ball, which uses minerals and ions to clean clothing, you simple toss the ball into wash and remove it when the laundry is done. No measuring, pouring, nothing. They recommend that you leave the laundry ball in the sun every once in a while to recharge the irons, but that’s it. So now I alternate between the organic soap nuts and the SmartKlean Laundry Ball.

Skip The Extras & Keep It Simple

Beyond detergents, don’t forget that fabric softeners and dryer sheets often contain added chemical fragrances and other harsh chemicals that can add to the layer of buildup on your clothing. The reason you probably feel you need fabric softener is because your laundry comes out stiff when you use a detergent, but ironically, the stiffness is from the buildup of detergent in your clothing. When I use the soap nuts or laundry ball I find that our clothes aren’t stiff and have no smell at all, they’re odorless, unless I add a few drops of lavender essential oil to the dryer. So really, you don’t need fabric softeners or dyer sheets if you go natural. I found they were very easy to do away with and doing so will save you money and will make your skin happier. But if you are looking for a product to soften your clothing and cut back on dryer time, you can try LooHoo Wool Dryer Balls.

Keeping Whites, Well, White

Now, if you’ve never used natural laundry products before, you need to know straight away that they do not whiten and brighten your clothing as commercial detergents do. It takes chemicals to do that job really well. There are some more natural things you can add to the wash to help, like adding lemon juice or a natural product with powdered hydroxide like Honest Oxy Boost Free & Clear. But once you go the natural route, your whites will never stay white long-term. So, I just don’t buy anything white anymore. Problem solved. I’ll take less skin irritation over white clothing any day. Wouldn’t you?

smartklean natural stain removerFinding a Natural Stain Remover

For me, finding a natural stain remover was the last step in making over my laundry routine. My son has started first grade, so now that he is writing with ball point pens, I’ve been seeing a lot of pen stains lately. For this I’ve found that applying rubbing alcohol to the stain and gently brushing the stain works really well. For most other stains I’ve been having a lot of luck with SmartKlean’s Natural Stain Remover. It’s amazing for ring-around-the-collar as well as berry stains and pretty much anything I can think to use it on. I chose this stain remover because it’s made with natural oils instead of harsh chemicals, so I don’t worry about it mixing into my son’s laundry and irritating his skin. The SmartKlean Natural Stain Stick really helps remove stubborn stains – it’s a staple in my laundry routine.

What do you find is the best laundry detergent for eczema? Or do you use a safe laundry detergent alternative instead?

About the Author: Jennifer is the author of It’s An Itchy Little World blog, as well as owner of The Eczema Company. After going through so many trials and errors to heal her son’s eczema, Jennifer wanted to share her experiences and favorite products with others in need. Discover her journey here. Jennifer is not a medical professional. Her comments, suggestions, and reflections are not intended to take the replace of medical advice. Always seek the help of a medical professional before undertaking any diet or lifestyle changes. Please see It’s An Itchy Little World’s disclaimer for information about affiliate links and more.

12 Comments Post a comment
  1. bmommyx2 #

    I don’t have eczema, but I have allergies to ingredients. I was not a fan of the soap nuts, but I use Molly’s Suds without any issues.


    March 12, 2016
    • That’s great that you found what works for you! Molly’s is a great company.


      April 13, 2016
  2. Hi, As a child, I suffered from eczema and now that I am an expecting mother, I am quite paranoid about the chemicals I bring into the house. Your post was quite insightful. Thank you.


    July 24, 2015
  3. Good alternatives. It is nice to know that alternatives for laundry detergent to help deal with eczema.


    March 3, 2015
    • Thank you Latha! Yes, detergents can be really irritating. I hope this post will help those suffering with eczema realize they may need to look for relief via their laundry routine. Jennifer


      March 16, 2015
  4. An informative article on alternative laundry detergents. It is heartening to know that others facing the same problem as our family also find soapnuts etc to be much better options. Coincidentally, I have written a similar article on laundry and cleaning alternatives but in an Indian context. The link is as given below-


    March 3, 2015
    • Hi Anindita – Great post! We do love soap nuts. Are they popular in India? Jennifer


      March 16, 2015
      • Thanks. ..Not so much anymore. But they were what our grandparents used for washing and cleaning purposes before detergents took over especially in the urban areas.


        March 16, 2015
      • That’s funny because in the US/Canada they are just now gaining popularity, especially in the natural minded community. We love that they are just about as natural of a cleaning product as you can get!


        March 17, 2015
      • Yes, it’s really ironic! While the world has started taking notice we have moved away from a tradition of using harmless, natural products. Though again there are products being manufactured once again which I have highlighted in my article


        March 17, 2015
  5. patrickstarr #

    I use seventh generation laundry soap with a cup of baking soda thrown in, it softens the water so there is no need for fabric softener. I used to use Ivory snow but cant find it anymore.

    I have tried unscented brands from Arm and Hammer, Tide and All but the itching and watery eyes started up.


    March 3, 2015
    • Hi Patrick – I’m glad to hear you found a laundry solution that works well for you. Thank you for sharing your experience with us! I hope others will find it useful. Jennifer


      March 16, 2015

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