Whiter Whites

Source: Adapted from MaryJane's Ideabook, Cookbook, Lifebook by MaryJane Butters (Clarkson Potter/Publishers, 2005).

Chlorine, the active ingredient in most household bleaches, can create a potentially lethal substance when mixed with other cleaners. As a healthier alternative, try brightening your whites with natural nonchlorine bleaches that contain either sodium percarbonate or hydrogen peroxide.

Sodium percarbonate is an environmentally friendly chemical that decomposes into oxygen, water, and natural soda ash. It is being increasingly substituted for sodium perborate in detergent formulas, due to its lower dissolving temperature in water and its gentler impact on our soil. (Sodium perborate, made of borax, has been found to have a negative impact on soil quality.) Detergent or bleach compositions formulated with sodium percarbonate have a strong stain-removal capability. It is very effective as a laundry presoak for heavily stained articles and is color safe. It brightens
colors and prevents fabric from becoming yellowed or darkened. It’s also effective as a disinfectant.

For colored fabrics, it’s best to test products first on a hidden spot, such as a seam. Although nonchlorine bleach is safe for most colors, testing is especially important for naturally dyed fabrics. Nonchlorine bleaches don’t create toxic fumes or leave residues that can irritate your children’s
skin. (This is a plus with teenagers who are prone to blemishes.) Hydrogen peroxide products degrade naturally into oxygen and water. They are also gentler on fabrics, so your clothes last longer.

Common brands include Country Save, produced in Arlington, Washington (360-435-9868, www.countrysave.com), and Seventh Generation, from Burlington, Vermont (800-456-1191, www.seventhgeneration.com). Both websites offer a search section for finding the store nearest you to purchase their products. They both offer nontoxic, biodegradable laundry soaps and detergents. Also try Planet from Victoria, B.C., Canada (800-858-8449, www.planetinc.com).

Follow the directions on the package for the amount of nonchlorine bleach to use, and presoak whites for an hour in your washing machine, along with your soap or detergent. Use cold water for most stains; use warm water for grease or oil stains. After soaking, run your machine through the
rest of its cycle.

You can also pretreat stubborn stains with a homemade stain remover by combining the following ingredients, easily stored in a small plastic squeeze bottle:

  • 1 Tbs. vegetable glycerin (found in natural food stores)
  • 1 Tbs. natural dishwashing soap
  • 1/2 cup water
Shake gently before applying. Squeeze the mixture onto the stain, rub it in using a retired toothbrush, and then presoak as usual.

For over 400 pages of wonderful farmgirl thoughts and ideas like these, check out: MaryJanesFarm Ideabook, Cookbook, Lifebook and to learn more about MaryJanesFarm, visit www.maryjanesfarm.org.