Family wearing cloth face masks

The widespread use of face masks is an effective way to slow the spread of COVID-19. Many people are now wearing cloth face masks daily. Thus, they require regular laundering. Be mindful of how you wash your face covering to promote optimum health and sustainability. Because masks cover the mouth and nose, it is essential to use natural laundry products that are free of toxins.

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Beware of Toxic Laundry Ingredients

Unfortunately, many laundry products contain synthetic fragrances, which can be toxic. Some people feel sick when inhaling scents, which can even cause headaches, shortness of breath, flu-like symptoms, and even cancer.

Although your laundry products may smell like a field of flowers or morning dew, they may contain volatile organic compounds that turn into gases. Synthetic fragrances are prevalent, and manufacturers commonly add them to laundry detergent, fabric softener, dryer sheets, and many other household products.

Likewise, many laundry soaps and household products contain optical brighteners or fluorescent dyes. Their names are challenging to pronounce, but they are considered potentially toxic to humans. Sadly, these chemicals can also end up in waterways, threatening aquatic life.

Choose Natural Laundry Products

Laundry care product manufacturers are not required to list product ingredients in the U.S. Also, many laundry detergents, fabric softeners, and dryer sheet packages claim to be “natural” but contain synthetic and polluting ingredients. Thus, it is often challenging to decipher product labels to determine if a product is healthy for yourself and the environment. The best way to safeguard yourself and your family is to use products that are known to use only natural ingredients.

DIY Laundry Detergent & Fabric Softener Alternatives

Making your own laundry detergent might be easier than you think, and it’s an excellent way to ensure you’re using only safe nontoxic ingredients. Here’s a simple, effective recipe that merely requires mixing all the ingredients. To save time, you can purchase grated castile soap instead of bar soap.

Simple Powder Laundry Detergent Recipe

Fabric Softener

Many fabric softeners contain concerning chemicals that you may not want right next to your face. Instead, try substituting white vinegar or skipping fabric softener entirely. To add more fragrance to clothes, add a few drops of essential oils to the rinse cycle of the washer. Lemon, lavender, lemongrass, and eucalyptus oil are all excellent choices.

Buy Natural Laundry Detergent

Due to greenwashing, it can be tough to know which cleaning products contain safe ingredients. Thankfully, the Environmental Working Group grades thousands of personal care and cleaning products for safety.

There are over 150 laundry products that scored an A, while there are nearly 1,000 that received a D or F. Some of the laundry soaps with the highest scores include Dr. Bonner’s Pure-Castile Soap, Ecover ZERO Liquid Laundry Concentrate, and Molly’s Suds Laundry Powder.

Drying Your Cloth Face Mask

Always ensure that your cloth face covering has dried thoroughly to avoid mold. Air drying your cloth face mask saves energy, extends its useful life, and sidesteps the issue of using safe dryer sheets.

If you do machine dry your mask, either don’t use dryer sheets or look for safe alternatives. Consider using wool dryer balls to avoid static cling. You can put a few drops of essential oils on them before drying clothes for a delightful, natural scent.

Originally published on January 1, 2021, this article was updated in January 2022.

By Sarah Lozanova

Sarah Lozanova is an environmental journalist and copywriter and has worked as a consultant to help large corporations become more sustainable. She is the author of Humane Home: Easy Steps for Sustainable & Green Living, and her renewable energy experience includes residential and commercial solar energy installations. She teaches green business classes to graduate students at Unity College and holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School.