Does Homemade Laundry Detergent Help With Eczema?

Three folded towels, a jar of vinegar, a bowl of washing soda, and a bar of soap.

For anyone living with eczema or treating a child dealing with the condition, identifying and avoiding personal triggers is key to preventing flare-ups.

In a world filled with chemicals, toxins, and irritants, this is no easy task.

Does homemade laundry detergent help with eczema? By making and using a homemade laundry detergent, people with eczema can avoid the many known irritants, dyes, and fragrances found in commercial products and can customize a basic recipe with all-natural ingredients to reduce the occurrence of flare-ups.

Of course, you want to prevent the itching, inflammation, scaling, and embarrassment associated with eczema, but is it truly worth the time and effort to make a homemade laundry detergent?

After reading the following, decide for yourself, but I think you’ll be convinced that homemade is the way to go.

Why Homemade Detergent Is Often Better For Fighting Eczema

From the moment we’re born, we spend the vast majority of our lives in some form of clothing (well, most of us anyway). 

Factor in the towels we use to dry ourselves and the sheets and blankets we snuggle up with every night, and you realize the staggering amount of fabric we constantly expose our skin to. 

It’s no wonder so many people suffer from skin conditions like eczema. 

Some people never pause to consider what all that fabric is routinely cleansed with and the residue buildup often left behind.

For those with eczema though, this is a problem that’s well worth considering. 

Though there’s no cure for eczema yet, and some common causes like high heat and stress can be nearly impossible to avoid, you can remain in control of suspected triggers that come into direct contact with your skin. 

When you make the switch to homemade laundry products, you:

  • Can eliminate a large number of potential irritants and eczema triggers. 
  • Have the freedom to only add mild, safe ingredients that are unlikely to cause an eczema flare-up.
  • Can experiment with various recipes to find what works best for you.
  • Save money by no longer having to purchase pricey commercial detergents.

Irritants Found in Commercial Detergents

Many store-bought laundry detergents contain a long list of ingredients, many of which are known irritants, allergy triggers, and even carcinogens. This includes big name brands as well.

The fact that so many of the ingredients are unpronounceable by the average Joe should be a warning sign all by itself.

A few broadly used, synthetic chemicals known to be irritating to the skin, eyes, and lungs include: 

  • Ammonia. 
  • Benzene. 
  • Bleach. 
  • 1,4-dioxane. 
  • Optical brighteners.  
  • Preservatives. 
  • Sodium laurel (and laureth) sulfate.

Keep in mind that these products are known to be bad for skin, and yet they’re in laundry detergent. Wow. 

Admittedly, there are some commercial detergents designed especially for those with sensitive skin.

Often labeled “free and clear,” they contain no dyes or fragrances and are typically better tolerated by those with eczema. 

Both Seventh Generation and All Free Clear are recommended by many dermatologists, and they do indeed contain better (not perfect) ingredients.

However, they aren’t exactly cheap. After spending money on doctor visits, prescriptions, and special moisturizers, who wants to shell out more money on expensive laundry detergents?

Common Ingredients in Homemade Laundry Detergents

When you make your own laundry products, you have complete control of what is added and what is not.

The bulk of recipes for both powdered and liquid versions only call for the following ingredients:

  • Soap – all-natural soaps are best of course!
  • Borax – a natural mineral salt used to soften water and boost soap’s effectiveness.
  • Washing soda – another naturally occurring mineral compound great for degreasing, deep cleaning, and softening water.
  • Salt – an essential natural mineral known for the ability to fight stains and bind to minerals in hard water before they attach to your clothes.
  • Essential oils – all-natural, plant-derived oils used for scent and antimicrobial properties in the laundry.

Notice how the ingredients commonly used are all natural?

They also tend to rinse away easily without leaving any residue behind, though adding vinegar to the final rinse is a good precaution to ensure all soap is removed and to lower the elevated pH caused by the alkalinity of soap.

If you happen to have hard water, read this to learn how to effectively soften your water with natural ingredients like vinegar to effectively wash away mineral deposits.

7 Tips For Your Eczema-Fighting Laundry Routine

Remove Residue First

Detergents and soaps often leave behind a residue that continues to build up with repeated washing.

Before implementing an eczema-fighting strategy, scrub out the inside of your washing machine with a 50/50 vinegar/water solution and rinse well. Get in the habit of cleaning your machine at least once a month.

Wash clothing, towels, sheets, and blankets with plain washing soda (about ½ cup) and add ½ cup of vinegar to the final rinse.

Once you are satisfied that all residues are gone, you can put into effect your new laundry plan.

Skip the Fragrance

Our noses have grown accustomed to heavily scented detergents that make our freshly washed clothes smell pleasant.

However, fragrances are known to trigger allergies and cause irritation in many people and could lead to an eczema outbreak. 

While fragrance oils designed for use in homemade soaps smell fabulous when added to a homemade laundry detergent, they could very well irritate sensitive skin.

It’s best to steer clear of added synthetic fragrances. 

A few drops of essential oil could be applied to a tennis ball and placed in the dryer with your wet clothes to add a light scent, but the smell will dissipate rather quickly.

Don’t Use Fabric Softener

Fabric softeners and even dryer sheets often contain fragrances and a long list of questionable ingredients.

Additionally, fabric softeners usually have dyes, which are known to cause irritation and set off allergies.

Ditch the commercial products and add 1/2 a cup of vinegar to the final rinse instead.

Avoid Overloading Your Machine

Keeping your laundry loads down to small or medium sizes will allow your homemade detergent to circulate sufficiently throughout the load and will allow for more thorough rinsing. 

With overly large loads, dirt, bacteria and soap are often not removed properly during rinsing and could cause skin irritation.

Double Rinse Every Load

For those with eczema-prone skin, even the slightest bit of left-behind detergent can trigger a flare-up.

An additional rinse cycle for each load will help ensure that all soap or detergent is removed and will never come in direct contact with your sensitive skin.

Add Vinegar to the Final Rinse Cycle

Vinegar not only helps to remove any product residues from fabrics and soften both water and clothes, but because it’s acidic, it also brings the high pH levels of freshly washed clothes down to a slightly acidic range that more closely matches that of skin and thus reduces the risk of irritation.

For those with septic systems, rest assured that a bit of vinegar won’t cause any harm. You can learn more here.

Wash New Items Before Using

Any new fabric materials that you bring home should be washed at least once before using.

This will not only remove some of the extra dyes, many of which are known irritants, but it will also help to wash away “treatments” applied to fabrics before shipping. 

Those new, crisp garments, towels and sheets have likely been treated with a slew of chemicals including, but not limited to:

  • Formaldehyde.
  • Urea resins.
  • Flame retardants.
  • Triclosan.
  • Phthalates.
  • Perfluorocarbons (PFCs used for weatherproofing garments).

Shocking and scary, isn’t it?

Second-hand clothing should be washed first as well because who knows what it was washed with and who wore it?

Simple, Homemade Laundry Detergent Recipe to Avoid Eczema Flare-Ups

When dealing with eczema, generally, the fewer ingredients, the better.

Regardless of which ingredients you choose, try to keep things as natural and chemical-free as possible. 

  • 1 grated bar of all-natural soap (I like Kirk’s Castile
  • 1 cup borax
  • 1 cup washing soda

Mix together well or blend in a high-quality food processor, and store in an airtight container. Use 2 – 3 tablespoons per load.

Some people skip the soap entirely and find the remaining two ingredients do a great job on their own. 

Borax-Free Alternative

While many of those with eczema aren’t bothered at all by borax, there is some concern over its potential to irritate sensitive skin.

If you suspect that borax might be triggering eczema rashes, substitute the borax in your recipe with baking soda.