Sigh… we're spending a lot more time at home nowadays. And for some reason everything seems a lot dirtier than usual and we feel like we're cleaning 24/7. That's why we've been doing a ton of research into cleaning tricks and hacks! One subject that has come up over and over again is microfiber cloths.

Microfiber cloths have been our best friends these past couple of months, not only for dust bunnies but to make sure things are extra germ free during the coronavirus pandemic. If you don't know about microfiber cloths, listen up! These magic cleaning cloths really do work well and have been scientifically shown to reduce germs and cross contamination between surfaces (which is an especially good idea nowadays!). There's even a clever way to fold them to create 8 unique cleaning surfaces per cloth. Basically, they're amazing! Read on to learn why it's a good idea to clean with microfiber cloths, especially during a pandemic, and how to use and wash them the right way.

What Are Microfiber Cloths?

Microfiber is a special kind of extra soft and fuzzy fabric made of polyester and nylon super fine fibers that have a diameter of less than ten micrometres. That's a hundred times finer than human hair and even finer than silk fibers! Microfiber cloths and mop heads are widely used because these super fine fibers are really good at cleaning, even without any cleaning products. Millions of tiny fibers on a cloth have a slightly positive charge that actually attract dirt and dust (which are negatively charged) and dislodge them from surfaces. That's why when you dust with a microfiber cloth, it almost seems like it swoops up the dust particles without any resistance. And because the super fine fibers increase the surface area, microfiber cloths can absorb 7 times their weight in water, which is also really useful when cleaning up messes. The tiny fibers are also able to get into cracks and crevessaes, which also contributes to their superpower cleaning abilities.

Why it's a Good Idea to Clean with Microfiber Cloths During the Coronavirus Pandemic

All of these properties of microfiber cloths that make them really good at cleaning up dirt and grime, also make them an excellent choice for cleaning during the coronavirus pandemic. Studies have shown that microfiber cloths reduce the transfer of germs from surface to surface as compared to cotton cloths (1). Another study showed microfiber mops remove more germs from a surface without a disinfectant than a cotton mop did with a disinfectant (2). That's some super power! Microfiber cloths also dry fast, so there's less chance for bacteria growth if you don't immediately put them in the laundry.

Since microfiber cloths are so effective at cleaning on their own, this means that you can clean your house using less harsh cleaning products. Since cleaning products have been shown to reduce indoor air quality and damage lungs (3), anything that reduces their use is a good idea. Indoor air quality, lung health, and overall wellness are so important during the coronavirus pandemic.

Finally, the fact that microfiber cloths make cleaning much easier means that you're more likely to do it. Having a clean home and disinfecting when necessary are really important during the pandemic. In fact, the CDC recommends cleaning a surface before disinfecting; this combination is the best way to reduce the risk of infection. Dirt and grime can actually make some disinfectants not work properly and cleaning actually physically removes germs and dirt from surfaces or objects.

How to Use Microfiber Cloths the Right Way

Knowing the correct way to use a microfiber cloth is crucial for maximum cleaning potential. It's important to keep microfiber cloths dry when you are dusting. That allows the static electricity to work the best at attracting dust. For other surfaces that need a bit of water or all purpose cleaner, don't over saturate the surface or cloth. It's also a good idea to color code your cloths for different uses (even more important if they are being used at schools or other facilities). This reduces the cross contamination risk even after you wash them. You don't want to accidentally clean your kitchen with a cloth you used on your toilet! And while you're cleaning, folding the cloths in half and then in half again and then using each side for a different surface is a great way to reduce cross contamination. You can get 8 separate surfaces this way! See our handy video or follow the instructions below.


How to Fold a Microfiber Cloth to Reduce Surface Contamination
  1. Fold the microfiber cloth in half, and then in half again. A quarter of the cloth should be exposed now.
  2. Hold the cloth in your hand and clean your first surface, like the dining room table.
  3. Flip the cloth in your hand and use the other side to clean the next surface, for example counters.
  4. Unfold the cloth and then refold it the other way, and use the two remaining surfaces on this side of the cloth.
  5. Unfold the cloth completely and then fold the cloth in half so that the non-used side is exposed. Then fold it in half again. Repeat steps 2-4 on the unused side of the cloth.

How to Wash Microfiber Cloths the Right Way

Microfiber cloths can be washed in the washing machine using warm or cold water, and can be reused many many times. However, if you wash them with cotton cloths or your normal clothes, the fibers can get gunked up with stuff that will make them less effective. It's a good idea to create a separate laundry basket for your microfiber cloths and wash them alone. Make sure to avoid using fabric softeners and bleach when laundering microfiber cloths because they can damage the fibers. Microfiber cloths also dry very quickly, so hang them to dry, or dry them on low in your dryer.

What About Microfiber Pollution from Microfiber Cloths?

Perhaps you have heard about the microfiber pollution problem? If you haven't, basically little microfibers (which are essentially plastic) are being released into our rivers and oceans through our laundry (4)! Fleece and lots of other clothing contain synthetic fibers, which can shed while they're being washed. While this is a problem that scientists are just beginning to discover and understand, we do know that they can cause hazardous effects in aquatic species. We don't know much about the human health effects yet, but scientists are working on it. Washing and using microfiber cloths does contribute to microfiber pollution, but they probably contribute less than everything else you wash. Since microfiber cloths reduce harsh cleaning chemical use and are more reusable and durable than cotton cloths, we still recommend them. Purchasing one less fleece or clothing item with synthetic fibers can offset the couple of microfiber cloths you need for cleaning your entire home! To reduce the potential for shedding, you can buy some microfiber trapping devices like the Cora ball and the Guppyfriend bag and use those when you are washing your microfiber cloths.


References

  1. Trajtman, Adriana N., Kanchana Manickam, and Michelle J. Alfa. "Microfiber cloths reduce the transfer of Clostridium difficile spores to environmental surfaces compared with cotton cloths." American Journal of Infection Control 43.7 (2015): 686-689.
  2. Rutala, William A., Maria F. Gergen, and David J. Weber. "Microbiologic evaluation of microfiber mops for surface disinfection." American journal of infection control 35.9 (2007): 569-573.
  3. Svanes, Øistein, et al. "Cleaning at home and at work in relation to lung function decline and airway obstruction." American journal of respiratory and critical care medicine197.9 (2018): 1157-1163.
  4. Mishra, Sunanda, Chandi charan Rath, and Alok Prasad Das. "Marine microfiber pollution: a review on present status and future challenges." Marine pollution bulletin 140 (2019): 188-197.

When it comes to fragrance, we always say that the safest option is to look for products that are completely fragrance free. Choosing to go fragrance-free is a great way to avoid chemicals that may be harmful to your health. Plus, does everything we own really need to smell like cotton candy?! In case you haven't heard why fragrance is so problematic, we break it down below.

What's Actually in Fragrance?

One of the big problems with fragrance is that there are so many different chemicals that can be added to a product. According to the International Fragrance Association's Transparency List, there are approximately 3,000 fragrance ingredients that can be used in consumer goods worldwide (1). And since the FDA does not require approval before a chemical goes onto the market, it's impossible to say that all of these fragrance ingredients are safe to use. The chemical that's making your house smell like clean laundry or a cinnamon apple might also secretly be toxic.

Even though there are a lot of untested chemicals, we do know that some fragrance ingredients are definitely harmful to human health. Many fragrance ingredients can be allergens that cause headaches, runny noses, sneezing, or coughing (2). Allergens are probably the reason you have to stand two feet away from that one coworker who wears a super strong perfume.

Phthalates are widely used in as a solvent or fixative in perfume, shampoo, lotion, and nail polish even though they're endocrine disrupting chemicals. Fragrance found in candles has been shown to contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) like formaldehyde and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), both of which can cause short-term health effects like irritation, and long-term health effects like cancer (3, 4).

To make matters worse, companies don't even have to tell you all the ingredients they use in their fragrance! Trade secret laws keep companies from disclosing proprietary fragrance blends, but that means we don't actually know what's in our products. There could be 10 ingredients that go into the "fragrance" listed on your body lotion, or there could be 500! And if we don't know what all of these ingredients are, how do we adequately protect our health?

When in Doubt, Go With Fragrance Free

Like we mentioned before, the best bet is to purchase products that are free from all fragrance. Only look for labels that say "contains no added fragrance"... some products labeled as "unscented" may still contain fragrance as a way to hide ingredients that naturally have an unpleasant smell (2). If you really can't live without a fragranced product, go for something that only uses essential oils (although they have their own pros and cons as well).


References
  1. https://ifrafragrance.org/initiatives/transparency/ifra-transparency-list
  2. https://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/cosmetic-ingredients/fragrances-cosmetics
  3. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0304389414010243
  4. https://toxtown.nlm.nih.gov/chemicals-and-contaminants/polycyclic-aromatic-hydrocarbons-pahs
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Roundups

Non-Toxic Fabric Softener and Dryer Sheets

Natural dryer sheets and dryer sheet alternatives

Updated for 2019!

You know when you are doing laundry and everything comes out of the dryer all warm and fluffy and smelling amazing and you just fall asleep in a pile of clean clothes on the couch? Nope, just us? Oh well. While that might not be a common practice, throwing in a dryer sheet or adding a splash of fabric softener is pretty common. But, have you ever wondered how one of those rather small dryer sheets works to get rid of the static for a whole load of laundry? Are dryer sheets toxic? Are there alternatives to dryer sheets and fabric softeners?

Well, it turns out that dryer sheets often come with many added chemicals that you might not want all over your clothes. Next time you are doing a load of laundry (with some safe laundry detergent), check out one of these option instead. They will keep your clothes looking good without the potentially dangerous chemicals. All of the ones we recommend are widely available, have positive reviews, and have been checked for safety from a third party. Who wouldn't want a more natural dryer sheet?! We also have a suggestion for our favorite alternative to dryer sheets, wool dryer balls.


non-toxic dryer sheets and fabric softeners

a) Ecover Fabric Softener b) Method Dryer Sheets in Beach Sage c) Kintor Wool Dryer Balls d) Attitude Fabric Softener e) The Honest Company Dryer Cloths f) Attitude Reusable Static Eliminator and Softener g) Seventh Generation Natural Fabric Softener Sheets


We rely on EWG's consumer databases, the Think Dirty App, and GoodGuide in addition to consumer reviews and widespread availability of products to generate these recommendations. Learn more on our methodology page.

*Because Health is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program so that when you click through our Amazon links, a percentage of the proceeds from your purchases will go to Because Health. We encourage you to shop locally, but if you do buy online buying through our links will help us continue the critical environmental health education work we do. Our participation does not influence our product recommendations. To read more about how we recommend products, go to our methodology page.

Life

Is Washing Your Favorite Sweater Contributing to Plastic Pollution?

Machine washing your clothes is an unexpected culprit of microplastic pollution

Each year, around 8 million tons of plastic finds its way into the ocean from coastal countries. That amount of plastic is the equivalent of about 40,000 blue whales (1)! Microplastics (plastic particles smaller than 5mm in length) are a big part of the plastic pollution problem (2). It's estimated that approximately 50 trillion pieces of microplastics are currently polluting the ocean (3). These tiny particles also make up roughly 94% of the Great Pacific Trash vortex, which is the largest collection of floating trash in the world (4). And surprisingly, laundry is a significant contributor to ocean microplastics.

How is washing your clothes polluting the ocean and what can you do to stop it? Keep reading for everything you need to know about microplastics and how doing your laundry may impact the planet.

What Are Microplastics?

Microplastics are either manufactured for primary use as exfoliating beads used in skincare or small machinery parts, or can be a result of the breakdown of other materials like large plastic water bottles or synthetic textiles (2). Microfibers, the microplastics that are in synthetic materials, are a big part of the problem. They make up roughly 35% of the microplastic found in marine ecosystems (5). Machine washing synthetic materials is one of the biggest ways microfibers get into the water supply (6). Washing machines and synthetic materials are a bad combination because friction from the spinning laundry drum causes synthetic materials to shed microfibers into the water, which are eventually drained back into the pipes. Since the fibers are so small, up to 40% pass through sewage treatment plants unfiltered and end up draining into the rivers, lakes, streams, and oceans that are connected to our water supply (7).

Even though synthetic materials are a big problem, they're almost impossible to avoid. Today, about two-thirds of textiles used in clothing are synthetic because it makes clothing cheaper to manufacture. If you check the tag on your shirt right now, you'd probably see a popular synthetic materials like polyester, acrylic, or nylon. A study in the UK found that nearly half a million microfibers are released in just one load of polyester clothing (8).

Environmental Impact of Microplastics

One of the biggest problems with plastic pollution is that it basically never goes away. Rather than chemically degrading, plastic tends to physically break up into smaller and smaller pieces. These microplastics continuously accumulate in the environments all over the world, from the peaks of the Pyrenees to the intestines of fish caught in the Great Lakes (9, 10). These materials are not only extremely harmful to the wildlife and ecosystems they are invading, but have potentially dangerous consequences for human health as well. Microplastics can get into drinking water, and are also often accidentally ingested by fish which pollutes our food supply. When ingested, microplastics can cause inflammation, gut blockages, growth and hormone disruption (11). Additionally, microplastics absorb other toxic chemicals and assist in their distribution.

What You Can Do

The impacts microplastics are having on marine and human health seem to grow by the day. Luckily, there are easy ways to limit microfiber shedding from your laundry!

  1. Adjust your laundry settings - avoiding delicate cycles that use high water volumes and washing with colder water are not only more water and cost efficient but help release fewer microfibers per wash!
  2. Use less detergent, and do not use bleach! The soapy liquid causes more fibers to be leached out.
  3. Fill up your machine and avoid washing things bulky items like shoes with synthetic fabrics - anything that increases friction will increase microfiber release
  4. If you have the option, use a front loading washing machine! They require less water and less vigorous washing for the same cleanliness.
  5. Consider getting a laundry bag. These bags are designed to catch microfibers so they cannot get into the water supply.
  6. Purchase clothing made of natural materials like cotton or linen - these materials don't shed any microfibers and are often softer, more breathable, and last longer!


References

  1. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/habitats/plastic-pollution/
  2. https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/microplastics.html
  3. https://www.sas.org.uk/our-work/plastic-pollution/plastic-pollution-facts-figures/
  4. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2018/03/great-pacific-garbage-patch-plastics-environment/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30368178
  6. https://www.plasticoceanproject.org/microfiber-pollution-project.html
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27689236
  8. https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-40498292
  9. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jun/20/microfibers-plastic-pollution-oceans-patagonia-synthetic-clothes-microbeads
  10. https://www.newscientist.com/article/2199455-pristine-mountains-are-being-littered-with-microplastics-from-the-air/
  11. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S004896971834049X?via%3Dihub
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31460752
  13. https://pubs.acs.org/doi/pdf/10.1021/acs.est.7b01750
  14. https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acs.est.6b03045
  15. https://www.surfrider.org/coastal-blog/entry/bills-and-best-practices-for-microfiber-pollution-solutions
Roundups

Non-Toxic Laundry Detergents

We searched and found all the safer options for doing your laundry

Non Toxic Laundry Detergent Updated for 2020!

Laundry detergent is such a necessary for every day life that we often don't stop to think about what it's made from. Traditional laundry detergent can be made from lots of different ingredients that aren't great for our health, including SLSs, formaldehyde, bleach, and phosphates. These ingredients have been linked to air pollution and cancer. Yikes!

After lots of research, we collected an assortment of safe, non-toxic detergents to keep your clothes smelling and looking new. Some specifically say they are for baby, others have versions for baby along with the original and both are safe, so choose what you like, and know they really are all safe for any age. You don't necessarily need a baby specific detergent. Choose what you think works best for you. And, while you're at it, check out our roundup of fabric softeners and dryer sheets. Yay for clean clothes!

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Life

Sweater Weather Means Sweater Washing

A whole bunch of tips for non-toxic ways to wash, store, and care for sweaters

As we get the first hints of true chill in the air, that means it's time to start pulling out the layers and bundling up in all the cozy sweaters you can find. But, now that you've pulled them out of storage, does it look like they need some TLC? Maybe it's just a little freshening up, or maybe you notice some tiny little holes that weren't there before. Well, the good news is that we've got a couple of tips for caring for your sweaters, and none of them will introduce any chemicals to your wardrobe or closet.

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Home

Why You Should Raid Your Kitchen to Get Brighter Laundry

Non-toxic ways to get whiter whites without bleach

You know that white shirt that makes for the perfect effortless outfit. It's gorgeous, but also takes a little bit of confidence to rock it. That's because it doesn't matter if it's a summer BBQ, a girls night happy hour, or just running around the corner for a cup of coffee - they are all opportunities for a stain. But, you are a confident adult who is pretty sure they can drink a coffee and walk down the hallway without a problem. You also happen to have a secret weapon - a bottle of bleach in the laundry room.

While bleach can be a lifesaver if you want to rock that white shirt, it's also a pretty harsh chemical - just think about that smell. Research has shown that using bleach can cause asthma like symptoms or make asthma worse (1). Because we don't love harsh chemicals that can make us sick, we did some searching and found a bunch of ways to care for white laundry without bleach. And an even bigger perk, most of these solutions can be found in your kitchen - score! Here are some of our favorite, non-toxic, whitening tips and tricks.

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First of all, congratulations! You're probably more in love than you've ever been and also more sleep deprived than you've ever been. Don't worry. You got this. And we're here to help you.

You already know this, cause you're a parent, but research confirms that babies grow super fast and are sensitive to things in their environment. Because of that, there are some decisions that impact them more than they do us full size humans. So, we've narrowed it down to the 3 easiest changes you can make that will help you create a non-toxic environment and keep your baby safe during this special time. We promise that even on only 2-3 hours of uninterrupted sleep, they are all totally doable and have been shown to positively impact the health of your growing baby.

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