What Products We Use

Many have asked me what products we use around the house now that we are detergent-free. The explanation is rarely straight-forward or quick. This page was written so that interested families can have a one-stop quick reference page.

Overarching Rule – You Can Get By With Only 2 Products!

When in doubt or overwhelmed with label reading or choosing products, you can get by with just 2 soap products in your house — as long as you have soft water! (see here if you don’t have soft water):

  1. Dr. Bronner’s Liquid Soap – readily available at Loblaws/Real Canadian Superstore (best price), or health food/natural food stores. And even at Costco in parts of Asia! My favourite is Baby Mild.
  2. Bars of natural soap, including Irish Spring Original bar soap (many of the other ones contain detergents), Classic Ivory Soap, or any of the bar soaps listed below that we use.

The above 2 products will enable you to wash body, hair, dishes, laundry, and clean house!

We use more specialized products for reasons of cost effectiveness and general efficiency, though it requires a little more work to source products from different places. Read on to see what we use in our house!

What We Use Now

This table summarizes what we use. Follow the links to read about each product more, and find out where I source them in Canada.

FOR WE USE
Water Softening Salt Sifto Premium Plus
Laundry / Washing Clothes Voyageur Soap and Candle’s grated laundry soap without borax
Arm & Hammer Washing Soda
NatureClean Oxy Stain Remover
Dishes CalBen Liquid Dish Glow
CalBen ‘Destain’ Automatic Dish Compound(TM)
Bathing & Washing Body and Hands Various bar soaps (see detailed list below)
Liquid soap I saponify myself in foaming pump
Dr. Bronner’s Liquid Soap in foaming pump
Washing Hair CalBen Five Star Shampoo
Dr. Bronner’s Liquid Soap
Cleaning House Vinegar & Baking Soda
Recipes from “Green Up Your Cleanup” (Jill Schoff)
Other Personal Care Toothpaste: Weleda
Deodorant: Homemade
Lip Balm: EOS
Protecting skin: Aquaphor

Water Softening Salt

We Use: Sifto Premium Plus

Notes:

  • As per solveeczema’s blog, some water softener salts have detergents added. A very helpful and knowledgeable water softener designer confirmed to me that detergents from softener salt could adhere to the resin beads inside the water softener and slough off into the soft water coming out of our taps.
  • The Director of R&D at Compass Minerals (owners of Canada’s Sifto) told me that Sifto’s Premium Plus salt comes from a mine in Ontario and the salt is not sprayed or washed with detergents. In fact, the product is a dull, off-white color and looks fundamentally different than other softener salts I’ve seen that I know are washed with detergents. The Director of R&D confirmed to me that the Crystal Plus product, labelled “Resin Clean”, contains detergents and that some other products, like the Nature’s Own product, is sprayed with a low concentration of detergents during processing. He suggested that I also be cautious about using the Ultra Crystal product if my children had “sensitive skin” because it has rust inhibiting chemicals in it.
  • I can’t say enough wonderful things about the folks at Canadian Tire, both at my local store and the central customer service office, who have gone to great lengths to help me get this product from their warehouses in central Canada to my location. I now have 10 x 40 kg bags of Sifto Premium Plus, which is probably enough to last a lifetime for my family. I highly recommend shopping at Canadian Tire.

For Laundry

We Use: A specially-made batch of Voyageur Soap and Candle’s grated laundry soap without Borax

Notes:

  • I don’t use Borax in my home because of the EU’s concern that it may be “toxic for reproduction”. See this paper, linked from the Wikipedia entry on Borax, for more information.
  • I make a liquid laundry soap slurry with the #2 recipe for Liquid Laundry Soap from Voyageur Soap & Candle. I use 1/4 C per laundry load. It is important to note that I have a water softener! Soap scum, or a compound akin to wax, is formed when pure soap reacts with ions in hard water and I would be very concerned about gumming up or otherwise destroying my washing machine by using pure soap without soft water — so be warned!
  • I use Arm & Hammer’s So Clean! Washing Soda for that recipe and readily find it at Safeway.
  • To my laundry load, I add oxygen bleach (sodium percarbonate) and washing soda (sodium carbonate) to the 1/4 C of my liquid laundry soap slurry. Caution! I do not add oxygen bleach to any loads containing dark blues / indigo or blacks, because the colors run!.
  • I typically add 1-2 TBSP of NatureClean Oxy Stain Remover to get a combination of oxygen bleach and washing soda, to each laundry load. According to the MSDS for this product, I guess that it contains around only 40% oxygen bleach and 60% washing soda, which is a lower concentration of oxygen bleach than I would prefer for the purposes of killing microbes (e.g. yeast) on our clothes.
  • However, it is difficult to get 100% pure oxygen bleach (sodium percarbonate) in Canada because it is a strong oxidizer and considered a hazardous substance. There are transport restrictions in place which make it all the more difficult and costly to transport it. The product with the highest concentration of oxygen bleach (based on previous investigation, my guess is about 90% sodium percarbonate) is likely Oxy-Boost by EcoGeeks. The product is also recommended by solveeczema. Unfortunately, there is no Canadian distributor and this product is not easily shipped here from the US.
  • Oxo-Brite is another alternative, and is available at health food stores in Canada but AJ Lumsdaine has told me in the past that she doesn’t find the concentration of oxygen bleach to be very high, and this product is not as effective for her as Oxy-Boost.

For Handwashing Dishes

We Use: CalBen Seafoam Dish Glow

Notes:

  • There is no Canadian distributor but CalBen does ship to Canada from the US. I have never shipped directly to Canada because they only use UPS as a courier and I am concerned about surprise/unknown customs brokerage fees, from past experience with UPS.
  • I have on several occasions had CalBen ship products to a US travel destination, then flown these products back with me as checked luggage.

For Machine Washing Dishes

We Use: Calben ‘Destain’ Automatic Dish Machine Compound(TM)

Notes:

  • When run out of CalBen’s, I may try NatureClean Automatic Dishwasher Powder. A few years ago, I did a whackload of research and reading, including having an informative and helpful email discussion with a chemist from NatureClean, about this product and the detergent that is in it: an ethoxylated alcohol (the Linear Alcohol Ethoxylate in the ingredients list is a non-ionic detergent). Based on my research and email correspondence, I would be willing to try this product later and think my kids may not react to it despite it containing a detergent.
  • Caution: The dishwasher powder product is the only NatureClean dishwasher product I would consider using. Based on reading the ingredients of their other dishwasher products (off their website), I feel they contain either stronger detergents or Borax or both, or may have the Linear Alcohol Ethoxylate in higher concentration than the powder product.
  • The chemist at NatureClean informed me that true soaps (anionic surfactants) cannot be used in dishwasher formulations because they foam from the agitation of the water in the dishwasher, and this can cause cavitation (i.e. collapse/implosion) of the pump and will ruin the dishwasher. He mentioned that only ethoxylated alcohols are effective in suppressing foam in the dishwasher, and this made me wonder if all dishwasher products must contain a synthetic detergent and not a “true soap” due to the limitations of chemistry and physics. So if my kids and others are safe with CalBen’s Dishwasher powder — though I don’t know what the “biodegradeable surfactant” they list in their ingredients truly is — I wonder if they might be safe with NatureClean dishwasher powder, too. Worth a try, but I haven’t yet.

For Bathing/Washing Body

We Use: Various Bar Soaps as follows:

 

Note: It is important to read and understand the solveeczema blog entry describing Lumsdaine’s Law in order to help wade through what types of soaps and their additives for “moisturizing” you’re willing to use.

IF YOU DON’T HAVE SOFT WATER!

Get started by using commercially-available soaps that contain water softeners in them. Unfortunately they are also quite fragrant, but they are readily available and good, decent products for those who have hard water.  In a pinch, you could wash your body, hair, and even clothes (if you grated the soap bars) with these soaps and see how you fare!

Shampoo

We Use: CalBen Five Star Shampoo

Notes:

  • I’ve also used EarthSafe Clean Air Shampoo in the past and liked it. I find the product a tad on the expensive side (especially when I had very long hair!). Caution: Their conditioners contain an ingredient that appears to be a detergent.
  • Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap for shampoo would do in a pinch, but it may be drying. My mother uses Dr. Bronner’s on her hair and has commented that my hair seems more shiny and lustrous than hers.
  • Soft water is imperative for using soap as a shampoo!. When I first started, I used a pure liquid soap to wash my hair, in hard water. There was so much soap scum (something akin to wax) built up on each strand of hair that it felt heavy and greasy after being washed. Definitely an unpleasant, awful feeling that I haven’t had since we got soft water!

For Hand Washing

We use: A foaming pump containing liquid soap.

Notes:

To Clean House

We Use: Soap and soft water, baking soda, vinegar, bleach, and other various more traditional solutions. See below for more details.

Notes:

  • When I first started, I found many of the recipes in Green Up Your Cleanup by Jill Schoff to be very useful. Specifically, the Mold & Germ Kill spray, the All Purpose Spray, and the Glass Cleaner.
  • For cleaning my sinks and tubs and anything that has scum or oil in it, I find applying baking soda and good old “elbow grease” from scrubbing to be very effective.
  • For cleaning / disinfecting surfaces generally, I find using a 1:1 vinegar/water solution useful.
  • For all-purpose cleaning, I fill a spray bottle with 1:3 soap:soft water, scrub, then rinse with soft water.

Other Personal Care

  • Toothpaste: We switched to Weleda toothpastes. The Plant Gel flavour is our favourite and the most “natural” replacement for traditional toothpastes.
  • Deodorant: I make my own deodorant from this recipe from My Healthy Green Family. I source ingredients from both Voyageur Soap and Candle and Soap and More.
  • When needing some protection from the feeling of dryness in our very cold winters, I use Aquaphor only.
  • Lip Balm: EOS (evolution of smooth) lip balms. Note: I do not use their lotions as they contain detergents (phenoxyethanol).

What We Have Used in the Past

Listed here so others can benefit from our trial and error. Coming soon!

4 thoughts on “What Products We Use

  1. Hey Julie! Finally getting to read more of your blog. Thank you for all the information! Just wondering if you’ve read about using baking soda or vinegar for laundry? I’m realizing most of our laundry is really not that soiled and wondered even about just hit water??? 😉

    1. Hi Angela, thanks for your question. I think the most important starting point for laundry is the “superwash” with true soap as per solveeczema.org, to remove detergent residues from the clothing. Of course, and unfortunately, this requires soft water to do properly. Without a superwash preceding washing with baking soda and vinegar, I am concerned that the clothes would still contain significant enough traces of detergents to perpertuate eczema. That being said, washing with baking soda and vinegar rinse is probably better than continuing to use detergents — even in hard water. It would reduce the detergent load; the question is — would it reduce it enough?

      With very hard water like we have here, I think it might be possible to add chemical water softener (e.g. “Calgon Water Softener” product) to your hard water, in order to use true soap to superwash your laundry first. I haven’t used these myself and haven’t done the research into whether they are safe and where to buy them in Canada. Borax is another product some people use to soften water, but I have concerns about its safety due to it being banned in the EU for concerns about endocrine disruption/reproductive toxicity. The most optimal option would be to get a physical water softener and do a superwash using true soap, first.

      After the clothes have been superwashed and detergent residues removed, I think using baking soda and vinegar in laundry might be reasonably effective for lightly soiled clothes, and would probably be more cost effective for several washes “in between” times when true soap is used in the laundry. I’ve not use baking soda as my primary “agent” in the wash, but I’ve had good experience using it around my house, to clean sinks, tubs, toilets and tiled surfaces. (It is great for getting grease off on my tiled backsplash behind my stove, and because it is powdered and slightly abrasive, is my go-to choice for cleaning my sinks/toilets/tubs — removing stains or soap scum and getting them shiny again). So I would think it might be reasonably effective in the laundry. Vinegar is probably good to add to the laundry in the rinse cycle as (according to a discussion I had with AJ Lumsdaine), it would probably rinse away excess soap residues.

      I hope that is helpful. I would highly recommend the investment in a water softener and a good vacuum that can pick up detergent-laden dusts, as the primary step. After that, the world is your oyster in regards to trying a myriad of safe cleaning options — some more cost-effective than true soap!

  2. Hi! Thanks for this information. I am trying to figure out what ingredients are considered “detergent”. Do you have a list or suggestions on where to look? Thank you.

    1. Hi Kay, thank you for your comment and question. AJ Lumsdaine has some recommendations for figuring out what ingredients are considered detergent as well as a very short list of some common names. You can see this here. When I first started out, I was frustrated that this list wasn’t longer and more definitive, but I soon came to agree with her thought that “there are far too many to list”. I found the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep cosmetics database (http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/) very useful in my early days as it would tell me if something was a surfactant (which is usually a detergent or has detergent properties). Other key words I looked for indicating detergents or detergent-like properties were “emulsifier”, “foaming agent”, “emulsion stabilizer”, “emulsifying agent”, and others. In honesty, what I have discovered is that detergents are so common today in all our products that it is easier look for products containing only ingredients that signify true soap, as time and time again I discovered surfactants in the ingredients list.

      Some chemical names for true soap:

      • Sodium Cocoate, Olivate, Tallowate (hard soap bars made of coconut oil, olive oil, animal fat, respectively)
      • Potassium Cocoate, Olivate, Tallowate (liquid soap made of coconut oil, olive oil, animal fat, respectively)

      Some more common names for detergents (surfactants) or chemicals with detergent-like properties:

      • Cetearyl or Cetyl or Stearyl alcohol
      • Cocamidopropyl Betaine (a lot of “natural” products use this, but it’s still a detergent)
      • Propylene Glycol – isn’t a detergent per se, but has detergent-like properties
      • PEG, PPG (accompanied by numbers which signify molecular weight/length of the hydrocarbon chain)
      • Polysorbate 20, 60, 80
      • … many others

      Look on most of the creams that people with eczema or dry skin are using and you’ll see at least one if not more of these, and other questionable, ingredients.

      Hope this is helpful for now. I may do a blog post on this later sometime. Feel free to contact me directly, my contact information is on the Contact page. Blessings on you on this journey!

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