Avoiding Baby Eczema Triggers #1: Laundry
One of the most effective ways of controlling baby eczema is to identify what triggers your baby’s eczema flare-ups and avoid them as far as possible. Washing detergents and fabric softeners are a very common cause of baby eczema. Signs that laundry detergents are a trigger for your baby’s eczema can include eczema patches appearing over their whole body but often with a clear nappy area, intense itching and eczema that is aggravated by water. But how on earth can you keep clothing clean without them?
Did you know that the reason clothing is so stiff when it comes out of the laundry is a build up of detergent residues in the fibres? Over time, these residues can add as much as 2% to the weight of a garment. That’s a lot of detergent in direct contact with your baby’s skin. Ironically, the most common way to soften this stiffness is to add even more potentially irritating chemicals, in the shape of fabric softeners.
Why do laundry detergents aggravate baby eczema?
Laundry detergents are de-greasers so it is no surprise that residues in clothing can dry out and irritate eczema prone skin which is already short of natural oils. It has been suggested that biological washing detergents, which contain enzymes, can aggravate baby eczema. While this suggestion is not clearly supported by the scientific evidence, a number of eczema sufferers (including our family) do find that switching to a non-biological detergent does seem to help. In addition, laundry products typically contain chemical fillers, phosphates and optical brighteners and fragrances, all of which can irritate sensitive skin.
Stain removers are more concentrated versions of regular detergents. They are so strong that most have to have warnings about the risk of skin irritation printed on the packaging. Residues of these products build up in the fibres in exactly the same way as regular detergents, so if your little one has baby eczema it’s definitely worth avoiding them. However, kids clothes can get very mucky and staining is almost inevitable. Our article on eczema friendly stain removal methods which can help keep you kids clothes looking good. For more information on which detergent ingredients to watch out for see our article on eczema friendly laundry detergents.
Top tips for baby eczema friendly laundry
As with everything related to baby eczema, finding a practical solution that works for your family can take some detective work and experimentation. Here are some ideas to get you started. It’s worth sticking at things for a couple of weeks as it can take a number of washes to get rid of the detergent build-up. You can get around this by starting a new washing regime at the same time as replacing your baby’s clothes with new ones as they move up a size.
- Add a rinse/spin cycle: The simplest way to reduce the build-up of detergents in clothing is to use an extra rinse cycle once the washing machine has finished its regular cycle. Adding another spin cycle reduces the amount of rinse water, and the residues it contains, left in the clothes.
- Reduce the amount of detergent: One of the easiest ways to reduce the build-up of detergents is to half the amount of detergent that you use in each wash and not use fabric softener at all. We find that the regular clothes are just as clean and the reduced detergent build-up removes the need for a fabric softener. If you have a heavily soiled wash load, adding a tablespoon or two of washing soda (sodium carbonate) or baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) will remove any smells and help to shift stubborn stains.
- Find an eczema friendly laundry brand: There are a number of eczema friendly brands available, the most established is SureCare but personally, I’m a fan of Violet’s Laundry Liquid as it smells so nice (it’s got essential oils in) making a refreshing change to our normal fragrance-free approach.
- Avoid detergent all together: Old fashioned soap flakes clean clothes well without the irritation of detergents but will still leave a residue in the fabrics, especially in hard water areas, so they will take a bit more rinsing and possibly the addition of some washing soda. Soap nuts and ecoballs leave very little residue but often leave the clothes quite not quite so clean. Whites can end up looking quite dull over time, but many people think that this a small price to pay for a solution to baby eczema.
- Soak stained clothes: We all know that stains come out best if you can wash them straight away and that baby clothes can get really mucky. In our house it’s rarely practical, so we have a bucket of water mixed with a good slug of baking soda which all the foody bibs, grubby tops and stained vests are thrown into as soon as they come off the kids. This keeps the worst of the stains at bay until we can get the clothes into the washing machine.
- Colour catcher sheets: Over time whites turn dull and bright-colours fade in the wash and it is the dye from the bright colours that make the whites look dull. Even if you sort your washing religiously, some of the loose dye will lurk in your washing machine to be absorbed by the next whites wash. If you use them in every wash, colour catcher sheets mop up the loose dye as it washes out so it isn’t there to dull your next white wash. I’m still amazed by how much colour they mop up even from clothes that have been washed hundreds of times.
- Use the washing line: Leaving the clothes in the sunshine (when there is some) is an amazing easy and effective way to rid of any lingering stains, especially food and nappy related stains. We’ve even managed to get rid of tomato based stains this way. If you baby’s eczema is aggravated by pollen, give any clothing that you have hung on the line to fade the stains another wash and tumble dry before using it.
One last thought:
Very small babies spend a lot of time coming into contact with other people’s clothes as they are cuddled and carried about. It may well be necessary to wash the whole family’s clothes in the same way and use something like a muslin square to protect your baby’s skin from visitor’s clothing.
Did you know the impact that eczema creams can have on your washing machine? Read more in Baby Eczema Tips: Washing Machines and Eczema Laundry.
These things work for our family – what works for yours?