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Avoiding Baby Eczema Triggers #1: Laundry

Avoiding Baby Eczema Triggers #1: Laundry

Sunshine is a really easy and effective stain remover. But if your little one’s eczema is triggered by pollen remember to rewash and dry inside once the stains have faded.

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 these washing powders?

Did you know that the reason clothing is so stiff when it comes out of the laundry? This is due to a build-up of detergent residues in the fibres?

According to a study by Clemson University School of Textiles and Polymer Science, over time, detergent residue can add as much as two per cent 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.

According to the Persil website, enzymes are added to laundry detergent to ‘help lift starchy stains out of fabrics.’ In addition, laundry products typically contain chemical fillers, phosphates and optical brighteners, and fragrances – all of which can irritate sensitive skin.

While there is no clear scientific evidence that biological detergents aggravate baby eczema, many eczema sufferers (including our family, and this mum who shared her story with the National Eczema Association) do find that switching to a non-biological detergent does seem to help.

Both The American Academy of Dermatology Association and the NHS also list laundry detergents and fabric softeners as common eczema triggers in babies.

Popular detergent brand Persil also suggests that ‘for those with sensitive skin who find regular detergents to be unsuitable, a hypoallergenic detergent is a great option.’

Stain removers are more concentrated versions of regular detergents.

They are so strong that most have to print warnings about the risk of skin irritation 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.

Read our article on eczema friendly stain removal methods that can help keep your kids’ clothes looking good.

For more information on which detergent ingredients to watch out for, see our post 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 because 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.

  • Avoiding Baby Eczema Triggers #1: LaundryAdd a rinse/spin cycle: The National Eczema Association suggests that one of the simplest ways 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 washing powder 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 because it smells so nice (it’s got essential oils in) and makes a refreshing change to our normal fragrance-free approach.
  • Avoid detergent altogether: Advice from the NHS suggests that ‘soaps and detergents shouldn’t be used if your child has eczema.’ So, what should you use instead? 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 eco balls leave very little residue but often leave the clothes not quite so clean. Whites can end up looking quite dull over time, but many people think that this is 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. 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 whitewash. I’m still amazed by the amount of 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 amazingly 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 your 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.
  • Clothing: Use eczema friendly fabrics to clothe your baby.

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?

Other eczema triggers

Bath products

House dust

Furry pets



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