For our 12th live chat, we invited Judith from Home Scents, the family business that developed Violet’s Natural Laundry range, manufactured in Northumberland. At Home Scents, they pride themselves on manufacturing totally natural products, great for sensitive skin. Judith in fact started developing her range because her grand daughter had childhood eczema and asthma, and she wanted to find a product that wouldn’t cause her harm.
Q: Did you find that a natural detergent helped your grand daughter? What are the ingredients in main stream detergents that aggravate eczema and asthma?
A: Yes, our natural detergent did help and continues to help people now – we get many comments on our website from customers that now use Violet’s and previously had eczema and skin problems. Artificial Fragrances used for scents are the main cause of problems for allergy sufferers. Also Benzaldehyde is used in some laundry products and is known to cause irritation. We only use pure essential oils. However, many manufacturers say they use essential oils in a scented formula, but this is just a way of hiding that they may have included chemical synthetic fragrances. But some laundry ingredients can cause more problems even than irritation – Nonylphenol ethoxylate is used in laundry detergent and is a hormone disrupter.
Q: I’m from Northumberland too but we have hard water in this area so its been recommended that I use your fabric softener to help with softening nappies. I know softener isn’t usually recommended for nappies so I was wondering what makes your product suitable or different to other products?
A: Most synthetic softeners are developed to remain in the fabric and of course you have the problem of synthetic fragrances and ingredients including phalates and chloroform. Ours works by softening the water which in turn softens the fabric, but it is water soluble so it doesn’t stick to the fabric. And of course, Violet’s is scented with pure essential oils so it leaves a delicate safe scent.
Q: So it won’t affect absorbency at all?
A: No, it doesn’t affect absorbency and many Nappy Companies use and recommend Violet’s products.
Q: If the fabric softener works by softening the water, does that mean that people in soft water areas have softer clothes?
A: Yes, less calcium and magnesium in the water means your clothes will be softer.
Q: How common is the use of hormone disrupting chemicals in the mainstream detergents?
A: Laundry and cleaning products don’t have to declare all their ingredients, but we do as we think this is fair and honest. There are growing concerns about a group of hormone disrupters and a lot of info can be found online. The same is true for toiletries, although they do have to declare all ingredients.
Q: How long did it take you to do all the research to find out what’s in synthetic detergents and the problems those ingredients cause? When I was going through the detergent trial and error phase, I found that companies don’t give much information about what’s actually in them.
A: We started developing products nearly 8 years ago and with extensive research into the ingredients to avoid. Many companies won’t disclose their ingredients, especially in laundry products, as they don’t have to. It is really difficult finding the ingredients and even then, you can’t be sure all has been declared. Unfortunately many large manufacturers simply change from using one nasty synthetic to another one when there is any bad publicity. Basically one of the reasons they use chemical ingredients is that they are cheap and easy to use in manufacturing.
Q: I’m assuming Violet’s is non bio. What are your thoughts on bio detergents? Whilst nappy manufacturers do not recommend their use, a lot of families prefer them to get the nappies clean.
A: Bio detergents have enzymes and many have optical brighteners, which are particular nasty. An optical brightener is a chemical which remains in the fabric and reflects light, making things look cleaner. The American airforce banned the use of optical brighteners for uniform washing as the uniforms showed up in the dark.
Q: I noticed your ingredients list was nice and short. Could you explain what your active ingredients do in terms of cleaning? And which if any are also found in typical washing powder?
A: I approach product development fairly straightforwardly – all the ingredients need to have a purpose so we don’t use any bulkers or fillers like sodium sulfate which is added for cost saving. With ingredients in “typical washing powder” such as Ecover they declare: “15-30% zeolite, oxygen based bleaching agent, sodium dislicate 5- 15% anionic surfactants, sodium bicarbonate, 5% non ionic surfactants, sodium citrate, polypeptides, bleach activator, sodium sulphate, soap, magnesium sulphate, carboxymethyli cellulose, perfume” This I have just typed off an Ecover non bio powder box.
Q: Can you tell us a bit about why bio detergents containing enzymes is a bad thing?
A: There are concerns about the use of enzymes. The jury is really out on any health problems but they go hand in hand with many other chemical ingredients and we really don’t know what effect the interaction between all these different chemicals will have. Also at least one enzyme (cellulase) is believed to break down the fibres in nappies. So we feel it is best to keep it simple.
Q: What does zeolite do?
A: Zeolite is volcanic rock and is a great odour eliminator and a very fine powder, which is included in our laundry powder for this reason. Plus it also acts as a
building block with the other ingredients. There is a synthetic zeolite which is used by many laundry manufacturers but we use the natural version.
[Edit: zeolite is a mineral, not a rock, and it’s not volcanic. It forms from volcanic deposits, but post-depositionally and not as a primary volcanic product]
Q: Keeping it simple, to only the necessary ingredients, makes perfect sense, but how do you decide what’s natural and what’s chemical? With enzymes, for example, don’t these come from bacteria that live in hot springs? They’re definitely very useful for shifting food stains.
A: Yes, originally enzymes can come from bacteria that live in hot springs, also animals and some are produced artificially in labs.
Q: And what are the other ingredients and how do they work?
A: We list all our ingredients on our labels on our website so people can check out all our products (We checked, and it says: “Ingredients: Handmade pure vegetable soap – Sodium Sesquicarbonate“ Sodium Carbonate “ Sodium Percarbonate – Natural Zeolite”)
Q: So I guess the soap is what acts as a detergent – it has a hydrophilic head which sticks into dirt and a hydrophobic tail which sticks in the water, and it ‘lifts’ the dirt off clothes and keeps it in suspension. Is that right? Why three different sodium salts though?
A: Sodium Sesquicarbonate and Sodium Carbonate (Washing soda) work together and Sodium Percarbonate is mineral bleach, so again each has its own role to play. Soap is the surfactant which lowers the surface tension and is the wetting agent.
Q: It says on your website, ‘independently tested by Teesside University’ – we are obviously trying to design our own tests at the moment. Could you tell us a bit more about what tests they did?
A: Happy to email you the info, I’ll find the original documents as it was about 5 years ago. I do remember however when I went to receive the results the chemist congratulated me on whoever developed my laundry powder as it was very balanced and effective. So I said: “It was me”.
Q: How did you decide what to put in it?
A: Trial and error and loads of research on old recipes.
Q: When you were going through the trial and error stage, how did you test the latest recipe to see if it worked? And what were your criteria for deciding if each recipe was better or worse than the last one you tried?
A: We gave samples to staff and customers and friends with a feedback sheet and we listened to the feedback.
Q: I wondered about machine maintenance. I think that ‘normal’ powder helps keep your machine clean by its abrasive action. Would Violet’s do that? And normally any traditional soap in the machine means lots of suds and lots of rinsing. Nappies need to be very well rinsed indeed and a clean machine is very important too for obvious reasons. Would we need to take any special measures or would Violet’s perform as normal powder?
A: Washing machines engineers recommend that the machine should have a service clean wash at least once a month on the hottest setting without any laundry. We recommend that nappy users do this more frequently than once a month.
This has been a really fascinating chat and we’d like to thank Judith for her time, especially as we ended up going past the hour! Thanks to everyone who attended, we had some really great questions!