I’ve decided to write a separate commentary on the subject of laundry because I have come to feel that this issue is often overlooked and misunderstood in the treatment of eczema–especially, when those who are frequently found doing the laundry are not the ones who suffer from eczema.
Over the years, I have found that the laundry process required for successful treatment/maintenance of eczema is a meticulous and time consuming business for those with eczema, and a source of confusion and frustration for those without it. Even my wife–who has done everything in her power to help and support me in my struggles with eczema–has difficulty fully wrapping her head around the need for an extremely meticulous laundering process.
I believe that part of this frustration and lack of understanding stems from the average individual’s lack of sensory sensitivity to detergent additives and the residues they leave behind in the fabrics they are intended to wash. As well as a lack of sensitivity to fragrances in products like shampoos, soaps, lotions, etc., in general.
Laundry detergents are rather caustic solutions. They are intended to break down dirt and grease, remove tough stains and accumulated dyes that do not belong in the fabric as it was manufactured. This requires some harsh chemicals that the human body is not always readily able to cope with in healthy individuals, let alone overly sensitive eczema sufferers.
A few laundry detergent companies have released “hypo-allergenic”, dye and fragrance-fee detergents for sensitive skin. Sun Products Corporation have been producing “All Free Clear” laundry detergent for at least two decades, now. This has been the only detergent I have been able to use with any success. Tide, Cheer, Dove, Arm & Hammer, and several others have products aimed toward people with sensitive skin, and Dreft has been recommended for babies for as long as I can remember. But, not all “hypo-allergenic” detergents are created equal, nor are they all suitable for every individual with eczema. I have tried all of these other products, and I have found that the “All Free Clear” detergent is the most suitable for me.
But, is using a laundry detergent labelled “hypo-allergenic”, “fragrance-free”, or “for sensitive skin”, enough?
No, it isn’t.
All laundry detergents leave residues behind in the fabric, and a single cycle in the washing machine is often far too little to ensure everything is gone–especially if if the detergent has a fragrance and/or a fabric softener (which are both extremely bad things for eczema sufferers).
My recommendation–I believe I was told something similar by a dermatologist, about thirty years ago–is the following:
- Use ONLY fragrance-free, dye-free, hypo-allergenic detergent
- Wash smaller loads of laundry
- Use more than adequate water levels
- Use the warmest possible water for the fabric being washed
- Use slightly less detergent than stated on the label
- After each spin cycle, remove, fluff, and return the “expanded” clothing to the washer
- Run a full cycle with no detergent *after* washing to fully rinse; 1 cup of white vinegar may be added to this rinse cycle to help release detergent residue.
- Regularly scrub the washing machine to clean out dirt and grime build-up on the inner tub, agitator, and under the tub collar.
I also recommend that an entire family follow these same steps while an eczema sufferer is in the house, as simply doing separate laundry loads–i.e., using “regular” detergent for the rest of the family–can be a hidden source of triggers for the eczema sufferer.
Sometimes, it may be impossible to find appropriate laundry detergents. Travelling, especially, is one these times. While staying with family in the Philippines, I have an extreme amount of difficulty with detergents, and the “All Free Clear” bottle that I send ahead usually doesn’t seem to last long enough for the trip (Murphy’s Law?). For times like this, I have found that locating the least fragrant, white (dye-free), detergent that can be found is the best option, along with running several more rinses to ensure that as much of the detergent as possible has been removed from the clothing. Air drying outdoors in the sun, with a breeze, can also help a bit, but don’t rely on it. It’s not a perfect solution, but it can be better than nothing.
Even the smallest amount of residue–especially, fragrances and fabric softeners–can cause eczema to flare.
Simply touching someone’s clothing that has been washed in a “fragrant rich” detergent can be enough for my own eczema to flare.
Sleeping on bed sheets that have any fragrance or fabric softener left in them will worsen my eczema.
Even being in the same room with the fragrance of strongly-perfumed laundry detergent in the air is enough to trigger my eczema (and my allergy-induced asthma).
What might seem a bit obsessive–or, even, completely “over-the-top”–to the average individual, can be a potential life saver to an eczema patient. And, just because the average person “doesn’t notice” the presence of a fragrance in the air, doesn’t mean it isn’t sufficient to cause harm to a sensitive individual.
For families with an eczema sufferer, it is often best for the entire family to follow daily procedures that prevent the exacerbation of eczema. Anyone using harsh and fragrant products in the house–detergents, shampoos, soaps, colognes, body sprays, lotions, household cleansers, etc.–may be contributing to the flare-ups. While it may be inconvenient, frustrating, and even the source of some resentment for a family, it could mean the difference between an existence of complete misery or one of reasonable comfort to an eczema sufferer.