Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Detergent-free products I use at home

I am frequently asked by other parents of children with eczema which detergent-free products we are using for everything, so here's the breakdown. You might be surprised to discover that all of these products you use in your home normally contain sodium laurel sulfate - a major skin and tissue irritant- or another form of detergent in them when purchased off the shelf from a regular store. I had no idea detergent went beyond my laundry and dish products before I started this journey, but we've really had to search beyond our local stores for detergent-free alternatives for all of these common household products.  It is important for us to be fully detergent-free, because even retaining one favorite product such as commercial hair gel would result in a continual source of 'detergent dust' created by flaking hair and scalp cells, which then causes the eczema.  (Kids with this "allergy" really are that sensitive!)

By the way, I am not affiliated with and of the manufacturers or companies that sell these products, and I don't get anything from 'advertising' for them. These are just my personal favorite products - the ones I actually use at home for maintaining Sam's skin.  My entire family uses these products, because Sam's skin is that sensitive and its not worth the risk to have even trace detergents if we can help it. I am providing the links through which I usually buy for your ease. But feel free to shop around for the best prices. You might even find some of these locally if you have a Whole Foods or other health food store in your town. 

Laundry  - Cal Ben Seafoam

Hand Dish Washing -   Dr. Bronner's Baby Mild Liquid Castile Soap  in a dish wand  or just vinegar/water or water/baking soda.

Automatic Dishwasher  -  I have used and recommend Cal Ben Destain if you like pre-made. However, after running out I now use this homemade borax-free dish soap recipe just because its simple and inexpensive and I don't need to order online. The recipe calls for a liquid soap and I use Dr. Bronner's for that.

Shampoo  - Cal Ben Five Star Shampoo.   I hate to say, nothing quite compares to detergent-based shampoo and conditioner. This is something I did bc I knew the detergent dust from my hair was inflaming my baby's face. I was never 100% happy with the results of soap-based hair products but I made this switch for my child.   There will be a time you may be able to go back to a very mild detergent shampoo, when your child is older and the eczema is healed, usually with age they become less susceptible.

For Hands and Body  -  Sappo Hill Natural Unscented bars   (also search on Amazon)
( I looooove this soap so much! I just purchased 25 additional bars after going through the first 10 my sister-in-law bought me and I was as giddy as a kid at Christmas when they arrived. We use them on hands, body, face, they are amazing.)  (Note added 2016: STILL using this soap. For 3 years I used it on Sam almost daily.  Its my favorite.)

Apple cider vinegar diluted with water in a spray bottle, spray on after shampoo, leaves hair silky soft when dry!

Aquaphor Ointment has worked the best for Sam while he's been healing.  We've tried so many other lotions and moisturizers, and this truly works best as a barrier cream  (applying creamy or oily lotions everyday to dry skinwill backfire and just cause more dryness).  If you suspect your little one's eczema may be infected, adding a small amount (start w/ just 1/2 tsp)  of Bragg's Apple Cider Vinegar to a small container of Aquaphor and mix. Apply this on your child after each bath.  (My local grocery store carries this)

I honestly don't use any lotions right now. My skin used to be so, so, so severely dry that I would never have believed I could go even two days without moisturizer. I always hated how dry my skin felt coming out of a bath.   After ditching detergent products and switching to true soap, I find my skin is so 'normal' feeling I don't need any moisturizer at all. I know this is contrary to what you've always heard- that soap is drying. Usually a soap is dry because it either contains detergents (and therefore is not really and truly soap) or has been over-saponified. Traditional soap has chemical properties that are so very similar to that of our human skin barrier, unlike synthetic detergent molecules which are a different shape and protrude from the barrier causing permeability and moisture loss.  Just keep in mind that humans used true soaps for thousands of years without the widespread skin problems and eczema we see today. Detergents were only introduced in the 1950's- and that same decade is also where history records the first significant jump in cases of eczema. 

For Cleaning
I keep two spray bottles handy. One has a TBS of  Dr. Bronner's Baby Mild Liquid Castile Soap mixed with a full spray bottle of water,  the other one has water with a little bit of vinegar.  I probably don't need both but after I clean a surface with soap I like to follow with the vinegar to prevent and slick soap scum build-up.  For tough stains and soils, try baking soda and water on a spot, let it sit, then scrub. The amazon link is an expensive price, I have found this at my local grocery much cheaper. 

Crystal or Salt Stone Deodorant is as natural as it gets and is good if you are not going to be very active. I'll be the first to admit though, it isn't the most effective if you're moving around and breaking a sweat.   I haven't found my favorite yet but if you go to Skin Deep Cosmetic Database and search "deodorants", any of those with a 0 to 1 rating should be safe options to try. 

Hair Gel
Right now Adam uses 98% pure Aloe Vera Gel. Really anything natural and gel like will work. You can also search 'hair gel alternatives' on the web and turn up some fun recipes. You could also search the Skin Deep Cosmetic Database for hair gel and again, look for a 0 to 1 product rating.

Dr. Bronner's Baby Mild Liquid Soap
When we first started I was using a bottle of Dr. Bronner's Baby Mild Liquid Castile Soap for almost everything, but since Sam really didn't make much visual improvements in the beginning, I wasn't sure if it was the right product for us and quickly moved onto other products. However now that his skin is clear I've tried the Dr. B's again with no reaction so I am sure this is a good product to use for many aspects of going detergent-free. It's also probably one of the most readily available and economical options, they carry it at most of the stores here locally. I've even heard of people brushing their teeth with it!  I recently read a review from a users   who used it as a laundry soap, just a little squirt with a 1/4 cup washing soda.  It can also be used for cleaning, as shampoo, body wash, hand soap, floors, and probably a lot of other things I'm not thinking of. 

Save Money: Make Your Own Detergent-Free Products
I love all the products listed above that we've used, but most of them I've had to order online and pay for shipping, and now that I'm starting to run out of some things I may try to make my own detergent free products. I've found quite a few recipes online that look easy and would probably save a lot of money. If you need to pinch pennies and are feeling ambitious, try an online search for "all natural personal products" or  "all natural cleaning products".  

*The last product remaining in our home that I haven't switched out yet is my make-up. Cosmetics do contain detergents as well (which is likely one reasons many older women get facial and eyelid dermatitis... I'm just guessing).  Luckily I wear so very little so I've compromised to wear it just when going out and keep my face washed in the house.  Detergent-free cosmetics are out there but the ones I have seen are ex-pen-sive!


  1. Does the conditioner work for you too? My hair gets so tangled and i just can't believe this would work....but I'm willing to try. For my kids it would be great.

    1. Unfortunatley I have yet to find another alternative for detergent-free conditioner, so I do use the apple cider vinegar spray and it works great for me. Our water is on the harder side, so immediately after using a soap-based shampoo my hair feels pretty scummy. I follow up with a very liberal application of the ACV spray (about 3/4 parts vinegar, 1/4 part water)which dissolves any soap build up and leaves my hair silky soft. It blow dries nicely too.

    2. I've been using coconut oil for conditioning my hair - just a little goes a long way. I wash it with baking soda, rinse, then use cider vinegar, and apply the coconut oil after getting out. Works well with our hard water. And when I have gone back to regular shampoo and conditioner it made my hair feel worse.


  2. hi i come from hong kong, my daughter suffers from serious allergy problem. and i love your blog! may i know which product can replace the laundry detergent from Oprah's list? thanks a lot!

    1. I like Cal Ben detergent (ordered online through Cal Ben products) or lately I have had success with the ECOS brand available in stores.

  3. Hello
    Im in the UK and reall struggling for natural products that I haven't made myself using recipes found on here and other sites.
    Im looking for an alternative fabric softner, laundry soap detergent (sls free), dishing washing liquad. Im more or less happy to continue exploring natural recipes in spray bottles etc. But, hubby is moaning about the clothes not being clean enough (i add bicarb soda, vinegar in addition to soapflakes etc). He's starting to sneak cleaning products back in such as flash! And I don't want that for our so as detergent free I feel is working.
    Any help/advice appreciated :-)

    1. A water softener can help the soap products clean better. Detergents were invented in part to circumvent the problem of soap scum in the presence of hard water. Soaps do not clean as well in hard water. That said, if you can't afford a softener (as is the case with me, still!) you may have to weight out your gains vs drawbacks. My water is moderately hard. To be honest, my clothes are still not as clean as they were when we used detergent. My hair doesn't behave the same as when I used detergent based shampoo and conditioner. Those are things I'm willing to deal with because I'd rather have these inconveniences than my son suffering. Its a trade off for me. But if I had a softener, probably would not even be a problem!

  4. What do you use on your child for sunscreen?

    Also, with make-up, I've emailed/called 100% Pure multiple time and also ran it by AJ at solve and it appears to be detergent free!! I'm wanting to try their conditioner as well. I'm about to place an order and will give you and AJ an update.

    1. Hi Mandy,
      I'm curious...did you find the products you ordered worked without causing irritation to your little one? If so, which products are you using? Thanks in advance as we are starting the process of keeping a detergent-free home for our baby boy with eczema!

  5. Hi there, has anyone been able to view the forum CJ mentions "Solve Eczema User's Forum I started with some friends :
    Detergent Free Household Cleaner Recipes
    Detergent Free Personal Care Product Recipes"

    For some reason, it says I can't register to view the forum! Help!! :)

    1. Hi Amanda. I'm so sorry... I have been MIA for awhile. The forum is no longer active. I apologize. There is a ton of great information on the solve website though! Good luck. Please let me know if I can help you further.

  6. Hi - thanks for sharing your experience. I have a 4.5 year old niece who's going through it right now and it's s heartbreaking to see her go through the discomfort. I wanted to check what made you focus on detergents as an irritant -- did you do any tests or something else pointed you to focus on this? Thank you.

    1. Just intuition really. Gut instinct. We had already jumped through all the typical hoops with our pediatrician and allergist. We did steroids, skin prick tests, blood allergy tests, food trials. There isn't a test to test detergent sensitivity. But detergents are drying across all skin types, and some people have more sensitive skin. It was one large piece of the entire puzzle for us. My opinion (I'm not scientist or doctor) is that you can't go wrong making a change like this. It can only help to cleanse the child's environment of harsh chemical products like detergents are. I did see progress relatively quickly after changing to soap in conjunction with nightly ACV baths (apple cider vinegar) which addressed fungal growth on top of the eczema at the same time.

  7. Hi! I just found your blog through the Solve Eczema blog. I am currently trying to figure out this switch from detergent to soap - we have hard water and a complete home water softening system is pretty darn expensive, especially for something we are not sure is causing the problem. Sure, if we had a crystal ball and could know for sure that switching to all pure soap, being helped immensely by soft water, would work - we'd find a way, but we are still in the detective work (guessing game) part of the job. You mentioned having slightly hard water. Do you find this to be a big problem? Any tips you might have for me would be appreciated beyond words. We have "hard" water - not very hard or moderately hard (as we were told by our Culligan water softening rep). Thanks so much in advance!!

    1. Hi. I think we started our switch with moderately hard water as well. I could never afford a water softener. I think it might have helped... I can't say now. I will say that even now, we have been using soap products for 3 years and while this has benefitted ALL of our skin immensely, there are drawbacks because of water 'hardness'. I get mold way more easily in my drains and on the shower walls. My whites never stay white in the laundry very long. My husband doesn't think our clothes get quite as clean using the soap based detergent. If we had a softener, no question soaps clean better in soft water. But with harder water, it may take longer to notice a change in the skin and yes you will have some drawbacks. I still think it can be done, it may take longer, and you have to weigh weather the drawbacks are worth it. For me.... having to clean mold more frequently and yellowing whites... I didn't care. My son was suffering and I just wanted I'm well. One day when we can afford it, I will for sure invest in a softener. It will make all this easier! Do it if you can.

  8. Hi! Thank you so much for this blog - I just discovered through the Solve Eczema blog. I have to say I have hit a major road block in my attempted switch from detergents to soaps - HARD WATER! Ahhh! We were told by a Culligan rep that we have hard water (not very hard and not moderately hard, just right there in between). Of course, an entire water softening system for our house is pretty darn expensive. If I had a crystal ball and could know, undoubtably, that this would be the golden key to solving my daughter's eczema I would find a way; however, we are still in the detective work stage. You mentioned having slightly hard water. If you have any tips for me to help get around this road block, I would be so grateful! Thanks so much!!


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