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Wednesday Round Up 01/19/11

Eco-friendly fabric softener and a grated carrot, kohlrabi and radish salad recipe

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By Elizah Leigh via This Dish is Veg

As you can imagine, with all seemingly good things, there always seems to be at least one big bummer of a drawback and unfortunately, fabric softener is no different. We go through the trouble of removing the dirt from our duds in the washing machine, only to then end up saturating them in a fine layer of softening compounds…otherwise known as chemicals, emulsifiers and other curious ingredients that were cooked up in a laboratory. Here are five little facts that add up to one big reason why you might want to scratch fabric softener from your shopping list altogether.

1) If you are vegetarian, vegan, or the idea of dousing your clothing with animal-derived fat kicks your gag reflex into high gear, then you definitely want to steer clear of fabric softeners. One major ingredient found in major and minor brands of the laundry room staple is dihydrogenated tallow dimethlyl ammonium chloride – which, in layman’s terms is chemically-enhanced tallow or animal fat. This, incidentally, is the same stuff used to lubricate factory equipment and produce conventional soap and candles.

2) Another main ingredient in commercially-produced fabric softeners is fiber-lubricating silicone based fluids such as siloxane and polydimethylsiloxane. Silicon itself has natural origins – 27.7% of the earth’s crust is actually made of the element – and it has fast become a handy and integral part of our lives, particularly if you value non-stick cookware and tools, construction sealants and the larger-than-life gravity-defying physiques of many Hollywood personalities and porn stars.

However, once it is transformed into synthetic compounds known as ‘silicones’ and introduced into the human body, it compromises the immune system, often with toxic effects. Do you really want to expose your body’s largest organ (hello, head out of the gutter, please) – your skin – to a constant supply of the stuff? That’s what could happen when your fabric-softener-treated duds hug your body in all the wrong places.

3) Looking for another compelling reason why you should nix fabric softener altogether? Additional chemicals which can be found in both liquid and dryer sheet versions include various carcinogenic compounds like limonene, benzyl acetate and chloroform as well as ethanol and linalool (both of which cause nervous system ailments according to the EPA) and benzyl alcohol (which irritates the tissues of the upper respiratory tract).

4) The chemical cocktail of fabric softening ingredients found in these products is apparently so foul-smelling that manufacturers mask the off-gassing with copious amounts of pungent petrochemical-based fragrances. It is worth bearing in mind that the scent industry is notoriously under-regulated, with a shockingly small amount of the chemicals that they commonly use actually tested for safety. Furthermore, many of the potentially toxic effects of these compounds are amplified when they are heated during the drying cycle.

5) Aside from restoring the softness to fabrics, the main reason why consumers embrace their liquid or dryer sheet habit is simply to combat static cling. Interestingly, synthetic, chemical-based fabrics such as Lycra and polyester are typically prone to the dreaded cling monster, whereas natural vegetable and protein-based clothing made with such materials as flax, cotton, hemp, etc. are not. Materials of the latter variety actually become naturally softer when laundered and dried over an extensive period of time.

Is there a greener option? Of course there is, silly. Think back to what your grandparents may have done before Downy fabric softener became the apple of Procter & Gamble’s eye. They added 1 cup of white vinegar or — even better — ½ cup of naturally water-softening baking soda to the wash cycle and called it a day. Why not go the extra mile by adding equal parts of both ingredients into your load of laundry for a naturally cleansing and freshening effect with none of the chemical consequences?

Want a naturally softening mixture that you can pour into the fabric softener dispenser of your washing machine? No problem-o. Mix 1 cup of baking soda, 1 cup of white vinegar and at least 10 drops of an essential oil such as tea tree oil or lavender into 2 cups of water – preferably in a really large container because the stuff is going to bubble like a crazy grade school science experiment. Once the reaction tames down, pour the blend into a reusable container (a recycled laundry detergent bottle with a screw-on measuring cap would be ideal). When you’re ready to do your next load of laundry, just add ¼ cup and smile from ear to ear!

By Martha Rose Shulman via NY Times

This recipe is based on the Vietnamese carrot and daikon salad that found in so many restaurants. (It also is used to fill vegetarian spring rolls.) My version is less sweet than the authentic salad and employs a mix of vegetables.

1 1/2 pounds mixed carrots, kohlrabi, black radish and daikon, peeled and grated on the large holes of a grater or cut in thin julienne (any combination; 4 cups total)
Kosher salt to taste (about 1/2 teaspoon)
1 1/2 cups water
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 cup rice vinegar
2 tablespoons slivered mint leaves or chopped cilantro (optional)

1. Combine the grated or julienne vegetables in a large bowl, and toss with about 1/2 teaspoon salt. Place in a strainer or colander set over a bowl or in the sink. Let stand for about 30 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, combine the water, sugar and vinegar in a saucepan, bring to a boil and remove from the heat. Pour into the bowl in which you combined the vegetables, and allow to cool to room temperature.
3. Briefly rinse the vegetables, and squeeze dry. Add to the bowl with the vinegar mixture, and stir together. Refrigerate for one hour or longer. To serve, lift from the vinegar bath with a slotted spoon and arrange on a platter. Garnish with the mint or cilantro, and serve.

Yield: Serves six.

Advance preparation: You can keep this in the refrigerator, the vegetables marinating in the vinegar mixture, for several days.
Nutritional information per serving: 56 calories; 1 gram fat; 0 grams saturated fat; 0 milligrams cholesterol; 9 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams dietary fiber; 196 milligrams sodium (does not include salt to taste); 2 grams protein

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Laura Cooke is the editor and creator of the Veggie Bunch website and community.

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