Updated 5/2016. This is a post that was originally published in 2012. However, it is a highly viewed post so I make sure that it is always up to date.
Here are some common laundry additives and methods to disinfect/ sanitize.
Chlorine Bleach: Chlorine bleach is a common disinfectant. The downside is that straight bleach will ruin your clothes; be careful what you’re wearing when handling it. Color safe bleach doesn’t disinfect; make sure you don’t grab that by mistake. Also, not all bleaches are created equal. For disinfection, purchase a bleach that has at least 5.25% sodium hypochlorite.
Never pour bleach directly into the machine as it can ruin/weaken the fabrics it touches before diluting, use the machine’s dispensers. Please note that PUL is colorfast, so it won’t fade. However, any knit or cotton fabrics may (cloth wipes, WAHM diapers and fitteds for example can fade). Do not mix bleaches. This means don’t mix chlorine bleach with oxygen bleach or color safe bleach. Use one bleach to avoid a potentially hazardous chemical reaction.
Bleach is the second most common disinfectant after hot water and it is effective and kills just about everything. It is dangerous to inhale so proceed with caution and while it kills yeast, it doesn’t kill yeast spores (for yeast spore killing, see Grapefruit Seed Extract below)
To disinfect I recommend using warm or hot water (although cold will work) and soak for 15 minutes. (You may have read that bleach disinfection must only be done in cold water. That is not the case as it will work in any water temp. Click here for further documentation on this.) Then rinse until odor is gone. Here are the dilution ratios:Top Loader (Non-HE): Small- 1/3 cup, Medium – 1/2 cup, Large/XL- 3/4 cupTop loader (HE) Small- 1/4 cup, Medium- 1/3 cup, Large- 1/2 cupBathtub: 1/2 full- 1/2 cupBucket: 1 Tablespoon per gallon of water
Grapefruit Seed Extract: synthesized from the seeds and pulp of the grapefruit, it’s a very broad spectrum microbicide, bactericide, fungicide, antiparasitic, and anti-viral.
It is expensive, so the other options on here are far more economical for other disinfecting, but when it comes to yeast – this is the single most effective way to stop it in its tracks on your clothing and cloth diapers. You can buy it at your local health food store.
This is not a natural alternative. There are limited studies, but the existing ones point to the preservatives in GSE and not the actual GSE being the disinfectant. So I will say that this is an effective option, but not a natural one.
For more evidence of GSE as a disinfecting agent, please see: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12165191
For disinfecting: 2 teaspoons of GSE for up to a large load of laundry. This is one bottle of the GSE available on amazon. (See the RDA”s yeast experiment for effectiveness.) Wash and dry normally.
Hydrogen Peroxide: This is a liquid oxygen bleach and breaks down into water and oxygen.
Use a 3% solution (what is normally available at most drugstores)
Be aware that hydrogen peroxide can damage clothes the same way bleach can, so test for colorfastness and never pour directly on your clothes.
Use 1 cup in the bleach cup of your laundry machine for medium loads and 2 cups for large loads. Use hot water and a wash cycle that is at least 30 minutes. If you don’t have a cycle long enough you can either stop the cycle or soak in another vessel such as a bathtub (1/2 bathtub is equal to a large load). If you don’t have a bleach cup, start the machine without putting clothes in. Wait until your machine is filled with water, then add the peroxide and let the water agitate with the peroxide in it before adding clothes.
Tea Tree Oil: Tea tree oil is available in different grades, so it’s smart to educate yourself on what the grades mean when you buy and use. You want to look for a quality Australian Tea Tree oil (melaleuca).
Two major chemical components that make up tea tree oil are called 1,8 Cineole and Terpinen-4-ol and you want to look at the numbers associated with those components when selecting your tea tree oil for disinfecting.
1,8 Cineole is the compound that gives tea tree its camphor-like scent and is also found in eucalyptus oil. Cineole is a skin irritant so you want a low number for disinfecting. If a bottle says “for aromatherapy” there’s a good chance it has a high cineole percentage and will not work for disinfecting or any kind of application that will touch skin.
Terpinen-4-ol is what gives the tea tree oil its germicidal properties. It’s related to alcohol and is a good antibacterial and antiviral. You want a high number. Top quality tea tree oil for disinfecting has a maximum of 5% cineole and a 35-40% Terpenin-4-ol
**For further scientific evidence of TTO being antimicrobial. Please see this link from the Canadian National Collaborating Centre for Enivirnmental Health, established by the Government of Canada and funded through the Public Health Agency of Canada to promote and support evidence-informed public health. http://www.ncceh.ca/sites/default/files/Alternative_Antimicrobial_Agents_Aug_2014.pdf
To use: add 2 teaspoon to a large laundry load * (This can be expensive.)
For diapers, don’t put it directly on diapers. Add it to the water after the machine has filled. If you are using a frontloading machine, add the tea tree oil to some water and put that in the soap dispenser.
Kills: bacteria, mold, some viruses, (for yeast see Grapefruit Seed Extract or bleach).
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How to Sanitize, How to Disinfect, Sanitizing, Disinfecting