With rates of skin cancer on the rise, people with eczema need to be prepared to self-screen for any trouble spots that flaring skin may make it hard to identify
Published On: May 26, 2017
Last Updated On: Jun 22, 2022
When my son was first diagnosed with eczema, laundry was the furthest thing from my mind. We went through countless tests, dietary changes, shopping for the best creams, sleepless nights, etc., etc.
I didn’t realize until much later that our laundry detergent, even though it was “natural,” was irritating my son’s skin. It wasn’t the trigger in his case, but it certainly wasn’t helping matters. When I removed the detergents and made some other changes to our laundry routine, I saw a lot less irritation.
Here are a few things I learned along the way.
Many laundry detergents are not pH balanced and are actually very alkaline. Also, some children and adults may be allergic or sensitive to the ingredients found in natural or conventional detergents. Together these things can really wreak havoc by triggering eczema or causing further irritation to already inflamed skin.
To find something to suit my son’s skin, I went through an array of homemade laundry soaps, vinegar rinses, and baking soda washes. Ultimately, I found that soap nuts (with a few drops of tea tree oil) and laundry balls worked best for us.
Did you know that both conventional and natural laundry detergents build up on your clothing and linens over time? In fact, it can take washing a load of laundry 10 times in just water to strip the detergent residue from it! The thought of all that residue rubbing against my son’s skin all day really worried me. So, before I started my new laundry routine, I cleaned my washing machine with a vinegar/water hot wash (along with a good manual scrub down in the basin) and washed my son’s bedding and clothing multiple times to get rid of any detergent residue.
For many people with eczema or sensitive skin, scent can be an irritant. If you do want your laundry to have a scent when it comes out of the dryer, however, and opt not to use dryer sheets or fabric softener, try adding a few drops of essential oils to an old t-shirt cut up into squares and toss one into the dryer with the wet clothes. I sometimes use lemon or lavender essential oils, which can provide a very nice, light scent, and are gentle on my son’s eczema.
For many years I washed my son’s clothing on the hottest cycle possible because the theory was that heat alone would kill dust mites, which are often an eczema trigger. This was really hard on our clothing and our hot water bills, so I was never thrilled with the idea. Luckily, recent studies have proven that water at any temperature will kill dust mites. So, you can lengthen the life of your clothing and your finances by washing with cold water instead. Also, I have experimented with cold vs hot cycles for removing balm and cream from my son’s clothing, and I can honestly say that once these skin care products get into any fabric, they are next to impossible to remove. So, again, hot water really isn’t necessary.
However, recent studies reveal that water at any temperature will kill dust mites. Also, I have experimented with cold vs. hot cycles for removing balm and cream from my son’s clothing. I can honestly say that once these skin care products get into any fabric, they are next to impossible to remove. So again, hot water really isn’t necessary.
Fabrics most recommended for eczema include cotton, bamboo, and silk. The first two are pretty durable unless the fabric is very thin and prone to tearing or ripping, but silk requires a delicate touch.
As I mentioned above, it’s best to skip the hot water to help your laundry last longer, but it’s also important to consider which wash cycles may be best for different items in your laundry basket. Follow the instructions on the clothing labels, but in general, cotton and bamboo can handle more heavy duty cycles, while silk and any very thin material should be hand washed or if washed in a machine, first placed in a mesh bag and then washed using the gentlest cycle possible. I keep a few sizes of mesh bags on hand so I always have one ready to use.
Remember that just as there is no one moisturizer or cleanser that is right for everybody with eczema, there is no single laundry regimen that works for everybody. Be willing to experiment and keep track of what you do, so when you find a regimen that works for you and your family you can replicate it.
Jennifer Roberge is a mother of two children, one of whom suffers from severe eczema. She blogs about her family’s journey with eczema, allergies and asthma at It’s An Itchy Little World.