Sunlight & Oxygen: The Greenie’s Secret Laundry Weapons Part 1

At some point in your journey to reduce your impact on the environment, you should start to question the amount of chemicals you use in the laundry. Eliminating these chemicals from your life and keeping your clothes bright and stain-free may seem impossible. But I can reassure you that the Greenie has a couple of secret weapons in the arsenal to reduce laundry stains. These are Sunlight and “Oxygen”.

In Part 2 I will reveal how “oxygen” can be used to clean, but in this post I’m going to discuss the stain-fighting powers of sunlight.

Sunlight

Before I became a mother, I only had occasional issues with laundry stains. But since then dealing with them has become a significant part of my day-to-day life (how exciting!). At first I did a lot of muddling along with a lot of frustration and ruined clothes, but thankfully I’ve found a simple solution to two of the most common stains I have to deal with: food stains and baby poo stains (who knew baby poo causes stains?). And that solution is free, abundant and using it has no impact on climate change or our environment. It is sunlight.

Food Stains

My daughter utterly rejected bibs and made it extremely difficult to get one on and keep it on. Eventually I decided to dispense with them, even though it was painful watching the food being smeared all over the front and on the cuffs of her shirts.

One day I decided to get proactive and try to deal with the stains before hanging the clothes out to dry. I took an outfit that came out of the washing machine with the food stains intact and proceeded with soaking it, first in an environmentally-friendly solution and then in Napisan. When neither worked I tried Sard Soap and then a couple of stain treatments. When these didn’t work I gave up in disgust and hung the outfit out on the line. To my complete amazement, when I went to bring in washing the stains on the outfit were completely gone!

That is how I learned about the amazing power of sunlight to remove food stains. Being quite lackadaisical with cleaning I probably had not noticed how many stains had disappeared before I even knew they had been there. During winter, I probably noticed more of them appearing because I was drying clothes indoors more often. Now I know how important it is to get stained clothes exposed to light. It surprises me that this doesn’t seem to be general knowledge – no one has ever mentioned this to me, nor did I ever come across it on the internet while googling “food stains”. I had to discover it myself. Is it so commonly known that no one bothered to mention it because they assume everyone knows? Am I the last to figure it out?? Oh well, I’m writing this post anyway, just in case YOU are the last to know.

Since then I have confirmed the usefulness of sunlight for removing food stains over and over again. Any yellowy-orange food stain, from tomato sauces, gravies, curries and stir-fries will come out simply by hanging the article in the sun. If the stain isn’t gone by the end of the day, another day or two in the sun will complete the job. Sunlight will work on coloured items as well as whites but more care needs to be taken to avoid fading. Luckily the stain fades faster than the fabric dye. Sunlight does purportedly damage fabric fibres, but so will using bleach.

Below is an example of how I used sunlight on some complex food stains on my daughter’s dress. The sunlight easily dealt with the orange food stains. It didn’t succeed with removing the stains from ground-in cocoa from a babycino. That’s okay, however, as I’ll demonstrate how these stains were removed in Part 2.

Food Before
Food stains before sunlight
Food After 1
Food stains after sunlight: sunlight has removed orange stains (but not ground in cocoa stains)

Baby Poo Stains

Sunlight also works on baby poo stains. One important piece of advice I retained on the cleaning of modern cloth nappies (MCNs): if it isn’t smelly, a baby poo stain does not indicate the nappy is unclean. Only a smelly nappy indicates that the nappy needs to be washed more. A baby poo stain, like a food stain, can be dealt with by hanging the nappy (or outfit for the poo leakages) out in the sun for a day or two. Make sure that the side of the fabric exposed to the stain is the side facing the sun i.e. if it’s a poo leakage then put the clothing out inside-out. If the sight of the stain on a nappy doesn’t bother you, you can choose to leave it there.

Soaking nappies in powerful cleaning agents to get perfectly white nappies is definitely not required, and just leads to more undesirable chemical residues against your baby’s skin, as well as being harmful to the environment.

Poo Before
Poo stain on MCN
Poo After
MCN after drying in sun

Other Stains

I haven’t tried the sunlight treatment on many other stains, but it is possible that sunlight may work on grass, red wine and blood stains too. I’ll update this blog if I ever confirm whether that’s the case.

However, sunlight will not work on ground-in dirt, natural greasy stains, or banana stains. Neither will it work on paint or dyes.

  • If there is grease remaining in the fabric, then you need to apply a lot of soap to it to remove (I believe that letting it sit with absorbent powder on it first, like cornstarch, can help).
  • Banana needs to be removed manually before wetting and washing, or the banana embedded in fabric turns black (allowing the banana to dry and then scraping off is the easiest way that I’ve discovered to remove it, but absolutely ALL the banana needs to be removed for this to work).
  • Blood needs to be washed out with soap before general washing and drying. After scrubbing out the blood, leaving the stain to sit wet and soapy overnight is usually required for bad blood stains. I would try this before using sunlight on any residual stain.

Sunlight might not work on everything, but it works on a significant number of stains. By making sunlight the first weapon you use to attack stains, we will be reducing the amount of soaking and stain-removal agents used, thereby reducing resources used and pollutants down our drains. When it comes to food and poo stains, I always wait till the item has dried in the sun before deciding whether it’s necessary to do anything else.

Luckily the other Greenie’s Secret Laundry Weapon is more versatile and effective than sunlight, as it will perform on any stain of organic origin, including oil stains. I’ll be revealing the secret to “oxygen’s” cleaning powers in Part 2.

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