First up: laundry soap! Making your own laundry detergent is a great way to eliminate some of the harsher chemicals found in commercial detergent, and it's especially nice if you find the scents of those detergents bothersome. You can find the recipe for powdered detergent here, or if you'd rather try a liquid recipe, there are zillions of them out there- just run a web search. With the powdered detergent, I've used everything from Fels Naptha to Ivory to a frilly lavender scented soap... each worked great, so don't worry if you can't find the Fels Naptha.
While we're on the subject of laundry... did you know that commercial dryer sheets and fabric softeners eliminate static by coating fabrics in a layer of chemical residue? Gross! Instead of resorting to such gnarly stuff, you can add a half cup of white vinegar to the softener dispenser in your machine- it acts as a natural softening agent, and can also help to remove stubborn odors. A few dryer balls in your dryer can help with static reduction- you can make your own out of wool yarn (check out the tutorial I did for my friends at City to Farm, found here), you can purchase wool dryer balls on Etsy, or you can buy the plastic variety just about anywhere you find laundry detergent. Taking your clothes out of the dryer before they're completely bone dry will help with static as well, as it occurs when dry fabrics rub against one another.
If you really like the scent of commercial detergent, you can still make your laundry smell purty by using essential oils. Dry your clothes as you normally would, and when they're finished, toss in a piece of fabric with a few drops of your favorite essential oil on it. Run the dryer on the "fluff" setting (the one without heat) for about 5-10 minutes, and voila! Your stuff will smell awesome without having to use the nasty stuff.
Speaking of nasty stuff... I don't think it's really any secret that chlorine bleach is pretty harsh stuff- it smells hideous, it can burn skin and eyes, and if you spill it on your clothes or your carpeting you're pretty much doomed. Did you know you can use hydrogen peroxide (the 3% stuff) in place of bleach in your wash routine? First test for color fastness, just as you would any other spot treatment. If all is well, spot treat any stained fabrics with peroxide, toss them in the hamper, and on laundry day run them through as usual. You can also add peroxide to your machine's bleach dispenser to help brighten your whites.
Next up will be Part 3 in this series... stay tuned!