Laundry, Clothing and Eczema

Nothing is in closer contact with skin than the clothes your baby wears and so getting clothing and laundry right could be the single most important thing you can do for your child. Signs that what your baby is wearing are triggers for your baby’s eczema include things like full body eczema, intense itching, skin that worsens on contact with water, or a clear nappy area.

Every person’s skin is unique and what works for one individual won’t be the answer for another but personally I think it is absolutely critical that eczema babies have clothing that is comfortable and non-irritating.


A very common eczema trigger seems to be detergents. Simply changing laundry products to Non-Bio often won’t make any difference. Below is a photo of my friend’s little girl’s leg after her tights were accidentally washed in a non-bio powder.

Laundry Detergent Skin Reaction

Her clothes are normally only washed in Ecoballs

Like food sensitivities laundry is a difficult issue to try and resolve because it’s the small quantity of residue left in clothes after washing that seem to be the eczema trigger here. Frustratingly these residues can sometimes be persistent and difficult to remove, sometimes taking up to 8 washes!

Detergent Residue

“Tests done in 1995 at the Clemson University School of Textiles and Polymer Science showed that washing in regular detergent actually added a measurable amount of weight (contamination) to the clothes. Washing added 2% of the weight of the cloth in just 10 washings. The residue was equal to the full amount of detergent recommended to wash clothes. -  This effectively means, when you pour in the detergent before the wash cycle, the amount used is equal to the amount of chemical left in the clothes after 10 washes. It doesn't increase much beyond 10 washes because you reach a point where you are washing out as much as you are washing in.”

I was shocked to think that the reason well washed laundry sometimes felt stiff was actually a build-up of detergent residue in it, and to combat it like most people I was adding fabric softener - even more chemical residue into our clothing.

These chemicals (which even have a warning of irritant on their bottles) could be sitting all day in constant contact with our baby’s warm delicate skin.

As I mentioned above, these detergent residues are quite hard to remove, even after switching to another washing solution it will take many washes to rid the clothes of chemical buildup already present in the fibers. This is one reason I ended up buying new clothes for my baby. He’d have grown out of his clothes before I managed to find a way of washing them till they were safe for him.

Since I set up Itchy Baby I’ve heard and read many success stories from people who saw radical improvements in eczema after changing the way they launder clothes.

Solveeczema is the best of these by far. A story of a mum who rid her little boy of severe eczema by switching to all soap based products. I truly think this is very important reading for anyone serious about trying to rid their own baby’s eczema symptoms.

Fortunately these days it’s also more widely recognised that laundry powders can cause irritant reactions for people prone to eczema.

Laundry Solutions

Alternative Cleaning Table

Eco-balls offer one alternative way of cleaning as do soap nuts, a natural fruit that can be used in laundry (they are also used extensively in Ayurveda for problem skin conditions). Both offer a clothes washing solution leaving little to no residue behind in the fabric. They may not get clothes as brilliantly white as we’ve come to expect using modern detergents but this is a sacrifice many people are more than happy to make and once your child’s skin is settled you can try adding in mineral bleach’s to boost whitening.

Old fashioned soap flakes are especially kind to skin and clean clothes well but will still leave a residue and scum build up (especially in hard water areas). So they will take a bit more rinsing and possibly additions of washing soda crystals too.

There are also powders available in supermarkets that are made to be kinder to sensitive skins, Surecare is one such brand. If you do choose to use a detergent often 1/2 of the recommended amount of product can be just as effective at cleaning but less irritating and an extra rinse cycle is a good idea too. Bicarbonate of soda can also help to remove smells, stains and some hard water residues leaving clothes fresh and soft.

Fabric Softener

Fabric softener should be avoided. If you’re washing with something that doesn’t leave a residue in your clothes, you’ll find that your clothes are naturally soft anyway.

Other option’s are a little white vinegar in the softener compartment this can be helpful for the rinse if your using soap flakes or if you like a fragrance to your laundry then violets softener is mild and natural and developed especially for sensitive baby skin.

Testing What's Right for You

It takes more than a couple of washes to know whether a new washing solution is better than a previous one. This is because a combination of several washing product residues may be more irritating than just one.

We found also it wasn’t just the baby’s clothes that needed a safe washing solution; small children spend so much time in your arms and against your clothing that making the change for everyone will have better results. While our son’s skin was still recovering you could see his little head and face redden when he was being held by a friend whose clothing was washed in regular powders.

Clothes and laundry have such a big impact on eczema that I can’t stress enough how important it is to get right. Like most things with eczema what is fine for one person won’t be fine for another; so again it’s a bit of careful trial and error. Clothing sits so close to the skin that it really is worth the effort to make sure it’s as safe as possible for your child.  

I knew my little boy was having a problem with fabrics but I really struggled in making things safe for him to wear, even after an hour in something not right for him, the little red spots that signal the start of a break out would appear on his skin. 

When Josh’s skin was at his worst as a small infant I resorted to buying new organic vests and sleepsuits which at first I hand washed in Dr Bonners soap.

Healthy infantile eczema skin

As time went on I realised that amongst Josh’s triggers he has is a very extreme contact reaction to all detergents. Up until 2 he only wore organic clothing hand washed in organic soap during this time our home was also detergent free as the smallest trace was enough to trigger the frantic itching. As you can see from the picture as long as we stayed detergent free his skin looked amazing! People were surprised if I mentioned he suffered from Eczema.

Fabric Choice

Cotton, bamboo and silk are all natural fabrics and allow the skin to breathe; meaning that these fabrics are generally best for sensitive baby skin. Organic certified products are also free from reaction causing chemicals such as formaldehyde. Organic fabrics are much softer and more breathable than regular cotton products making them a superior choice for delicate baby skin. Check clothing for tags and labels that may rub and itch.

One Final Tip!

Something I found helpful while my boy’s skin was at its worst was emolliating his clothing!  I’d use a blob of water-based emollient in warm water in the sink to rinse vests in (using it like a fabric softener). Once his vests were dry I’d smear lots of emollient on the fabric on the inside of his vests, then let this dry again before putting the vest on him. This drastically improved the condition of the skin there and helped it heal.

Next: Dietary Causes