Do you know what’s really in that bottle of laundry detergent? You might be surprised. Lurking below that vibrant label promising squeaky clean clothes is often a mix of hazardous chemicals – some linked to cancer, others that build up in the environment.
Is Laundry Detergent Toxic? Well, we use laundry detergent regularly, assuming it’s safe. But many popular brands contain concerning ingredients that impact our health. The good news is, with a little extra awareness reading labels, we can choose greener options free of toxins.
This eye-opening guide will uncover the truth about 13 chemicals commonly found in laundry detergents you’ll want to avoid.
We’ll also bust “greenwashing” marketing claims, provide label-reading tips, and summarize key takeaways—so you can make informed choices to wash clothes without harming your health.
The Truth About Your Laundry Detergent
When you pour detergent into your washing machine, you’re also adding a cocktail of chemicals to your clothes. These chemicals are not just any; they cause irritation, allergies, and even cancer. Most detergents have ingredients that can harm your skin and cause allergies.
The list reads like a science experiment. And it’s not just about the immediate effects. Many of these substances build up in our environment, harming wildlife and ecosystems. Knowing what’s in these bottles helps you choose wisely for a healthier home and cleaner world.
13 Toxic Ingredients Commonly Found in Laundry Detergents
When picking laundry detergents for safer and greener household practices, think about the ingredients. These ingredients have been linked to health and environmental concerns.
Prolonged exposure to phosphates can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis. They can contribute to hardening of the arteries and other cardiovascular problems over time. Phosphates also draw calcium out of bones, increasing the risk of osteoporosis and fractures. Some studies have found connections between high phosphate levels and increased mortality. Phosphates are added to detergents as water softeners but have these potential long-term health effects with regular use.
Many laundry detergents contain formaldehyde, which is used to preserve biological samples. As a known carcinogen, finding it in everyday products is concerning. Small amounts in detergents can trigger skin reactions like dermatitis and respiratory issues, and it remains on our clothes, potentially affecting our skin. For your health and the environment’s sake, it’s wise to check labels for formaldehyde or related chemicals like DMDM hydantoin, diazolidinyl urea, and quaternium-15. Avoiding these can help you dodge potential health risks.
3. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate & Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLS/SLES)
Many laundry detergents use SLS and SLES to create suds and clean clothes. These ingredients can remove natural oils from the skin, causing dryness, rashes, and irritation, especially for people with sensitive skin. The residues left on clothes after washing can still irritate sensitive skin when worn. SLS and SLES can cause skin reactions if you have allergies or sensitive skin. These ingredients should be avoided in laundry detergents because they are toxic.
4. Chlorine Bleach
Chlorine bleach, common in many detergents, has its drawbacks despite its strong cleaning power. It can irritate your skin, eyes, and lungs, sometimes leading to serious issues like skin burns or respiratory problems. Plus, it’s harmful to marine life, contributing to water pollution. Choosing detergents without chlorine bleach is a wise choice for a healthier lifestyle and a cleaner environment.
5. Dioxane (1,4 Dioxane)
Dioxane, often lurking in laundry detergents, is a hidden hazard. It’s a carcinogen that doesn’t just stop at causing skin irritation; it can affect your liver, kidneys, and even your central nervous system. Since it’s not always listed on labels, being cautious about your detergent choice is key. Choose products with natural ingredients to limit your contact with harmful chemicals.
6. Optical Brighteners/UV Brighteners
These chemicals might make your clothes look whiter, but they don’t actually clean better. They can irritate your skin, eyes, and lungs, and are a nightmare for aquatic life. When doing your laundry, remember that truly clean clothes don’t need to be coated in chemical brighteners.
7. Fragrance (Unspecified/Parfum)
The scent in your detergent might smell nice, but it often comes with a cocktail of undisclosed chemicals. These can lead to allergies and are sometimes even carcinogenic. For the sake of your health, especially if you have sensitive skin or allergies, opt for fragrance-free or naturally scented detergents.
The vibrant colors in detergents are more about appeal than effectiveness. Sadly, these dyes can trigger skin allergies and, in some cases, are linked to more serious health issues. They don’t contribute to cleaning but can leave unwanted chemicals on your clothes and skin. When shopping, look for dye-free options to keep things simple and safe.
9. Nonylphenol Ethoxylates (NPEs)
NPEs in your detergent can do more harm than good. They’re tough on marine life and can be harmful to your health, especially affecting your reproductive system. Since they’re not biodegradable, they linger in the environment long after your laundry’s done. Choosing products without NPEs is not just good for you but also for our planet.
10. Synthetic Nonylphenol Ethoxylates
These are similar to NPEs and just as concerning. They irritate your skin, eyes, and lungs and pose a significant risk to aquatic ecosystems. To protect your health and the environment, avoid detergents with synthetic compounds.
Phthalates are often found in scented products and can harm your hormones and reproductive health. These chemicals can be absorbed through the skin from your clothes, making them a hidden danger in scented detergents. To play it safe, choose fragrance-free or naturally-scented laundry products.
12. Ammonium Sulfate
Ammonium sulfate is a strong chemical that boosts cleaning power but can harm you if inhaled or touched. It’s so potent that it’s often advised not to be used indoors. For a safer laundry experience, avoid products with this ingredient.
This preservative can cause allergic reactions and skin irritation. Many household products contain this ingredient. It’s not just in laundry detergents. If you have sensitive skin or allergies, check labels carefully.
Beyond Our Health: Environmental Impact of Toxic Detergents
Many laundry detergents have harmful ingredients that harm both people and the environment. Chemicals such as SLS, phosphates, and synthetic brighteners are washed down drains. Those drains lead to lakes, rivers, and other water sources.
Once there, these detergent chemicals can spur excessive algae growth that chokes out plants and aquatic life. Some ingredients are toxic to fish and other organisms. Exposure to pollutants can harm aquatic ecosystems and reduce biodiversity and water quality.
We must consider both human health effects and the broader ecological consequences of using toxic detergents. Being mindful of both will allow us to make better, more informed choices for our families and the planet.
“Greenwashing” in Laundry Detergents: How to Spot Truly Non-Toxic Products
Nowadays, lots of laundry detergents claim to be “green” and “eco-friendly” with fancy words and nature-inspired packaging. However, many products marketed this way still have harmful chemicals and ingredients mentioned in this article.
This deceptive tactic is known as “greenwashing” – making a product seem gentler and safer than it really is. Regarding detergents, company claims of being “natural” or “plant-based” don’t necessarily mean non-toxic. Scrutinize ingredient lists, not just front labels. Opt for third-party certified eco-labels like EWG Verified when available. By being more aware, we can see past greenwashing and make informed choices for our homes.
Decoding Detergent Labels: A Guide to Going Toxin-Free
Laundry detergent labels can be confusing due to misleading marketing and weak regulations. It’s difficult to avoid harmful ingredients.
Here are some useful tips to help you examine tricky claims and buzzwords while shopping.
- Scrutinize the ingredients list, not just claims on the front of the bottle.
- Watch out for vague terms like “natural” or “plant-based” – these are unregulated.
- Avoid products containing toxic chemicals flagged in this article.
- Look for third-party certifications like EWG Verified that set health standards.
- Be aware of meaningless greenwashing symbols like leaves.
- Check Consumer Reports and EWG for safety ratings of brands.
- Know that terms like “organic” and “non-toxic” lack regulation for detergents.
- Choose fragrance-free options when possible.
- Contact manufacturers for full ingredient lists if needed.
- Report dubious marketing to EPA’s Safer Choice program.
To choose safer detergents, follow these tips to see through the spin and feel confident.
Wash Smarter, Live Cleaner
As we’ve seen, many popular laundry detergents contain a chemical cocktail of ingredients that can harm our health and the environment. By being aware of hazardous compounds like SLS, formaldehyde, phthalates, and more, we can make informed choices about the products we use in our homes.
Scrutinize labels, look for third-party certifications, and avoid greenwashing claims. There are safer, non-toxic alternatives out there. With a little extra care reading the fine print, we can feel confident our laundry routines are not only getting clothes clean but also keeping our families and the planet healthier.