Lurking Toxins: Laundry Detergent

During the Eclipse I was inspired to talk about some of the toxic chemicals that lurk in our everyday products. As I was walking through the state park that day, I could SMELL people coming long before I could see or hear them. Not because of body odor, but because of their choice in laundry products. Imagine having to wear a mask with a chemical filter in the middle of the woods!

Research has shown that dryer vents emit over 25 VOCs (volatile organic compounds) when scented laundry products are used, some of which are classified as hazardous air pollutants. Fragrances aren’t regulated or required by law to be disclosed due to the convenient Trade Secret loophole, and as a result many manufacturers use cheap and toxic petro-chemicals. Even products labeled “fragrance free” can have synthetic fragrances – masking scents – that trick your senses and hide chemical and organic smells.

In addition to chemical fragrances, laundry detergents typically contain hazardous ingredients, like:

  • Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS)/sodium laureth sulfate (SLES), considered a “moderate hazard” linked to cancer, neurotoxicity, organ toxicity, skin irritation and endocrine disruption.
  • Quaternium-15, releases formaldehyde, a known carcinogen.
  • Nonylphenol ethoxylate (NPE), a persistent (non-biodegradable) and known endocrine disruptor suspected of causing reproductive and breast cancer in men and women.
  • Diethanolamine is linked with skin and eye irritation and possibly liver problems.
  • Polyalkylene oxide or ethylene oxide, stabilize the formula, so it lasts longer on the shelf and you don’t have to shake it, are linked with eye and lung irritation, and dermatitis.
  • Phosphates don’t easily break down by ordinary wastewater processing, resulting in the contamination of streams, lakes and rivers, increasing algae growth which decreases the oxygen necessary for marine life.
  • Naphthotriazolystilbenes, Benzoxazolyl, Diaminostilbene disulfonate, and more are optical brighteners… additives that emit blue light, making whites appear whiter by tricking the eye. Designed to decompose slowly, they stay in clothes after washing and are linked to developmental and reproductive issues, cause skin irritation and are toxic to marine life.
  • 1,4-dioxane is a byproduct of production and so not listed on any label. It is a carcinogen linked to organ toxicity affecting your brain, central nervous system, kidneys, liver and respiratory system. Two-thirds of laundry detergents contain it.
  • The truly frightening thing about this list is that it is by no means complete, these are just the few I already knew about. The one brand of scented laundry detergent I know I can tolerate is by Attitude, a company based in Canada. I find the scents too strong for me to use personally but it doesn’t affect me when used by others. I prefer to use good old Dr. Bronners Peppermint Castile Soap. Wash with 1/8 to 1/4 cup Castile soap and add 1/2 to 1 cup Distilled White Vinegar to the final rinse or in the softener cup. It works better than the toxic big name brands (Ahem, Tide! Gain!) and won’t stink up a whole State Park.

    Want to do more?

  • Check out the Environmental Working Group to find out which products are safe and the ones to avoid.
  • Contact manufacturers, retailers and elected officials and tell them to stop putting cheap toxins in the products.
  • Don’t buy anything with “Fragrance” in the ingredients… your money will speak louder than words with manufacturers.
  • Together, with our voices and wallets, we can make the world a lot less stinky and a lot less toxic!