What’s in there? Commercial laundry products are a chemical cocktail of harm to people, pets, and the environment. Following is a list of the most common harmful chemicals in laundry detergent products.

  • Sodium Lauryl Sulfate & Sodium Laureth Sulfate/ Sodium Lauryl Ether Sulfate (SLS/ SLES). A main ingredient in, and most common chemical in laundry detergents as well as dish liquid, hand wash, and shampoo, SLS and SLES are surfactants intended to remove soil and as a foaming agent—they were originally developed as garage floor degreaser. Unfortunately, they also inflame skin, eyes, and lungs, and damage internal organs. SLS/ SLES is toxic in the environment as well. SLS is so irritating, in fact, that researchers frequently use it to induce acute skin and eye irritation, so they can measure other substances, such as healing agents.
  • Phosphates. Phosphate exposure is linked to cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and death from all causes in a general, healthy population. Banning phosphates in detergents is a crucial step in saving natural waterways from eutrophication—mineral poisoning that causes high die-off of native marine animal species.
  • Formaldehyde. Yes, the toxic chemical used to preserve dead bodies is in many laundry products and dish detergents. Exposure, even at low levels, from breathing or smelling formaldehyde increases your risk of cancer according to the CDC. It has also caused spots of dying tissue with regular exposure (necrosis), and an immune response consistent with parasitic infection, an allergic reaction, or cancer. The EPA calls it a class B1 probable carcinogen (cancer-causing substance) and says it causes acute toxicity when in contact with skin.
  • Chlorine Bleach. It’s not surprising that bleach is a skin and lung irritant, but most people do not know either how common it is in laundry products or exactly how harmful it can be, not to mention, many people add at least an additional cup to every load of whites. The material data safety sheet from a major bleach manufacturer tells us exactly how dangerous this substance is.

    CHLORINE BLEACH IS DANGEROUS? Chlorine bleach causes: severe caustic burns to skin and eyes, blindness, pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs that restricts breathing), respiratory failure, and more; use of personal protection equipment is required when using bleach, including a chemical resistant apron, chemical resistant gloves, safety goggles to protect eyes from fumes, and even air respirators!

    This belies their cheery ads depicting completely unprotected models happily pouring bleach in the direct vicinity of their toddlers.

  • Ammonium Sulfate. This laundry additive is so toxic, it’s manufacturers recommend not using it indoors! In addition to impermeable gloves, and eye and lung protection, the requirements for use of ammonium sulfate include never allowing the chemical or its empty containers to reach drains or waterways, and it is a category 3 oral, skin, and respiratory toxin.
  • Dioxane (1,4 Dioxane/ Diethylene Dioxide/ Diethylene Ether/ Dioxan). This laundry additive belongs as far away from your home and family as possible. Its liquid and fumes can spontaneously combust; it’s a known carcinogen (known to cause cancer since 1988); it causes skin, eye, and lung inflammation (some irreversible); it should only be used with protective gear including respirators; and once you are exposed (via inhalation, skin contact, or eye contact including fumes in your eyes), it targets the following organs: kidneys, central nervous system, liver, respiratory system, eyes, and skin.
  • Optical Brighteners/ UV Brighteners. Optical brighteners are included in laundry detergents as stain treaters; however, they do not remove stains at all. They coat clothing with a substance that reflects visible light, so you can’t see stains; they are stain-hiders. In addition, it is an eye, skin, and lung irritant; extremely toxic to aquatic life; may spontaneously combust and cannot be in the presence of static electricity—such as that from your clothes dryer; and correct use includes safely discarding any clothing that comes in contact with it!
  • Ammonium Quaternary Sanitizers (Quats/ Synthesized Cationic Surfactants). This cleaning additive, commonly known by teenage food-service workers as “quat”, is known to be corrosive, and it should not be in household cleaning products, as it causes eye, skin, and lung damage. There’s no reason to include these chemicals in laundry detergent.
  • Nonylphenol Ethoxylates (Nonoxynol, NPEs). In addition to many warnings of harm to eyes, skin, and lungs, this laundry detergent ingredient states that prolonged exposure to inhaled fumes or mist may be fatal!
  • Fragrance (Unspecified/ Parfum). Manufacturers are not required to list the ingredients of their fragrances because of a legal loophole. Adding fragrance to detergent gives a false impression of cleanliness without improving the action of the product in any way. The deception goes much further than most people think—due to generations of indoctrination by unethical marketing schemes, studies show that women in particular choose products based almost solely on fragrance even when the product is clearly demonstrated to be ineffective at cleaning. Artificial fragrances are usually to blame in cases of chemical sensitivity, allergic reactions, and rashes. Pulmonologists almost universally recommend removing the artificial fragrance from commercial products unless specifically sold as perfuming agents, as our lungs are constantly inundated with harmful, unnecessary fumes. Many are known carcinogens and endocrine disruptors.
  • Dyes. Not only do dyes add no cleaning power at all, they are another frequent culprit when unexplained allergies or rashes appear. Many are proven carcinogens and almost all are endocrine disruptors.
  • Benzyl Acetate. This additive is harmful if inhaled or spilled on skin and targets the kidneys and nervous system.
  • Dichlorobenzene (P-Dichlorobenzene/ Benzene). Benzene has an immediate, highly toxic effect on aquatic life that can continue poisoning the watershed for years to come. The fumes cause optical damage, and it is listed with a carcinogen warning for humans.

Your laundry chore is not going away, so one popular option is to look for better modern detergents—detergents with safer and greener alternatives to the dangerous toxins. Always choose a detergent with plant-based surfactants that is free of phosphates.

Since detergent manufacturers are not required to list all their ingredients, consult an organic watchdog group for a list of what is actually in there before you buy. Some also publish a list of known-good brands you can safely use for clean clothes and a clean conscience. We love the Thieves Laundry Soap- Free of sythentic and dangerous toxins. Free of dyes and fragrances. It’s safe, cleans well and  leaves your laundry smelling fresh!