Concerns With Laundry Detergent

Since we are participating in a chemical free home challenge I wanted to post about my concerns with laundry detergent.

We have discussed volatile organic compounds and the findings by the NIH.  Scent plays a rather large factor in why consumers purchase a particular product. Unfortunately, laundry detergent is filled with synthetic fragrances. There are also other ingredients that are concerning.

How toxic is laundry detergent?

According to The Environmental Working Group. 36 % of laundry detergents received an F

In my last post about synthetic fragrances we spoke about the concerns for volatile organic chemicals or VOCs

The National Institute of Health states that,

Short-term exposure to various VOCs may cause:

  • Irritation of the eyes and respiratory tract
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Visual disorders
  • Memory problems

Long-term exposure to various VOCs may cause:

  • Irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of coordination
  • Dizziness
  • Damage to the liver, kidneys, and central nervous system
  • Cancer

Concerns with laundry detergent

concerns for laundry detergentFragrance

In my last post we did an in depth discussion regarding synthetic fragrance, see that post HERE


Stabilizers such as ethylene oxide prolong the shelf life of the product. They can cause  eye and lung irritation as well as skin irritation.


Bleach can irritate the skin, eyes, and lungs. It has also been shown to cause respiratory issues, liver, and kidney damage. We now know that exposure to bleach can make asthma worse in people who already have asthma. Mixing bleach with other chemicals containing ammonia, quaternary ammonium compounds, vinegar or other acids can create a toxic gas.

Cleaning agents

EWG has  a list of several surfactants that are concerning. see that list HERE

Quats (quaternary ammonium compounds) Cleaning products that contain QACs and other disinfectants are commonly used in homes, workplaces, and public spaces. Disinfectants have an important role in preventing the spread of serious infectious diseases. The use of these disinfectants is not recommended where plain detergents would be effective in removing infectious organisms. Some of these quats like  quaternium-15  are known to release formaldehyde which is a known carcinogen.


Dioxanes are formed as a by product when detergents are manufactured. 1, 4 dioxane. Unfortunately, it can penetrate through the skin (FDA 2007).

According to EWG,

” The chemical is an unwanted byproduct of an ingredient processing method called ethoxylation used to reduce the risk of skin irritation for petroleum-based ingredients. Though 1,4-dioxane can easily be removed from products before they are sold, its widespread presence in products indicates that many manufacturers fail to take this simple step.”

“The manufacturer’s can remove 1,4-dioxane by means of vacuum stripping at the end of the polymerization process without an unreasonable increase in raw material cost’ (FDA 2007), but such treatment would be voluntary on the part of industry.”

They also report,

“The U.S. National Toxicology Program has concluded that 1,4-dioxane is ‘reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen’ based on numerous animal studies (NTP 2005). IARC classifies 1,4-dioxane as ‘possibly carcinogenic to humans’ (IARC 1999), and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers 1,4-dioxane a probable human carcinogen (EPA 2003). Exposures to this impurity are linked to tumors of the liver, gallbladder, nasal cavity, lung, skin, and breast (IARC 1999; NTP 2005). Presence of 1,4-dioxane in cosmetics is of special concern, since it can be absorbed through the skin in toxic amounts.”

Phosphates & edta

The concentration of the dissolved minerals determines the level of ‘hardness’ of hard water. Some areas can have harder hard water than others. If you’re using hard water to clean, then you may notice that you often have to wash and re-wash your clothes. Hard water isn’t ideal when it comes to cleaning clothes, dishes, or your body.

Manufacturers use phosphates and EDTA to make detergents more effective in hard water. These chemicals have been associated with environmental damage.  They cause algae blooms that damage ecosystems. The EPA lists this document


essential oils for sensitive skin


Optical brighteners are synthetic chemicals added to liquid and powder. They don’t get your clothes any cleaner just brighter. Optical brighteners transform UV (ultraviolet) light waves to enhance blue light. They also minimize the amount of yellow light to make things appear whiter.

There has been allergy concerns as the the chemical remains on the fabric after washing.

There was also a small study showing reproductive concerns.

There are also environmental concerns as optical Brighteners are not biodegradable. When they enter our water system they pose a potential hazard to marine life.

You can read more about some health concerns with these compounds here.

Avoid ingredients such as Blankophor, Dikaphor, DMS, Intrawite (textile use), Kolocron, Optiblanc, Tinopal, Tuboblanc (textile use mostly), Uvitex.

DIY Laundry Detergent

If you want more DIY recipes join our community.

It’s not hard! All you need is a little washing soda, borax, and unscented bar soap like Dr. Bronner’s. Wellness Mama has a great recipe, and you can find others online as well.

laundry detergent concerns

If you don’t want to do it yourself, look for the safer options out there. The Environmental Working Group has a great laundry guide where you can find those products that scored the lowest hazard rating.

Alternative for stain remover

Pre-treat your stain with a combination of washing soda, baking soda, and water to avoid chemical laden stain removers

Alternative for brighter

A little baking soda added to the wash cycle will naturally brighten colors.

Oral consumption by children

There is also a problem with the brightly colored laundry detergent packets. Exposures to the brightly colored packets jumped 17% from 2013 to 2014.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics,

“Health care providers should counsel parents and caregivers about the dangers associated with detergent exposure and recommend safe storage and use of these products,” authors said in the study “Pediatric Exposures to Laundry and Dishwasher Detergents in the United States: 2013-2014” (Davis MG, et al. Pediatrics. April 25, 2016,


University of Washington, “Toxic Chemicals Found in Common Scented Laundry Products, Air Fresheners,” Science Daily, July 24, 2008,
Anne C. Steinemann, Lisa G. Gallagher, Amy L. Davis, Ian C. MacGregor, “Chemical emissions from residential dryer vents during use of fragranced laundry products,” Air Quality, Atmosphere & Health, 2011;
Pediatric Exposures to Laundry and Dishwasher Detergents in the United States: 2013–2014
Mallory G. DavisMarcel J. CasavantHenry A SpillerThiphalak ChounthirathGary A. Smith

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