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The Dirt on Commercial Laundry Detergent

While they may make your clothes smell as fresh as a spring morning, conventional laundry-care products often contain chemicals with negative health effects ranging from skin and throat irritation to being cancer causing.  In fact, the laundry room may be one of the most toxic areas in your home.

Researchers have found that dryer vents can emit more than 25 volatile organic compounds (VOCs) when scented laundry detergent and dryer sheets are used, including seven VOCs classified as hazardous air pollutants. This is particularly concerning when dryers don’t vent outside or are blocked, causing indoor air pollution.

Because laundry-care product manufacturers are not required to list all laundry detergent ingredients on packaging, it can be difficult for consumers to make informed choices.  The term “fragrance” alone may refer to a combination of several hundred laundry chemicals including many that are hazardous.

Laundry detergents are often derived from petrochemicals and contain synthetic fragrances, even when advertised as “fragrance-free.”  Most companies add optical brighteners to detergent formulas.  These are additives that emit blue light, making whites appear whiter by tricking the eye.  By design, optical brighteners stay in clothes after washing, which may cause skin irritation.  They also decompose relatively slowly and can be toxic to marine life.  Fabric softeners are also designed to stay in clothes and not fully rinse out, which means lingering chemicals come into contact with skin.

Unfortunately, few of the chemicals used in laundry-care products have been thoroughly tested, particularly in combination with other chemicals.  Some chemicals that have been shown to be harmful are still widely used

Check for these ingredients in your laundry products.  If they are on the label, the product should remain on the store shelf and not in your laundry room!

  • Benzaldehyde – Irritation to mouth, throat, eyes and skin
  • Ethylenediaminetetraacetic Acid – Reproductive and developmental effects in animal studies
  • Artificial fragrances – Irritation to skin and eyes – many are toxic and suspected carcinogens
  • Diethanolamine – Irritation to skin and eyes – linked to liver and kidney tumors
  • Quaternium-15 – Releases formaldehyde, a carcinogen that causes skin rashes and inflammation
  • 2-Butoxyethanol – Birth defects, reproductive and developmental effects in animal studies
  • Chlorine – Potent irritant to eyes, upper respiratory tract and lungs
  • Perchlorethylene (Perc) – Liver and kidney damage, possible carcinogen
  • Ethyl acetate – Neurotoxin, irritant
  • Nonylphenol ethoxylate – Hormone disruptor
  • ER, KSN, OB, OB-1 (Optical Brighteners) – developmental and reproductive effects
  • Linear alkyl sodium sulfonates (LAS) – toxic to aquatic life, skin and eye irritant
  • Petroleum distillates (naphthas) – Chemicals linked to cancer and lung damage

It is important to note that laundry soap and detergent are not the same thing.  A soap, is by definition a mixture of fats and oils. Detergent on the other hand, is typically synthetic (at least partially) and is typically designed for a specific purpose such as dissolving in hard or cold water.

Making your own natural, homemade laundry soap is one of the easiest first steps to make the transition to natural and simple living.

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