The Dangers of Commercial Laundry Detergent, and What You Can Do Instead
Gone are the days of laborious laundry chores. The process of cleaning clothing during the 1800s was an all-day event. From soaking clothes overnight to scrubbing, wringing, and drying – starching, ironing, and revisiting steps in between it’s a wonder anything else got done!
The first washing machine was invented in 1782. Over the next few decades, they became easier to use, more effective, and could eventually run on their own (1,2).
To complement this new innovation, companies created laundry soaps to save even more time.
From scented to solids, there are now quite a few options to choose from. But like many other conveniences today, these handy products carry several risks.
News stories report life-threatening repercussions after interacting with laundry detergents. Popular social media challenges are sending young people to the hospital (15).
What are the dangers of commercial laundry detergent, and what can you do instead? Let’s take a look at what’s really going on, and what our options are to empower you to make the best choices moving forward.
How Laundry Detergent Works
Standard laundry detergents are made using long molecule structures called surfactants. Under a microscope, you'll notice a head that attracts water and a tail that attracts dirt and grime (3).
These additives clean clothes better and in less time by loosening dirt and lifting stains.
Can Laundry Detergent Cause Health Problems?
With a rise in allergies, sensitivities, and chronic health conditions, you may be warier of what you bring into your home.
You have a right to be concerned. Many companies are not required by law to list every product ingredient. This leaves you vulnerable to being exposed to potential toxins.
Many laundry detergents contain ingredients that could trigger or worsen existing health conditions.
Some of the biggest ingredients responsible include:
- Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS): One of the most common cleaning ingredients on the market, sodium laurel sulfates can be found in shampoos, dish soaps, and laundry detergents. In a study of 1,600 people, 42% displayed signs of physical irritation when exposed to SLS (4).
- Formaldehyde: Used in Ancient civilizations to preserve the dead, this gaseous compound is used to prevent bacterial growth in washing detergents. However, numerous studies support strong evidence of its cancerous effects on the body (5).
- Dioxan: also known as Diethylene Ether, this additive is a known carcinogen. It also causes eye and lung irritation, kidney and liver damage, as well as miscarriages and stillbirths (6).
- UV Brighteners: the blue and purple dyes you see in many commercial detergents are designed to provide the illusion of stain removal without removing any stains. They aren’t very biodegradable, which means they can have a long-lasting impact on the environment. They can also cause irritation and be toxic to aquatic wildlife (7).
- Nonylphenol Ethoxylates: also known as NPEs, this ingredient can emit toxic fumes when inhaled and destroy aquatic habitats. It can also disrupt normal hormone function, affecting sperm count, reproductive health, and menstruation in women (9).
- Fragrance and Dyes: Those beach waves, fresh rain, and clean linen fragrances come at a price. Many artificial fragrances have been shown to trigger allergic reactions. A nice smell gives the impression of cleanliness, but this is simply a psychological marketing technique that means nothing in terms of your clothes actually being clean. Colorful dyes have also been associated with hormone disruption and cancers (10).
Related article: Kitchen Toxins You Need to Know About (14).
Alternatives to Consider
Since laundry is destined to be part of our lives forever, what are some ways we can make this a healthier experience?
- Consider the vinegar approach: This natural liquid not only makes for great salad dressings, but it also serves as a surface cleaner and laundry booster (11).
- Homemade soaps: With a few simple ingredients like baking soda, Oxiclean stain remover, and Dr. Bonner’s unscented soap, you can create a toxin-free detergent that will keep clothes clean and fresh. Find a recipe here (8).
- Hydrogen peroxide: This can work as a great alternative to bleach. Simply spray the stained area and allow it to work for a few minutes before washing. It can also disinfect and deodorize your washing machine (12).
- Opt for Plant-Based Brands: If it’s too much to make a complete switch, try using a plant-based washing soap instead of the harder varieties. These use natural enzymes to break down filth instead of harsh chemicals (13).
Laundry has been a part of the human experience since we upgraded from wearing fig leaves. Learning how to make, wash, and mend clothes has been a process that has changed over thousands of years.
Since the invention of the washing machine in the 19th century, soaps, detergents, and commercial cleaners have become a staple in many households.
If you’re concerned about the harmful chemicals and ingredients in today’s soaps, you’re not alone. There are safer ways to clean your clothes while protecting your health. With a little research, you’re sure to find a method that works for you.
Do you know someone who’s looking to take charge of their health? Help them with the laundry and share this with them today!
✝✝This noted statement is based on independent research and is not necessarily the opinion of the author