If you are like many people, you are becoming more aware of toxic chemicals that may be in your personal care products or household cleaning products. You may have even started using your own homemade beauty products, household cleaners, and toiletries.
Have you considered that your laundry detergent may be one of the more harmful products in your home? Maybe you have the desire to revamp your approach to laundry but have been hesitant. You might think that it is too complicated, too time consuming, or of too little importance. How harmful can detergent be anyway?
The dangers are real…
The truth is, commercial laundry detergents may impact not only your health and your pocketbook but the environment as well. There are many ingredients that are harmful first to your body and are then are passed on into the atmosphere through water waste and dryer emission.
The worst part is that laundry-care product manufacturers are not required to list all of the laundry detergent ingredients on their packaging; and the ingredients that are listed may be vague and uninformative. For example, the word “fragrance” may refer to hundreds of different chemicals. Even options boasting to be “fragrance free” may include synthetic fragrances. This makes it next to impossible to keep track of the chemicals and toxic danger.
A study conducted at the University of Washington revealed that many of the top-selling laundry products emitted a host of dangerous chemicals. Products included dryer sheets, fabric softeners, laundry detergent and air-fresheners. Researchers found hundreds of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) – none which were listed on the product labels.
Some things you should be afraid of:
So, how do these products affect you? Here are just seven toxic dangers that may be lurking in your laundry products.
As stated previously, this word refers to hundreds of chemicals, and the vast majority of those chemicals are not even used to cleaning. This touch is simply to make you believe that your clothes are clean based on what you smell. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), fragrances are counted in the top five allergens and can trigger asthma attacks. They have also revealed that 75% of fragrances contain phthalates which have been linked to diabetes, obesity, and hormone disruption (affecting both development and fertility.) Even natural fragrances or essential oils in detergents may be processed with harmful solvents because it is less expensive than distillation.
There are many types of cleaning agents used in laundry detergent. One type is petroleum distillate or naphtha. Naphthas, derived from synthetic crude oil, are used to dissolve grease and grime. Research has linked naphthas to damage of the mucus membranes and lungs as well as inflammation, asthma and even cancer. Another highly toxic cleaning agent found in laundry detergent is phenol. Some people are very sensitive to this substance and can experience severe side effects when exposed – including death. This chemical is absorbed rapidly by the skin and the toxin is spread quickly throughout the entire body damaging the central nervous system, blood vessels, heart and kidneys.
Household bleach (sodium hypochlorite) is commonly known for its extremely toxic properties. Some people attribute bleach to more household poisonings than any other chemical. When it reacts with organic materials in the environment, it generates chlorinated VOCs, which are very toxic and are considered human carcinogens. If bleach is used in the workplace, OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) requires that a mask and gloves be worn. In addition, scientists will only handle bleach with gloves, a mask and ventilation. Do you regularly use bleach in your laundry? Do you wear gloves and a mask?
Chlorine bleach is a very potent and highly corrosive substance that can irritate your eyes, skin and respiratory tract. When bleach is mixed with other cleanser, things only get worse. Noxious gases from mixing can be fatal. If bleach is swallowed in can cause permanent damage of the mouth and throat.
Continued exposure to bleach is highly dangerous as toxins build up in the body over time. This can cause a stress on your liver, kidneys and lungs. In addition, exposure to chlorine has also been linked to breast cancer.
1,4-Dioxane, also known as Dioxane or Diethylene Oxide, is a chemical by-product of ethoxylation, an inexpensive shortcut process companies use to produce softer, sudsier detergents. Because this is not an intentional ingredient, rather a contaminant, manufactures are not required to list it on product labels. This contaminant is a known carcinogen.
Unfortunately, like other chemicals found in laundry products, dioxane is highly toxic and almost two-thirds of all commercial detergents are contaminated with this chemical. The United States Environmental Protection Agency considers dioxine to be a rising threat to public water supplies.
5. Phosphates & EDTA
Phosphates are used to make detergents more effective in hard water. They break down dirt particles and remove stains by softening the water and allowing suds to form more freely, thereby enhancing the cleaning power. Phosphates remain active even after the wastewater treatment processes. They end up in rivers and lakes, where they act as a “toxic fertilizer”. In the water system, they increase algae growth which suffocates marine life by starving them of oxygen. Phosphates have been commonly known to be dangerous since the 1970’s; therefore, many laundry detergent manufacturers have eliminated them from their formulas.
In their place, we now find EDTA, Ethylene Diamine Tetraacetic Acid. While not as harmful as phosphates, EDTA is still quite toxic. It has been found in labs to kill cells and damage DNA in laboratory animals. Is matches phosphates ability to withstand the wastewater treatment process and does not biodegrade readily.
Linear Alkyl Benzene Sulfonates (LAS) are synthetic petrochemicals. You might see them listed as “anionic surfactants” on a product label. LAS is one of the more common surfactants used in detergent and may comprise up to 30% of a products total weight. Carcinogenic and reproductive toxins such as benzene are released into the environment during the production process. Here, the EWG does classify LAS as a product causing “some level of concern” to the environment.
Nonylphenol Ethoxylates (NPE) is a type of inexpensive, nonionic surfactant. It is a banned substance in Canada and the European Union but can still be found in the USA. NPE’s carry a long list of health adversities including damage to fetal development and physical functions. The Sierra Club labelled NPE the “Gender Bender” chemical in this paper on an NPE clean-up project. Exposure to NPE causes interference with the hormones of fish and shellfish causing the animal to develop both male and female sex organs.
8. Budgetary Concerns
You know the feeling- that you will never finish your family’s laundry. The average family in the United States washes nearly 80 lbs. of laundry every week. That is a lot of laundry and every load is costing you money.
What are some steps that you can take to remove harmful chemicals and save money?
- Eliminate fabric softeners, try ½ cup of white vinegar in the rinse cycle instead.
- Use a paste made with washing soda, baking soda and water to pre-treat stains
- Replace dryer sheets with dryer balls. If you want to add a safe scent, include a damp rag with 2-3 drops of quality essential oils with your load.
- Make your own laundry detergent! Homemade laundry products are much more budget-friendly.