The 4 Worst Chemical Compounds Found in Common Laundry Detergents

The 4 Worst Chemical Compounds Found in Common Laundry Detergents

April 6, 2016

Oh, the glamorous chore of laundry. Day in and day out we wash, we fold… and then we repeat. It’s never ending. And when we pull those clothes out of the dryer, we expect them to be clean, right? One look at that mound of unfolded clothes and we are pretty confident the dirt is gone, but what about the things we can’t see? What about the harmful residues left behind by synthetic chemicals and fragrances that irritate our skin and lead to health concerns? Or the water waste that exits our houses and pollutes the ground water?

The average family washes approximately 80 pounds of laundry per week. In the United States alone, that’s roughly 35 billion loads of laundry each year. This equates to 17.5 billion cups of laundry detergent moving through our homes! Some residue clings to our favorite jeans and bed sheets, being absorbed by our skin. The rest is being discharged into our waterways and eventually our ecosystem.

Who are these toxic culprits, you ask? The following are the 4 worst compounds commonly found in leading brand detergents.

1. Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) & sodium laureth sulfate (SLES): both are inexpensive and very effective foaming agents, which is why they are used in many leading brands. They work great as detergents...but at a price to our health. Research studies on SLS have shown links to irritation of the skin and eyes, organ toxicity, developmental/reproductive toxicity, neurotoxicity, endocrine disruption, ecotoxicology, and biochemical or cellular changes along with possible mutations and cancers.

2. 1, 4-dioxane: this one is a known carcinogen, found to cause cancer and  be potentially toxic to your brain, central nervous system, kidneys, liver, and respiratory system. Two-thirds of all laundry detergent contain some level of 1, 4-dioxane. Water filters cannot remove it. It resists natural biodegradable processes, is harmful to people, and the ecosystem as it pollutes our water supplies.

3. NPE (nonylphenol ethoxylate ): an inexpensive, nonionic surfactant frequently used in laundry detergents. NPE is an endocrine disruptor due to its ability to mimic estrogen and disrupt the body’s natural hormonal balance. Once absorbed the body can't tell the difference between NPE and estrogen. Exposure to NPE has also been associated with increased levels of breast cancer.

4. Phosphates: these tend to be the principle cleaning ingredient in many detergents and household cleaners. They are designed to break down dirt particles and remove stains by softening the water. However, they create environmental hazards when discharged in great volumes into our water. Phosphates are difficult to remove from wastewater and often end up in rivers and lakes, where they increase algae growth and choke off waterways.

And as if the four compounds listed above weren’t enough of a concern, there are others that add to our laundry list of harmful ingredients found in leading brand detergents:

  • Linear alkyl sodium sulfonates (LAS) - a.k.a. anionic surfactants

  • Petroleum distillates (a.k.a. naphthas) - linked to cancer

  • Phenols - can cause toxicity throughout the entire body

  • Optical brighteners - cause bacterial mutations and allergic reactions, and can be toxic to fish

  • Sodium hypochlorite - bleach

  • EDTA (ethylene-diamino-tetra-acetate) - a persistent organic pollutant

  • Artificial fragrances - linked to various toxic effects on fish and animals, as well as allergic reactions in humans

We know most of us don’t think of laundry detergent much past adding it to our shopping lists and looking for a jug that's on sale. Our hope is to change that mindset to one that is more aware and knowing of the dangers that hideout in common household laundry room products. Many of the ingredients in detergents are KNOWN irritants, highly likely carcinogens, and pollute and damage our water systems. It's our mission to create a safe environment with products that are safe and effective.

We developed Soapberry Suds; an organic laundry detergent families can trust to bridge that gap. Our laundry detergent, Soapberry Suds, uses certified organic soap nuts or soapberries as the surfactant. The husk of the berry is made of pure saponins or nature’s purest form of soap - no synthetic chemicals, no phosphates, sulfates, fragrances, or dyes. Better yet, it's all biodegradable, even the packaging is compostable or recyclable. Better for you, your family, and Mother Nature! Being hypoallergenic, it won’t cause skin irritations, because we source only the best ingredients to get the job done.

We invite you to shop now and start making your laundry room a healthier place for all. Did we mention you can order sample size Soapberry Suds for free to try at home? Well, you can.  


Already using Soapberry Suds? You may be interested in our Wool Dryer Balls and Organic Essential Oils as well! Learn more about scenting your dryer balls and using essential oils in the home.

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