Is Laundry Detergent Safe or Harmful?
Few items come in such frequent, close contact with our skin as our clothes. And no matter whether they’re made of cotton or cashmere, it’s understandable that we’d want the laundry products we use to clean our clothes to be, well, clean.
The bottle of liquid detergent that lives atop your washer might be plenty gentle on those sweaters. But when it comes to your own health, is laundry detergent safe to use?
In fact, there are some safety concerns associated with laundry detergent usage—but fortunately, there are also a number of safer options available that can benefit both you and the planet.
How Laundry Detergent Can Impact Your Health
First, note that not all laundry detergents may be inherently harmful. Rather, it’s vital to focus on the specific ingredients they contain and how they can help or hurt.
Certain ingredients and chemicals are a necessary and harmless part of the product that help to give your laundry that soft, clean feeling. But others, either as an ingredient or as a toxic chemical byproduct of that ingredient, could have a significant impact on your mental, physical, and reproductive health. Let’s explore a few of the possible health effects.
Allergies and Asthma
If you have sensitive skin, you may be more apt to have reactions when you come in contact with certain substances like phosphates. But for some people, the reactions can be more severe. A recent study found that even after a complete wash and rinse, laundry soap residue on fabric could trigger an asthma attack or allergic reaction due to its effect on the function of human bronchial epithelial cells (HBECs).
Respiratory effects and skin reactions aren’t just for those already suffering from allergies. Even if you don’t currently experience any detergent-related allergies or sensitivities, prolonged exposure to synthetic fragrance could make you more likely to develop fragrance contact allergy later in life. This also applies to fragrance and toxins in cleaning products. Opt for detergents that contain an essential oil or natural fragrance rather than synthetics to minimize the risk of allergic reactions.
It’s safe to say that we all want to steer clear of cancer-causing substances, or carcinogens, as much as possible. But some of them could be hiding in plain sight—right in our laundry rooms.
A University of Washington researcher found that, when run through the dryer, some types of scented laundry detergent emit hazardous air pollutants from the dryer vent, including the known carcinogens benzene and acetaldehyde. Additionally, other potentially dangerous carcinogens can also be found as a by-product in your scented laundry detergent ingredients such as 1,4-dioxane.
Nonylphenol Ethoxylates, or NPEs, are a potentially dangerous hormone disruptor present in some conventional laundry detergents. The Environmental Protection Agency is currently working to reduce their usage and provide alternative substances to keep NPE’s from being overused. NPEs pose concerning health risks to not only the human reproductive system, but also aquatic life.
How Laundry Detergent Impacts The Environment
You may not see where your laundry detergent goes once the washer finishes the rinse cycle, but that doesn’t mean it disappears completely. Due to their very slow rate of degradation, some chemicals in laundry detergent dwell in the water supply and the environment long after your clothes are clean and folded.
Here are just a couple of the environmental impacts of conventional laundry detergent use:
Phosphates and Algae
Those same phosphates that could cause health issues are also a major point of concern when it comes to our water resources. Excess phosphate in water leads to the growth of the toxic blue-green algae blooms that have been appearing more and more in previously pristine freshwater lakes.
And algae blooms don’t just affect the aquatic ecology—blue-green algae is toxic to pets and people when ingested, and causes dermatological issues in humans when you come into physical contact.
Microplastics are tiny plastic particles that are sometimes present in consumer products like laundry detergent and body wash, intended to help give you a deeper clean. But these same particles are showing up everywhere from the ocean to the food chain. With approximately 94% of the ocean’s plastic pollutants made up of microplastics, laundry detergent could be a significant source of this contaminant.
While further studies still need to be done on the long-term ecological effects of microplastics, their prevalence in the environment and lack of quick decomposition are troubling to say the least.
Is Laundry Detergent Toxic?
When used in its intended way as a cleaning product, laundry detergent isn’t necessarily toxic. But if it’s ingested by inquisitive young children or furry friends, the outcome could be dangerous.
While we try to be as careful as possible when handling chemical substances like household cleaners, it’s always important to store them out of reach of any children or pets. Because of the harsh and toxic ingredients in conventional detergent, accidental ingestion usually necessitates a call to your local poison control center.
Healthier Laundry Detergent Choices
For a safer choice and to avoid introducing more harmful chemicals to your home and environment, choose a plant-based laundry detergent free of harsh chemicals, like our Charcoal Rose Laundry Detergent. The bio-based ingredients and natural essential oil are better for the health of you and your family, and have a smaller environmental footprint than conventional laundry detergent.
Reducing your exposure to common household chemicals might mean saying goodbye to your tried-and-true household cleaners. But by introducing more bio-based and plant-based cleaning agents, your health and the environment could benefit—and you may find you love your new finds even more.
Get a Greener Clean with Archipelago
The best step you can take to ensure your household and laundry products aren’t harmful? Minimize your health risks and environmental footprint by using plant based laundry detergent vs regular, non-toxic dish soap, and natural all-purpose cleaner.
At Archipelago, we designed our cleaning products to be a better-for-you alternative to conventional detergent and traditional cleaners loaded with harmful chemicals.
Our plant-based home cleaning supplies, natural disinfectants, and eco-friendly laundry detergent that come in transporting natural scents like grapefruit, charcoal rose, lavender, and mint—smells so enchanting that they might even make you enjoy doing chores.
Keep your house and your mind clean and clear with Archipelago.
Cleveland Clinic. Household Chemical Products and Their Health Risk. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/11397-household-chemical-products-and-their-health-risk
Columbia Climate School. Washing Laundry May Be An Underappreciated Source of Microplastic Pollution. https://news.climate.columbia.edu/2019/08/22/laundry-microplastic-pollution/
Contact Dermatitis. Skin exposure to scented products used in daily life and fragrance contact allergy in the European general population ‐ The EDEN Fragrance Study. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8247875/
Green Matters. How Does Laundry Detergent Affect the Environment? https://www.greenmatters.com/p/detergent-environmental-effects
ResearchGate. Toxicities of Laundry Products - Review of the Evidence. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/351494142_Toxicities_of_Laundry_Products_-_Review_of_the_Evidence
The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. Laundry detergents and detergent residue after rinsing directly disrupt tight junction barrier integrity in human bronchial epithelial cells. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30500342/
United States Environmental Protection Agency. Fact Sheet: Nonylphenols and Nonylphenol Ethoxylates. https://www.epa.gov/assessing-and-managing-chemicals-under-tsca/fact-sheet-nonylphenols-and-nonylphenol-ethoxylates
University of Washington News. Scented Laundry Products Emit Hazardous Chemicals Through Dryer Vents. https://www.washington.edu/news/2011/08/24/scented-laundry-products-emit-hazardous-chemicals-through-dryer-vents/