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11 Toxic Ingredients in Laundry Products and Effective Non-Toxic Laundry Alternatives

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There’s a good chance you’ve heard that there are some pretty scary ingredients in the laundry products we use every day. From formaldehyde in room sprays to endocrine disruptors and cancer-causing ingredients in our laundry detergent. After hearing all of this you may have considered switching your home to non-toxic laundry detergent and I can’t say that I blame you.

There are some very unhealthy ingredients in our laundry room which we use on a daily basis.

If you want to know more about how your laundry has been affecting your health (yes, it really has been), then this post is for you!

You might be surprised at the difference just switching your home from toxic to non-toxic laundry detergent and other products can make for your health. My husband and I have been doing this for over 2 years now, and we couldn’t imagine going back to those chemicals ever again!

But if you have no idea where to start, I can show you how easy and even affordable it is.

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First, let’s look at some facts about these toxins:

  • Store bought household cleaning products contain 2-butoxyethanol, which is a toxin known to cause sore throat, narcosis, and severe liver and kidney damage.
  • The main ingredient in home sprays is formaldehyde, which is the number one cancer causing chemical, and is what we get embalmed with at the morgue. It is estimated that inhaling scents from room sprays is the equivalent to inhaling secondhand smoke, which has been shown to be even more dangerous than actually smoking a cigarette!
  • Many cleaning products, including spray cleaners and disinfecting wipes, contain asthmagens—chemicals that can either worsen asthma or cause asthma in someone who never previously had it. Studies show that using traditional cleaning sprays as rarely as once a week can increase your risk of developing adult-onset asthma.
  • Did you know that indoor air is 5–7 times more polluted than outdoor air? Most cleaning products contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which have been associated with many health problems, including damage to the liver, kidneys, and central nervous system. They have also been shown to harm our lungs and cause throat irritations and headaches.

When we use these products in our homes and on the clothes that we and our children wear daily, the toxins build up and accumulate within our bodies – a process called “bioaccumulation.”

This means that the more we expose ourselves to these toxins, the harder it is for our bodies to break them down. Because of this build up, it causes both minor and major health issues, that otherwise could be prevented if we simply quit using those toxins. Even if these issues aren’t apparent right now, they may be apparent later in life.

What’s even scarier to know, is some of the most popular “organic” or “all-natural laundry detergent” products can still contain some the ingredients above. Even if you think you’re making a better decision about going organic instead of conventional, there is still a probability that your organic product is still highly toxic for yourself or your little ones.

Even if you think you’re making a better decision about going organic instead of conventional, there is still a probability that your organic product is still highly toxic for yourself or your little ones. Click To Tweet

Don’t believe me? Visit the Environmental Working Group website at ewg.org, plug in the ingredients of your products, and see how high it is rated in toxicity. Or download the “Think Dirty” app on your smartphone and look at the toxicity levels. The results will shock you and will make you want to throw those products in the trash and switch to all-natural laundry detergents and bleach alternatives.

Be Wary of Products with these on the label:

  • Directions that require a mask or ventilation while using the product
  • Instructions for hazardous waste disposal
    – If you can’t throw them in your garbage, do you want them all over your house? The fact that the EPA classifies oven cleaners, drain cleaners, wood and metal cleaners, polishes, toilet cleaners, tub and shower cleaners, and laundry bleach as hazardous waste is one reason you should eliminate them from your home.
  • A combustible warning
  • An “unscented” or “free and clear” claim on the label
    – Unscented products can contain masking agents that are added to simply cover up fragrance with another toxic chemical. Always look for an ingredient list and not just the unscented claim.
  • All-natural laundry detergent claims – see above

Now that we’ve effectively alarmed you, we want you to know that there is absolutely no judgement here! We used to use those products in our home, all the time. Once we educated ourselves on the toxicity of what we are using in our home, we started the process of ditching and switching. We’re going to show how you, to can begin the process of switching your home from toxic to non-toxic including non-toxic laundry detergent.

Laundry Rooms:

In a typical laundry room, we use several products:

  • Detergent
  • Fabric softener
  • Bleach
  • Dryer Sheets.

Grab each of these from your laundry room as we cover some frightening facts about ingredients in these products.

Let’s look at each one.  What are the areas of concern, and which are easy wins when switching your to non-toxic laundry detergent, fabric softener and dryer sheets?

We all have dirty laundry, and so do detergent manufacturers. Laundry waiting to be washed is as never-ending as doing dishes—the chore that never ends! However, in comparison, your loads of literal dirty laundry are nothing compared to the dirty laundry of harmful secret ingredients your detergent company is probably hiding! Let’s help them air it out. What’s in there? Commercial laundry products are a chemical cocktail of harm to people, pets, and the environment.

We’ll first cover the worst chemical offenders in laundry products and then share the best non-toxic laundry detergent and other products for laundry.

The below is a list of the most common harmful ingredients in your laundry products.

 •  Sodium Lauryl Sulfate & Sodium Laureth Sulfate/ Sodium Lauryl Ether Sulfate (SLS/ SLES)

A main ingredient in laundry detergents as well as dish liquid, hand wash, and shampoo, SLS and SLES are surfactants intended to remove soil and act as a foaming agent. Believe it or not, these products were initially developed as a garage floor degreaser. Unfortunately, they also inflame skin, eyes, and lungs, and damage internal organs. When you see this ingredient run to a non-toxic laundry detergent alternative!

Phosphates

Phosphate exposure is linked to cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and death from all causes in a general, healthy population.

• Formaldehyde

Yes, the toxic chemical used to preserve dead bodies is found in many laundry products and dish detergents. YIKES! Exposure to this chemical, even at low levels, from breathing or smelling it increases your risk of cancer, especially for children and elderly people, even if the level is so low that it causes no immediate symptoms.

It has also caused spots of dying tissue with regular exposure (necrosis), and an immune response consistent with parasitic infection, an allergic reaction, or cancer. The EPA calls it a class B1 probable carcinogen (cancer-causing substance) and says it causes acute toxicity when in contact with skin.

I think this one is another solid red flag and a warning to switch to all-natural laundry detergent.

 • Chlorine Bleach

It’s not surprising that bleach is a skin and lung irritant. The material data safety sheet from a major bleach manufacturer tells us exactly how dangerous this substance is.

Chlorine bleach causes: severe caustic burns to skin and eyes, blindness, pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs that restricts breathing), respiratory failure, and more; use of personal protection equipment is required when using bleach, including a chemical resistant apron, chemical resistant gloves, safety goggles to protect eyes from fumes, and even air respirators!

• Ammonium Sulfate

This laundry additive is so toxic, its manufacturers recommend not using it indoors! In addition to impermeable gloves, and eye and lung protection, the requirements for use of ammonium sulfate include never allowing the chemical or its empty containers to reach drains or waterways, and it is a category 3 oral, skin, and respiratory toxin. THAT is scary!

 • Dioxane (1,4 Dioxane/ Diethylene Dioxide/ Diethylene Ether/ Dioxan)

This laundry additive doesn’t belong anywhere near your family or home! Its liquid and fumes can spontaneously combust; it’s a known carcinogen (known to cause cancer since 1988); it causes skin, eye, and lung inflammation (some irreversible); it should only be used with protective gear including respirators; and once you are exposed (via inhalation, skin contact, or eye contact including fumes in your eyes), it targets the following organs: kidneys, central nervous system, liver, respiratory system, eyes, and skin.

• Optical Brighteners/ UV Brighteners

Optical brighteners are included in laundry detergents as stain treaters and, of course, to brighten fabric; however, they don’t remove stains at all! Instead, they coat clothing with a substance that reflects visible light, so you can’t see stains.

It is also an eye, skin, and lung irritant and may spontaneously combust.

• Fragrance

Manufacturers are not required to list the ingredients of their fragrances because of a legal loophole. Adding fragrance to detergent gives a false impression of cleanliness without improving the action of the product in any way. Imagine this – they are creating chemicals to smell like natural plants (for example, lavender) to save money on obtaining the real thing and, in the process, harming our bodies!

Artificial fragrances are usually to blame in cases of chemical sensitivity, allergic reactions, and rashes. Many are known carcinogens and endocrine disruptors.

This one may, at first, seem harmless but this ingredient is another caution warning that it is time to switch to an all-natural laundry detergent.

• Dyes

Not only do dyes add no cleaning power at all, but they are also another common cause of unexplained allergies or rashes. Many are proven carcinogens and almost all are endocrine disruptors.

• Benzyl Acetate

This additive is harmful if inhaled or spilled on skin and can harm the kidneys and nervous system.

 • Dichlorobenzene (P-Dichlorobenzene/ Benzene)

Benzene has an immediate, highly toxic effect on aquatic life that can continue poisoning the watershed for years to come. The fumes cause optical damage, and it is listed with a carcinogen warning for humans.

The average family washes about 5 loads of laundry per week— that’s almost 8 cups of laundry detergent that you’re exposed to every week!

So, what the heck can you use when switching your home from toxic to non-toxic laundry detergent and other laundry products?

Your laundry, sadly, is not going away, so, instead choose laundry products that are safer and greener alternatives to the dangerous toxins. Always choose a detergent with plant-based surfactants that is free of phosphates. Since detergent manufacturers are not required to list all their ingredients, consult be sure to read labels or get advice from someone you trust.  I (Sue) am a Certified Aromatherapist and make it my life’s work to read labels and only recommend safe and non-toxic laundry detergent and other products for home, laundry, and personal care.

Non-Toxic Laundry Detergent Alternatives

  • Thieves laundry soap

Hands down our favorite choice for all-natural laundry as Thieves exceeds organic standards!

The highly concentrated Thieves Laundry Soap is amazing at cleaning your clothes without harmful, harsh toxic chemicals. Its plant-based formula uses natural enzymes and the power of Thieves, Jade Lemon, and Bergamot essential oils and is free from toxic chemicals like Sodium Lauryl Sulfate) (SLS), dyes, petrochemicals, Formaldehyde, phosphates, synthetic perfumes, and optical brighteners.

Less is more! Not only does this soap gently and naturally wash your clothes leaving them truly clean without any chemical or synthetic residue, but you can also turn one bottle of Thieves Laundry Soap into three! Here’s how to hack your Thieves Laundry Soap!

All you need is:

Here’s a quick link to all three Thieves products.

• Organic lye soap

Whose grandma didn’t wash with lye soap? Lye soap has been used for generations for effectiveness and safety, and it is an excellent stain pretreat product for all other natural laundry methods.

• Sal soap

This is a homemade or commercially made lye soap with added baking soda or washing soda. It is a great choice for effective cleaning as the added soda softens hard water and magnifies the effectiveness of the soap to equal or exceed the cleaning power of detergents.

• Baking soda

Simple, safe, and natural—you can’t beat baking soda for basic, gentle washing needs. It is perfect for baby clothes (but don’t forget to pretreat stains, as needed).

 • Washing soda

This washing soda is stronger and more powerful than baking soda, making it a great product for anyone who wants a safe, simple wash routine, but needs a more powerful solution than baking soda.

• Borax

Borax is a naturally occurring soda and has been used for centuries alone or as a booster for other laundry products. It brings a lot of natural whitening power to your wash day without harming colors or darks. Use borax to replace oxycleaners or on its own.


Some Notes on Non-Toxic Laundry Detergents:

• Safer commercial detergents can be found if you carefully investigate

 • Free and clear commercial detergents are NOT green cleaners! They are the same dye and fragrance laden product with added ingredients to HIDE and MASK the fragrance and/ or dye!

Now that we’ve covered some great choices for all-natural laundry detergent, let’s take a look at some other safe laundry product alternatives.

Natural Bleach Alternatives

 • Lemon juice

If you have a stubborn stain, add some lemon juice or lemon essential oil to the garment and lay it in the sun then wait.  The lemon, sun and time are a safe all-natural bleach alternative.  Of course, not everyone has time to wait to wash their laundry.

• Hydrogen peroxide

Diluted hydrogen peroxide does work great, but cannot be sat in the sun, unlike lemon, as it may damage the fabric. Keep a squirt bottle handy to spot treat before washing rather than treating an entire load.

Safe Fabric Softeners

  • Baking soda in the wash and vinegar in the rinse is perfect
  • Line dry
  • Vinegar-only washing requires none

Dryer sheet alternative

As one of the most toxic products in your home, dryer sheets should be the first product that you switch to for all-natural laundry.

  • Use Wool Balls in Your Dryer

Toss 4-6 wool balls in your dryer to help reduce static and dry your laundry faster by fluffing clothes and absorbing moisture.  We add a few safety pins on each, as well, as the metal helps to reduce static.

To add some clean-smelling fragrance to your nice clean clothes, we recommend a few drops of essential oil to each dryer ball.

Our favorites are Citrus Fresh or Lavender.

Note:

Some of these soap-based laundry detergents may leave a residue on clothing if used incorrectly, but it is nothing like the residue from commercial toxic detergents. Any of these methods in combination, or alone will prevent or correct buildup: add washing soda, baking soda, or borax to the wash cycle and add vinegar or citric acid to the rinse cycle.

Our sister site has a great list of non-toxic laundry detergent and other DIY recipes that are safe and effective.

Tips for All-Natural Laundry Detergent and other products

  • Switch a few products at a time – not all at once
  • Create DIY products
  • Buy from respected companies that meet or exceed organic standards (Read labels!)

Have you found a great all-natural laundry detergent that we might have missed? Share it below! We love learning about new non-toxic laundry detergents and other safe laundry and home products.

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