8 Hidden Toxins Lurking In Commercial Laundry Detergents

We all have to wash our clothes. So, most of us buy and use commercial laundry detergent. Virtually nobody stops to think about the potential damage these kinds of products could be doing to our health and the environment.

In the USA, the manufactures of cleaning products do not have to list the chemicals and compounds used to make what they sell. As a result, it is hard to work out if we actually do need to be worried.

Despite this, some manufacturers do try to keep consumers informed. They do actually list some of the ingredients they use, although even they rarely include details of the fragrance compounds used. This is a hell of an omission because there are literally hundreds of chemicals or compounds that can be used to add scent to something.

This means that for consumers working out whether a cleaning product contains ingredients that could make us ill is next to impossible. This is an especially nasty problem for someone with sensitive skin to face.

Rather alarmingly, research carried out by the University of Washington shows that some of the chemicals used have the potential to be toxic. This research team discovered that some fragranced products emitted chemicals that were not listed as ingredients. This included dryer sheets, air fresheners, laundry detergents and fabric softeners.

Below are just a few examples of the damaging ingredients laundry products can contain:


Some firms use natural compounds to fragrance their products. However, the majority do not. Instead, they choose from a huge list of chemicals.

These compounds rarely have any cleaning properties, so they really are not necessary.

Around three-quarters of these fake fragrances contain phthalates. These have been linked to a list of diseases including obesity, diabetes and fertility issues.

Even some natural essential oils that are used to scent laundry products are made using solvents. This is done because it is faster to extract the oil using solvents than it is to do the same job using the distillation method.


Surfactants are in the vast majority of laundry detergents and in some fabric softeners. Often, there is more than one type included in each product.

Naphtha is a very common one. It is a derivative of crude oil and oddly enough is very good at dissolving grease as well as dealing with grime.

This particular surfactant has been linked to lung damage, in particular to the mucus membranes. It can also cause inflammation and asthma. There are also concerns about a possible link to cancer.

This is a substance that people can be very sensitive to. Naphtha is rapidly absorbed through the skin. Once in the body, it spreads fast. Surfactant proteins A and D have been linked to kidney damage.

Linear Alkyl Benzene Sulfonates (LAS)

This synthetic petrochemical can make up to 30% of the weight of some laundry detergents. During the production of LAS benzene and other toxins are released.

Nonylphenol Ethoxylates (NPE)

This is another type of surfactant, which is from the nonionic class. In Canada and the EU, this substance is banned, yet it is still used in many other countries. There are indications that it causes fetal development issues. It has also been shown to interfere with the hormones of marine life. Some of them develop female and male sex organs, which is why it is known as the “gender bender” chemical.

1,4-Dioxane (Diethylene Oxide)

Dioxane is in a lot of laundry detergents. It is a chemical that for many people is an irritant. Often, people who suffer from laundry detergent allergies find their problems resolve when they switch to a dioxane free detergent. Unfortunately, this compound is in around two-thirds of the detergents sold.


Sodium hypochlorite is the chemical name for bleach. It is extremely toxic. Every year, 50,000 cases of household poisoning in the USA involve bleach.

When bleach reacts with many of the organic compounds found in our environment it produces chlorinated VOCs. These are toxic and carcinogens. It is so potentially dangerous that in many countries health and safety rules require special precautions be taken when it is used in the workplace. Usually, gloves and a mask have to be worn. Yet, we use it without a 2nd thought in our homes and many laundry detergents contain it.

You have to be especially careful with chlorine bleach. It is very potent and can give off fatal noxious gases when mixed with other products.

The toxins in bleach build up in the body gradually. This puts your immune system under strain and has a particularly bad effect on your liver. As well as your lungs and kidneys, and exposure to chlorine could increase your risk of breast cancer.


Phosphates help to break down dirt particles and lift stains, especially in hard water areas. These compounds remain active even after they have gone through the water treatment process. As a result, they are harmful to the environment, especially when they end up in rivers, lakes, and streams.

Once there, they feed algae. It grows rapidly, consuming most of the oxygen and suffocating marine life. Fortunately, the majority of detergent manufacturers no longer use them.

Ethylene Diamine Tetraacetic Acid (EDTA)

EDTA is what most of them use instead of phosphates. Ethylene Diamine Tetraacetic Acid is still quite toxic. In lab tests, it was found to kill cells and has been proven to damage DNA in animals. It also passes through the wastewater treatment process intact, so is a serious environmental pollutant.

Protect the environment and save money

Hopefully, you can see the wisdom of reducing the amount of laundry detergent used in your household. Doing so really will make a difference to the environment and improve health at the same time.

Plus, of course, doing so will save you money. Far more than you think. On average, a US family will wash 80LBs of clothes every week. That is a lot of washes. So, if each time you put your washing machine on you use less laundry detergent you will save yourself a lot of money.

Here are a few ways you can cut back on laundry products:

  1. Stop using fabric softener, instead use ½ cup of vinegar in the last rinse
  2. Spot wash stains before putting items in the washing machine
  3. Use a paste of vinegar and washing soda as a stain remover
  4. Use dryer balls instead of dryer sheets
  5. Skip the dryer sheets entirely and dry your washing outside
  6. Always wash a full load
  7. Make your own laundry detergent

How to make your own washing detergent

Here is an easy recipe to get you started making your own clothes washing detergent.

  • 1/3 Cup of fresh lemon juice
  • 1 cup washing soda
  • 1/2 cup baking soda
  • 1/4 cup coarse sea salt (at a push, table salt can be used)
  • 1 bar of pure unscented soap

Mixing directions:

Finely grate the soap. This can be done by hand or in a food processor.

Combine the grated soap with the other ingredients. Stir to get rid of any lumps.

Keep the resulting mix in a container or bottle with a lid

You will save a lot of cash using this recipe. At the time of writing this, you can create enough for a load for about 45cents. Typically, you will need one or two tablespoons per load.

If you want to make a scented version, just use about 10 drops of your favorite essential oil. Lavender is a great choice.

Make your own soap nuts washing detergent

You can buy soap nuts, which are also known as soapberries, online or from most health stores. All you need is:

  • 1 cup of soap nuts
  • 1/2cup of white vinegar
  • 4 cups of water

Mixing instructions:

Put everything into a large pan and bring it to the boil. Leave it to simmer for about 30 minutes, with a lid on. Then mash the berries, a potato masher, fork or slotted spoon is ideal for the task.

Leave the lid off and simmer everything for a further 30 minutes. Strain the liquid into another pot, then put it into an airtight jar. This recipe should provide you with enough 100% natural laundry detergents for 40 loads.

Make your own dryer sheets

You can also make your own dryer sheets. The easiest way is to take a cotton tea towel, dampen it and drop a few drops of your favorite essential oil onto it. Old cotton t-shirts cut into squares also work well.

Homemade Laundry Detergent Recipe Video