How Toxic are Traditional Laundry Detergents?
How Toxic are Traditional Laundry Detergents?
Laundry is an inevitable, necessary and inescapable part of life. Whether you’re a household of 1 or 10, laundry detergent is essential. If you’re anything like me, you probably haven't given much thought to which detergent you choose. Most of us have never really looked beyond the marketed cleaning power, fragrance and price. Did you know that popular detergents contain over 25 toxic chemicals, with many more trace toxicities left unlisted? Not to mention the millions of plastic bottles and packaging going into landfill each year across the globe. Additionally, and perhaps most frighteningly, household chemicals, including detergents are one of the leading causes of accidental poisoning in children each year.
So how toxic are traditional laundry detergents? Does it really matter what is in them so long as our clothes are clean? Just what is in your detergent may surprise and alarm you.
Prior to the 1950s, most laundry detergents were made with soap. Pure soap made via saponification, a natural process involving lye and animals fats/oils - quite harmless overall. So what happened? War. During the war these fats and oils became required elsewhere, leading to the creation of synthetic alternatives. These synthetic detergents derived from petro-chemicals leapt ahead in popularity. Since then the chemicals lurking in your laundry detergents have only gotten more complex and dangerous.
It’s An Easy Break-up When You Know The Breakdown
Buzz words like whitening, brightening and enzyme powered all serve to capture our interest and our purchasing power. However, if we look beyond these words into what that actually means ingredients-wise, they become much less enticing.
The majority of laundry detergents are a veritable cocktail of chemical ingredients. The following are just some of the main ones that are truly concerning:
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate & Sodium Laureth Sulfate/ Sodium Lauryl Ether Sulfate (SLS/ SLES). Commonly found in a range of household products, these foaming agents were originally developed as heavy-duty degreasers. They strip the skin and compromise waterways.
- Phosphates - linked to cardiovascular (heart) disease as well as osteoporosis. They are particularly damaging to the marine environment when dispersed in wastewater from your wash.
- Bleach - often used to brighten whites, its fumes cause respiratory distress and on contact with skin and eyes it is able to cause caustic burns.
- Formaldehyde - A chemical usually associated with preservation of dead bodies, this ingredient as classified by the EPA , is a class B1 probable carcinogen. This means it has been linked with an increased risk of cancer.
- Ammonium Sulfate and Ammonium Quaternary Sanitizers - harsh cleansing agents that are corrosive. They can cause eye, skin and lung damage even with minimal exposure.
- Dioxane (1,4 Dioxane/ Diethylene Dioxide/ Diethylene Ether/ Dioxan) is quite possibly one of the worst additives. Dioxane is also a carcinogen and has been known to pose a combustion risk. Exposure can damage your kidneys, lungs, central nervous system, eyes, skin and respiratory function.
All this in addition to dyes, fragrances and brighteners that don’t really brighten fabric, they just hide stains under residue left on the clothing. Often there are trace elements of even worse chemicals left unlisted. It is a marvel that laundry detergent is permitted to be sold at all given what is in it. What seems a harmless box of suds on the laundry shelf is silently damaging your health and the environment.
The Stains On Your Clothes Might Be Gone, What About Your Conscience?
It’s tempting to think that as long as our laundry goes through a proper rinse cycle, that these harsh chemicals are washed away along with the dirt. In reality, much of the chemical compounds bond to the fabric and linger. Ever noticed how fragrant your washing is when in the dryer? Yes, that means your washing detergent has scented your clothes, but it also indicates how much of the product is left behind. Once in the dryer, those chemicals vent into the air you breathe and settle all over your home. If you vent your dryer outside, you’re sharing all that toxic air with your neighbours and the environment.
The residues are also able to rub off on your skin. This can lead to skin inflammation, eczema, dermatitis, itching and more. These residues can also be linked to allergic reactions, headaches, dizziness and a host of medical issues. Around 70% of your favourite liquid detergent is water, the remaining 30% is harsh chemicals and cleansers. This means that your well-intentioned use of extra detergent in a wash doesn’t mean cleaner clothes - just more chemical exposure.
While warning labels on packing usually only refer to the risks posed by ingestion of the substance, it's worth noting that only around 10% of health issues are a result of ingestion. The other 90% are caused by consistent inhalation of particles, vapours and skin contact.
Contributing To A Watery Grave
Aside from the frankly horrifying risks to our own personal health, there are far-reaching consequences for the environment also. Phosphate nutrient loading is one of the biggest issues created by detergents getting into our waterways. High phosphate detergents are known to create algal blooms which then take up the majority of the oxygen. This lack of oxygen makes it impossible for aquatic life to survive, let alone thrive. When the oxygen depletion continues over a period of time, entire aquatic ecosystems begin to die off.
Additionally, the surfactants found in detergents are highly toxic to aquatic life and organisms. Surfactants work to interrupt the surface tension of oil and water to allow them to mix and wash dirt away. Highly effective in cleaning clothes, but deadly to marine life. When these chemicals wash into our waterways, the overall surface tension of the water is reduced, making it easier for the body of water to absorb other pollutants in the atmosphere. Your choice of washing detergent and its impact goes well beyond just that wash.
Zero Waste, Zero Mess, Zero Worries
Making more health-friendly eco-friendly choices with your washing detergent is a really simple step. Start by choosing detergents that are biological and plant-based - Kind Laundry is just that. Kind to your family, clothing and the environment it contains just 4 natural ingredients. With ingredients that won’t leave residue on your clothes or machine, these fully biodegradable laundry sheets are the easy answer to ditching toxic detergents.
Choosing sustainable packaging is just as important as choosing its contents and that is why Kind Laundry’s packaging is also fully biodegradable. Meaning that you're helping to reduce the over 700 million plastic detergent jugs that end up in American landfills alone each year. One sheet per wash, no mess, no heavy bottles and lightweight enough to pack on holidays - it ticks all the boxes.
Consider making the switch, for yourself, your family and the environment. It’s easier than you imagine.