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Is Laundry Detergent Toxic?

Doing your laundry is a seemingly easy household chore, you place the dirty clothes in the wash basin, add detergent and then let the washing machine do its job. However, are you aware of what the laundry detergent is, the chemicals that form this detergent, and the potential risks that you may face from exposure to the amalgamation of chemicals present in the specific laundry detergent you use on a regular basis. Laundry detergent will consist of different chemical agents that will all purposely be used within the detergent to help provide the cleaner with specific capabilities, whether that be to lift and remove stains, expel odors, or even to get rid of dirt and grime on the fabric material.

Laundry detergent will work in various ways to clean and de-funk your clothing and fabric materials, many times with the help of floral scents and chemical cleaning agents. The laundry detergent that you picked up from the store that described certain pleasant smells, may, however, be anything but pleasant – particularly for those individuals who have severe sensitivities and allergies to chemicals and odors they are exposed to in the environment.

In this article we are going to learn more about the potential dangers that loom in laundry detergent ingredients, understand why these chemicals are used, and discuss the best alternatives to chemical-filled laundry detergents in the home.

What is Laundry Detergent

What is Laundry DetergentLaundry detergent is a pretty self-explanatory household item that most people are familiar with due to their heavy use of this cleaning agent on their clothing, linens, and other fabrics inside their home. Also known as washing powder, laundry detergent is a type of cleaning agent that is used specifically for cleaning laundry, and this detergent can be formed into both liquid and powder form. The history of soap (including laundry detergent) and its use dates back thousands of years ago to ancient Babylon where they learned how to create and use soap to clean a variety of household items such as dishes, laundry, surfaces in the home, and to clean oneself. According to Cleaning Institute (ACI), records showed that soap was being made as early as 2800 BC and was being used regularly for bathing – and the soap was formed using animal and vegetable oils with alkaline salts.

The creation of laundry detergent was to allow for clothing, linens, and other fabrics to easily remove soils, stains, and odors from the fibers of these materials. This cleaning agent’s ability to effectively work to rid fibers of soils, stains, and dirt/grime is why laundry detergent is the most commonly used cleaner for fabrics. When it comes to the popularity of the different types of laundry detergent; powder and liquid, according to 2018 sales report powder detergent sales measured at 14 million metric tons – which is double than that of liquid laundry detergent.

How Does Laundry Detergent Work

Have you ever taken much time to determine how it is that laundry detergent works to remove the soils, dirt/grime, and stains from the fabric material of your clothing/lines? The make-up of laundry detergent and the chemicals that are used within this cleaning agent will all work in specific ways to properly provide cleaning power to your clothing fibers. One of the main chemical components to laundry detergent are surfactants – the chemicals responsible for providing the cleaning ability to your clothing. Surfactants, also known as “surface-active agent,” get their name from their unique chemical structure that allows for these chemicals to favorably interact with two different types of surfaces, such as oils and water. These surfactants will contain a hydrophobic tail that is not attracted to water, that will attract to grease and dirt. Whereas the head of the surfactant molecule will be hydrophilic to water, that will attract the water to this end of the surfactant.

Therefore, when the laundry detergent is applied to the washing machine load it will mix with the water-immersed clothing, the surfactant tail will attach to the grease and soils that are attached to the various clothing/linen material. Next, the surfactant head will attract water to the clothing to rinse away the grease & soils in the clothing and be drained from the water. This process will provide the cleaning ability on the clothing and fabric fibers to give the person a clean piece(s) of fabrics.

Ingredients in Laundry Detergent

The build-up of laundry detergent and the main components that make this detergent what it is and provides it with its specific capabilities are constructed of 5 major chemical ingredients; builders, surfactants, bleaches, enzymes, and miscellaneous ingredients. These different components will all provide certain elements to the laundry detergent, whether that be cleaning ability, lathering ability, or even the function of removing stains from fibers.

Below we are going to break down these main ingredient components of laundry detergent and learn what they each do in the wash load to clean clothing; 

  1. Ingredients in Laundry DetergentBuilders: Builders that are used inside of laundry detergent are water softeners, that work to remove the hard water ions through precipitation, chelation, or ion exchange. However, most importantly these builders will work to remove soil by dispersion. The earliest use of builders in laundry detergent was sodium carbonate (washing soda) and sodium silicate (waterglass). These builders will work together with the surfactants used in laundry detergent to achieve optimal soil removal and provide the washing with an effective cleaning and soil removing ability.
  2. Surfactants: As we have discussed previously, surfactants are the chemical ingredients that are responsible for the cleaning performance of the laundry detergent when used in a washing machine load. These chemicals provide their cleaning ability through absorption and emulsification of soil into the water and also by minimizing the water’s surface tension allowing the material to get wet.
  3. Bleaches: The main targets of bleach when used in a laundry detergent is to remove organic stains from the fibers. Contrary to the name, bleaching agents do not include household bleach within their construction, instead they use stable adducts of hydrogen peroxide, such as sodium perborate and sodium percarbonate.
  4. Enzymes: Enzymes are used in laundry detergent to aid in the removal of stubborn stains from fabric fibers. This chemical component of laundry detergent was first used in 1913 and was initiated by Otto Rohm.

Types of Laundry Detergent

When it comes to the different types of laundry detergents that are commonly used today it will vary per household which specific type of laundry detergent is best for this environment. Some laundry detergents will be DIY detergents that are made at home using various household ingredients, others will consist of conventional laundry detergent that comes in both liquid and powder form, and others will be non-toxic laundry detergent alternatives that will work to clean the fabrics of your clothes/linens without harsh chemical ingredients. Each of these laundry detergents will all work through different mechanisms depending on its ingredients and the form (liquid or powder) that it is used in your washing machine.

  • DIY Laundry Detergent: DIY laundry detergent is a homemade form of detergent that is constructed to be both safer and more cost-effective. These detergents usually consist of a variety of household products such as baking soda, borax, vinegar, etc. However, when it comes to using this type of detergent it is a less effective and efficient detergent for cleaning and removing stains/debris from the fibers of the clothing, compared to other types of detergent.
  • Conventional Detergent: The normal, everyday detergent that is used in most households that will contain various chemical agents within its ingredients that give it its ability clean the garments. The classified “conventional detergents” will use chemicals to provide fragrances, cleaning capabilities, stabilizers to increase shelf life, and even bleach and brighteners to make the material color shine. These conventional detergents come in either liquid or powder form; powder laundry detergent will have a longer shelf life than liquid detergent, however, it cannot dissolve well into the liquid on the clothes then the liquid detergent will in the wash.
  • Non-toxic Detergent: These non-toxic laundry detergents will be free of harsh and potentially dangerous chemicals within their make-up, proving households with a safer alternative when washing clothing and other fabrics. These cleaning agents will use alternative ingredients that will provide the same cleaning capabilities with a chemical-free ingredient.

Reaction to Laundry Detergent

Reaction to Laundry DetergentAfter using laundry detergent on your clothes, have you ever experienced a reaction to this chemical cleaning agent on your skin? If you have, then this can be the cause of contact dermatitis, a skin condition in which the skin will take on a red, itchy rash on the surface that can spread throughout the areas on the body that were exposed to the chemicals. There are fragrances, preservatives, dyes, and other chemicals in laundry detergent that can all contribute to the reaction on a person’s skin – and the reality is that because of the high-level of exposure to these chemicals when they are placed directly on our skin, the reaction can be exacerbated significantly.

According to Healthline, allergies and/or sensitivities to laundry detergent can happen anytime, even after multiple exposures to these chemicals, but when it happens you will want to begin to breakdown the root causes in your detergent that may be sparking this reaction. Detergent, like most other soaps, contains surfactants that will work to remove dirt and oil particles from the laundry fabrics, however, this chemical is known to be a harsh, irritating chemical to people’s skin. Additionally, artificial fragrances used in laundry detergents can also have a part in creating a reaction on the skin of an individual, as well.

How Long Does an Allergic Reaction to Laundry Detergent Last

When the onset of an allergic reaction takes place on the skin of an individual from exposure to laundry detergent on clothing material, the reaction is something that can occur on a person’s skin for quite some time depending on various factors. As we discussed previously, laundry detergent will contain an amalgam of chemicals within its ingredients that can all influence the health effects that are produced from exposure to this cleaning agent. Generally, when you use too much detergent, this chemical cleaning agent will become impregnated between the fibers of the fabric and come into direct contact with the skin as you wear the clothing. The laundry detergent will rub against a person’s skin and lead to a reaction such as an eczema-like rash that will be dry, red, itchy, and scaly on the skin.

However, when it comes to determining the length of time that an allergic reaction to laundry detergent occurs on a person’s skin the allergic reaction length of time will be an ambiguous factor. Sometimes it will last for several days or even weeks, while other times it can only be present on the skin for a day or a few hours. Thus, it is important to get to the bottom of your skin’s reaction and determine if your laundry detergent is to blame.

Natural Laundry Detergent vs Regular

The differences between natural laundry detergent vs regular detergent will have various dissimilarities that will make these two laundry options different from one another. Natural laundry detergent is classified as a safer, non-toxic cleaning option that will not contain the harsh chemical ingredients like regular laundry detergent contains to provide it with its cleaning capabilities. Whereas regular laundry detergent that is in most homes will contain chemicals such as surfactants, dyes, masking agents, etc. These laundry detergents will be hazardous, particularly when it comes to exposure of these chemicals on a person’s skin that can lead to a laundry detergent rash and other skin irritation.

When it comes to selecting the ideal detergent for you and your family, there are several options to consider such as whether or not you have sensitive skin, allergies, chemical sensitives, etc.

Chemical Free Laundry Detergent Additives

Chemical Free Laundry Detergent AdditivesIf you have used or are using chemical-filled laundry detergents in your household washing practices, then you may be stuck dealing with strong chemical odors on your clothing and even reactions to these laundry detergents on your skin or in your respiratory system, in some cases. The process of removing chemical-filled laundry detergent from your clothes will require the use of a specifically designed laundry additive for odor removal, like the EnviroKlenz Laundry Enhancer. EnviroKlenz is a nontoxic, safe company that works to remove odors from a variety of sources using a proprietary earth mineral technology that has been adapted to both laundry products, surfaces, and air quality solutions.

The EnviroKlenz Laundry Enhancer is a safe and effective laundry enhancer that was designed for the purpose of removing stubborn laundry odors such as fragrances and chemicals from other detergents and fabric softeners. This laundry enhancer works alongside your normal detergent in your washing machine to provide the wash with an odor neutralizing component. This product has simple instructions that include; add ¼ cup to ½ cup of EnviroKlenz Laundry Enhancer to your washing machine along with your detergent, set washing machine to a high agitation – warm water cycle, and start your washing machine, allowing for odors and chemical odors to be removed thoroughly.

Article Sources:

  1. Cleaning Institute (ACI): Soaps & Detergents History (link)
  2. Wikipedia: Laundry Detergent (link)
  3. Healthline: How to Identify and Treat a Laundry Detergent Rash (link)

Laundry Enhancer Liquid 

$14.99 – $24.99

Patented earth mineral technology works to attack VOCs and break them down on a compound level

No chemicals or masking agents

Works to remove chemical & malodors from all machine safe fabrics

Easy and effective application, used in conjunction with a non-scented laundry detergent

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