A university study identified that top-selling laundry products emitted dozens of different chemicals, including some listed as toxic or hazardous under federal laws, and none of these chemicals was listed on the product labels.
These products emitted nearly 100 volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including one or more carcinogenic hazardous air pollutants that are considered by the Environmental Protection Agency to have no safe exposure level. Two of the carcinogens were acetaldehyde and benzene, which affect not only personal health but also public and environmental health since these can get into the air, down the drain, and into water bodies.
7 key toxic chemicals in laundry detergents:
Synthetic Fragrances: These are created by combining a number of chemicals that are the primary concern for your health and environment.
Cleaning agents (surfactants): These are chemicals such as quaternium-15, diethanolamine, nonlphenol ethoxylate or NPE, linear alkyl benzene sulfonates or LAS, and petroleum distillates. The dangers with these include the release of formaldehyde and benzene, known carcinogens, skin and eye irritation, damage to liver, nerves, and hormones, as well as the environment.
Stabilizers: These chemicals are preservatives like polyalkylene oxide or ethylene oxide, which are linked with eye and lung irritation and dermatitis.
Bleach: Bleach, used separately or included in the detergent, is known to irritate skin, eyes, and lungs. When mixed with wastewater, it can form toxic organic compounds that have been linked with respiratory issues, liver, and kidney damage.
1,4-dioxane: This is a chemical by-product of detergent manufacturing found in products such as Tide Free & Gentle and regular Tide.
Brighteners: Brighteners are not making fabric cleaner, they are chemicals that remain on the clothes to absorb UV light and reflect blue light to make the clothes appear brighter. These chemicals include naphthotriazolystilbenes, benzoxazolyl, and diaminostilbene disulfonate and are linked to developmental and reproductive defects.
Phosphates & EDTA: These chemicals are softeners and have long been associated with environmental damage to waterways and animals.
University of Washington, “Toxic Chemicals Found in Common Scented Laundry Products, Air Fresheners,” Science Daily, July 24, 2008, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/07/080723134438.htm.
Anne C. Steinemann, Lisa G. Gallagher, Amy L. Davis, Ian C. MacGregor, “Chemical emissions from residential dryer vents during use of fragranced laundry products,” Air Quality, Atmosphere & Health, 2011; http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11869-011-0156-1.