Toxins in Laundry Detergent…What you NEED to know.

The everyday task of doing the laundry could be making you sick. Over the last 60 years 75,000 synthetic chemicals have been introduced in this country. 

Chemicals that make our lives easier and better.  They kill insects and weeds, clean our clothes and carpets, and unclog drains.  But most of these chemicals go unregulated and untested for their toxic effect on people and the environment. This is true of the chemicals in most commercial laundry detergents.

Your everyday laundry detergents may contain a combination of many toxic chemicals many of which are pose a variety of health risks ranging from relativity minor like skin irritants and allergens –to the severe – cancer, poisoning and neurological problems.  Knowing which ingredients to avoid will help you control the number of toxins entering your home and our waterways. 

Laundry detergents and stain removers frequently contain alkyl phenol ethoxylates (APEs), which are common surfactants. Surfactants, are chemicals that make surfaces more susceptible to water, allowing cleaners to easily penetrate stains and wash them away.  APEs can damage the immune system, and they are suspected hormone disruptors, which means they can mimic hormones in the body that regulate reproduction and development. 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has also warned that ethoxylated alcohol surfactants, such as APEs, may be contaminated with carcinogenic 1, 4-dioxane, which penetrates skin. Tests conducted in 1997 by the Washington Toxics Coalition found that supermarket or drugstore labels are more likely to contain APEs than name brands.

Many common laundry detergents contain phosphates, ammonia, naphthalene, phenol, optical brighteners, artificial fragrances, EDTA etc. These chemicals can cause rashes, itches, allergies, sinus problems and have long term toxic effects on the environment.


Phenols: Toxic, a suspected carcinogen and rapidly absorbed. Effects include swelling, pimples, and hives. Internal consumption can cause circulatory collapse, cold sweats, coma, and death.

Optical brighteners: These synthetic chemicals convert UV light wavelengths into visible light, which makes laundered clothes appear whiter (although does not actually affect the cleanliness of the clothing). They’ve been found to be toxic to fish and to cause bacterial mutations. Further, they can cause allergic reactions when exposed to skin that is later exposed to sunlight.

Linear alkyl sodium sulfonates (LAS): These synthetic surfactants are commonly listed as ‘anionic surfactants’ on labels, and are one of the most common surfactants in use. During their production process, carcinogenic and reproductive toxins such as benzene are released into the environment. They also biodegrade slowly, making them a hazard in the environment.

Petroleum distillates (aka napthas): These chemicals have been linked to cancer, lung damage, lung inflammation and damage to mucous membranes.

Phosphates: These chemicals are used to remove hard-water minerals to make detergents more effective, and to prevent dirt from settling back onto clothes during a wash. A major problem with them is that, when released into the environment, they stimulate the growth of certain marine plants, which contributes to unbalanced ecosystems. Many states have banned or restricted the use of phosphates for this reason, and you may see laundry detergents advertised as “low-phosphate” or “phosphate-free.”

Sodium hypochlorite (household bleach): This is a chemical precursor to chlorine, which is highly toxic and involved in more household poisonings than any other chemical. When it reacts with organic materials in the environment, carcinogenic and toxic compounds are created than can cause reproductive, endocrine and immune system disorders.

EDTA: Skin irritant leading to allergies, asthma, and skin rashes. EDTA is a class of compounds used as an alternative to phosphates to reduce mineral hardness in water, prevent bleaching agents from becoming active before they’re put in water and as a foaming stabilizer. EDTA does not biodegrade readily and can re-dissolve toxic heavy metals in the environment, allowing them to re-enter the food chain.

Artificial fragrances: Toxic effects on fish and mammals, often causes allergies, skin and eye irritation. Do not easily bio-degrade ain the environment.

Ammonia: Can cause burns, cataracts & corneal damage. Long term repeated exposure can cause bronchitis and pneumonia. Also has a toxic effect on plants, animals and fish.

Sodium Sulfate: It is corrosive and a severe eye, skin, and respiratory irritant. Can cause asthma attacks.

The fragrances in detergents and fabric softeners can contain phthalates, chemicals that have been linked to cancer and reproductive-system harm to animal lab tests. Fragrances may also trigger asthma and allergic reactions, with symptoms including skin and respiratory irritation, headaches, and watery eyes.
Other ingredients turn dangerous when combined: Diethoanolamine and triethanolamine can react with nitrates (an often undisclosed preservative) to form carcinogenic nitrosamines.

Waterways aren’t immune to these dangerous ingredients, either. As detergents, bleaches and fabric softeners get washed down your laundry room drain, they enter groundwater, where they react with other man-made and naturally occurring chemicals and seep into drinking water supplies. Chlorine bleach, for instance, reacts with carbon molecules to create organochlorines, such as dioxin.

LOOK FOR LAUNDRY “SOAP” that is free of phosphates, petroleum solvents, chlorine, perfumes, dyes, animal by-products, and other common triggers for respiratory and skin irritations. Look for environmentally responsible products.

Look for Irish Twins Soap Company’s all natural homekeeping alternatives that are both Good for You and Good for the Earth.


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