Laundry is one of those inevitable facts of life but is also a chore with many ignored health risks. Most of us simply grab whatever laundry detergent smells, has the cheapest price tag, or is most convenient like laundry pods that can just be thrown in the washing machine. Unfortunately, you may be paying for these hasty decisions. So what is really inside your laundry pod and how and you avoid the nasty chemicals?
What science has to say about laundry detergent
A 2008 University of Washington study of top-selling laundry products had shocking results. This study found that only six products emitted nearly 100 different toxic chemicals known as VOC’s. According to the United States, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) “Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids. VOCs include a variety of chemicals, some of which may have short- and long-term adverse health effects…VOCs are emitted by a wide array of products numbering in the thousands.”
The author of the study, Anne Steinemann, a UW professor of civil and environmental engineering and of public affairs went on to say, “five of the six products emitted one or more carcinogenic ‘hazardous air pollutants,’ which are considered by the Environmental Protection Agency to have no safe exposure level.”
And yes, these are products that we are exposed to on a daily basis. Manufacturers of consumer products are not required to list the ingredients used in fragrances on their labels, so the high toxicity of the laundry detergent was not printed anywhere on the bottle.
So what’s the big deal?
While the 2008 study didn’t go into the adverse health effects of VOC’s, many other scientists have made these air pollutants a subject of intense research. One study found that exposure to certain VOC’s may cause respiratory diseases, anaphylactic diseases, and cardiovascular diseases, to name just a few. The scary part? The United States has only totally restricted 50 chemicals from laundry products, while the European Union has banned more than 1,400 potentially harmful substances.
And if you thought laundry detergent was bad, those ever-convenient Tide Pods are even worse with an independent study listing over 700 unique chemical formulas in the pods, even though the label only indicated 26 ingredients. Here are a few other things that are probably lurking in your laundry detergent:
Phosphates & EDTA: Not only harmful to human health, these chemicals, added to make laundry detergent effective in hard water, have been shown to pollute streams and waterways as well.
UV/Optical Brighteners (OB): Used to make clothes appear whiter, these brighteners have been linked to a number of concerning health issues dues to chemicals such as naphthotriazolystil, benesbenzoxazolyl, and diaminostilbene disulfonate. These chemicals have been linked to allergic reactions, rashes, developmental issues, and hormone imbalance.
Fragrance: Believe it or not, that “fresh linen” scent isn’t naturally occurring. It is created by many unnecessary chemicals that contribute nothing to the cleanliness of your clothes and only serve to increase the toxicity of your detergent and potentially cause skin rashes and irritation.
Surfactants: Perhaps the most concerning aspect of laundry detergent, surfactants refer to a collection of cleaning agents that help a product work effectively. Surfactants include quaternium -15, Linear alkyl benzene sulfonates and petroleum distillates which have been shown to cause nerve toxicity, allergic reactions, asthma, cancer, lung damage, and respiratory distress.
This list is far from exhaustive and a quick glance at your laundry detergent bottle will reveal a number of other concerning additives that harm you and your family.
How to avoid chemicals?
Make your own detergent
It’s incredibly easy to whip up a batch of your own detergent that smells just as good and is just as effective as commercial products. Without all the scary chemicals. Use washing soda, borax, unscented bar soap, and a few drops of your favorite essential oil.
Buy what’s best
If making your own laundry detergent isn’t appealing, you can at least shop for what’s best. Refer to this guide from the Environmental Working group for a list of the safest products you can buy.
Ditch dryer sheets and fabric softener
Detergent isn’t the only laundry-related toxic product. Dryer sheets and fabric softeners have many of the same dyes, fragrances, and other added ingredients that can endanger your health. Use a reusable dryer ball with a few drops of essential oil instead of dryer sheets and add a little baking soda and vinegar to the wash cycle to help soften your clothes.