The Dirty Little Secret About Clean Laundry
What secrets lie inside your laundry detergent?
When you walk through the detergent aisle at the grocery store.. what do you smell? An overload of scents & fragrances.
What is exactly is fragrance?
It’s the ingredients that manufacturers put in their products to try to convince you that it smells good. They can be found in your laundry detergent, dryer sheets, dishwashing soap, and shampoo.
The vast majority of synthetic fragrance ingredients are actually made from petrochemicals. You know the leftover stuff they get from refining petroleum to turn it into gasoline.
Somehow, I’m really not sure how it turns into chemicals that can trick us into thinking they smell good.
Plus we’ve been conditioned by advertisers and marketing experts to believe that in order for our clothes, and by extension us, to smell good it has to…well…smell.
So who determines what those smells are we are all supposed to love are? They do! Sadly, what those other companies use is not exactly perfume.
Instead, it’s a complex concoction of chemicals that they hide under the deceptively simple term fragrance. Not on the label… That’s if they even put the word fragrance on their label at all.
It’s not illegal for them to not disclose their ingredient on the label. According to the law they’re not actually required to tell you what’s you are washing your clothes with.
They’re certainly under no obligation to identify all the chemicals that they classify as a fragrance.
That’s because all those chemicals which are combined together to make a “fragrance” are considered a trade secret.
Manufacturers can choose to skip sharing what’s really in their laundry detergent or those dryer sheets, in order to protect their proprietary formulas.
They know that some of those ingredients cause cancer and a lot of other health issues. Even worse, some laundry products are labeled “fragrance-free” or “unscented.” Yup, they put it right on the front of the package.
In my book, this is almost worse than not telling you what’s in there in the first place.
Because fragrance free isn’t. They’re not telling you the truth. Instead the manufacturers can actually use something called a masking fragrance.
Which because of some very fancy maneuvering, is not really considered a fragrance. Even though it really is. So they can add fragrance-type ingredients and say fragrance-free on the label.
At this point you might be wondering why these are masking fragrances are in the products? Just like the name implies, it’s to cover up naturally occurring (bad) smells in whatever-it-is. But it’s not a fragrance.
I have a problem with that.
Getting under your skin
One of the worst things about all of these chemicals found in laundry products is that they’re still on your stuff.
Even though you’ve washed, and supposedly cleaned it.
Especially if you’ve dried it with one of those toxic-pads they call dryer sheets.
These chemicals go into the fabric of your clothing, your towels, your unmentionables. Where they can migrate through your skin and get absorbed into your bloodstream. From there…well, it’s not good.
Chemicals found in dryer sheets infiltrate the clothes we wear, which in turn get on our skin and absorbed into our body.
The ingredients in “fragrance” are absorbed into the bloodstream directly through the skin.
We advise people to avoid ALL products with the ingredient “fragrance” on the label—including perfumes and colognes, baby lotions and wipes, air fresheners and candles, dryer sheets and detergents, and so on.
Even if the front screams “fragrance-free,” products can still contain fragrance ingredients as a masking agent to cover unpleasant chemical smells; and into your lungs. If you’re smelling it, you’re breathing it.
Some studies have shown that as little as three exposures can cause low-level inflammation in the lungs.
It turns out that as little as one fabric softener pad placed in a small space for 8 or more hours can cause what’s referred to as sensory irritation.
Even if you can’t smell it, it’s still in the environment and it can be affecting you, your breathing, your skin, your health.
Your dryer vent is smelling up the outdoors
It turns out, these chemicals are not just bad for you. They’re also really bad for the environment.
One study published in the Air Quality, Atmosphere & Health journal found volatile organic compounds (man-made chemicals that are highly toxic and which cause pollution) including acetaldehyde and benzene, coming out of the dryer vent.
Both of those chemicals are known to cause cancer.
If you can measure them coming out of the dryer vent into the good old outdoors imagine how bad the air quality must be inside your laundry room. Also in your home.
Not only that, some of the VOCs are classified by the EPA as having no safe level for exposure. That’s super scary. But they’re putting it in your laundry products anyway.
I have a problem with that too.
Other Extremely Toxic Ingredients in Laundry Detergent
Here are just a few of the over 3,000 items that are allowed in, but not on the label, your laundry
- Acetaldehyde – known to cause cancer, but it smells fruity (so that makes it okay?)
- Acetonitrile – side effects include headaches, nausea, tremors, and weakness
- Benzene – linked to leukemia and other cancers
- Musk tetralin – this chemical has been shown to disrupt hormones
- Phthalates – linked to reproductive cancers, diabetes, obesity, and other health problems
- Styrene oxide – animal studies have indicated that this chemical can cause depression. It’s also been shown to irritate the skin (but, of course, if you’re washing your clothes and towels in it, it’s getting on your skin, go figure)
- Toluene – this ingredient is a neurotoxic doozy. Studies have linked it to:
- developmental toxicity (bad for a developing fetus)
- reproductive toxicity (bad for getting pregnant)
- damaging to the lungs, liver, kidneys, heart, and central nervous system
- brain damage the list goes on but this is probably depressing enough
I have a big problem with all of that.
Wash without worry
By now you’re probably REALLY grossed out and wondering what the heck you should do.
This is why I love my job.
I’m with you. I don’t think you need to pour gasoline derivatives all over yourself, your clothes, and your kitchen counters in order to be clean. Or to smell clean for that matter.
The good news is that I don’t use any of those petrochemicals or other harmful ingredients in my products. I also believe that if it’s in the package it needs to be on the label.
So do the right thing for yourself and your loved ones.
Read the label.
Avoid the dirty little secret on laundry by avoiding fragrances (even the fragrance-free kind). The clean the right way. Without toxins.
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Division of Toxicology and Human Health Sciences. “Toluene – ToxFacts.” September 2015. Accessed online August 6, 2020: https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxfaqs/tfacts56.pdf
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Gopalakrishnan, et al. “Gene expression profiles for low-dose exposure to diethyl phthalate in rodents and humans: a translational study with implications for breast carcinogenesis.” Sci Rep 10, 7067 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-63904-w
National Eczema Association. “Fragrance and Perfume Allergy and Eczema FAQ.” 2020. Accessed online August 6, 2020: https://nationaleczema.org/fragrances-perfumes-eczema-allergy/
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Schreurs, R.H.M.M., et al. “Examination of the in vitro (anti)estrogenic, (anti)androgenic and (anti)dioxin-like activities of tetralin, indane and isochroman derivatives using receptor-specific bioassays.” Toxicology Letters. Volume 156, Issue 2, 10 April 2005, Pages 261-275
Steinemann, Anne. “Fragranced consumer products: effects on autistic adults in the United States, Australia, and United Kingdom.” Air quality, atmosphere, & health vol. 11,10 (2018): 1137-1142. doi:10.1007/s11869-018-0625-x
Steinemann, A.C., Gallagher, L.G., Davis, A.L. et al. Chemical emissions from residential dryer vents during use of fragranced laundry products. Air Qual Atmos Health 6, 151–156 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11869-011-0156-1