Toxic contaminants.  What are they?  Most individuals think of them as outdoor air fumes, polluted waterways, or industrial waste.

We spend approximately 80-90%  of our time indoors. Time spent working, sleeping, studying, eating, and exercising  in very enclosed spaces.  So it makes sense to understand more about potential toxic contaminants where you spend so much time–your home.

The typical home contains anywhere from 3 to 10 gallons of contaminants from glass and bathroom cleaners to garden pesticides and fertilizers.  There are also things that you probably never give thought to such as doing your laundry.


The average family washes around 80 pounds (30 kg) of laundry every week

35 billion loads of laundry are washed every year in the US

17.5 billion cups of detergent are used  (approximately 1/2 cup per laundry load) each year.

So doesn’t it make sense to know how safe your laundry detergent is and the potential impact it may have on Mother Nature?  Remember, laundry detergent can leave a residue build up behind on your clothing which will eventually penetrate your skin, be absorbed into your skin,  and can be released into the air you breathe.

The law does not required detergent makers to list toxic ingredient in their products, but here is a list of typical toxins found in most laundry detergents that harm both the environment and our health.

1.  Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS)

(SLS) is a surfactant foaming agent, detergent, and emulsifier used in thousands of industrial cleaners, and cosmetic products.  It is linked to health issues from skin irritation to organ toxicity.  It is pervasive in nearly all shampoos, scalp treatments, hair color and bleaching agents, toothpastes, body washes and cleansers, make-up foundation, liquid hand soaps and laundry detergents.  It is rated by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) Cosmetics Database as a  MODERATE HAZARD.  It is linked to irritation of eyes, organ toxicity, developmental/reproductive toxicity,  Neurotoxicity, endocrine disruption, ecotoxicology, cellular changes, and possible mutations and cancer.

SLS can go by the name of: Sodium dodecyl sulfate, Sulfuric acid, monododecyl ester, sodium salt, Sodium salt sulfuric acid, Monododecyl ester socdum salt sulfuric acid, A13-00356, Akyposal SDS, Aquarex ME,  and Aquarex methyl.  Plenty of disguises for SLS by using these other chemical names for the product.

2.  1,4-dioxane

This is a synthetic petrochemical known as a carcinogen.  It is created when laundry detergents and other products are manufactured using cheap ethoxylation (a short-cut industrial process in which ethylene oxide is added to fatty acid alcohols to give them detergent properties). The CDC list it as toxic to your brain, nervous system, kidneys, liver, and respiratory system.  The State of California considers it a carcinogen.  It is an increasing threat to waterways.

It can be disguised in a product using the suffixes:  myreth, oleth, laureth, ceteareth, Peg, Polyethylene, polyethylene glycol, polyoxyethylene and oxynol.

It is often a contaminate with SLS.

3.  Phosphate

Phosphates are the main cleaning ingredient in many laundry detergents and other household cleaners because they break down dirt particles and remove stains by softening the water, allowing suds to form.  The enhances the cleaning power of detergents.

Phosphates have been known to potentially cause:

Nausea,  Diarrhea, and Skin irritations.

In the environment it increases algae growth in waterways which act as fertilizer which chokes rivers and lakes.  It suffocates salmon and other aquatic life.  It releases toxins that deplete waterways of oxygen once the algae die.  And the scary this is phosphates REMAIN even after wastewater treatments.

4.  Fabric Softeners and dryer sheets.

These two products are some of the most toxic products used in the laundering process.  They contain the following contaminants.

Benzyl acetate– linked to pancreatic cancer

Limonene–known carcinogen

A-Terpineol-can cause respiratory and nervous system problems

Ethyl Acetate-a narcotic on the EPS’s Hazardous Waste list

Camphor–May cause potential central nervous system disorders

Chloroform–neurotoxin, anesthetic and carcinogenic

Pentane–known to be harmful if inhaled

Plus some fabric softeners and dryer sheets contain ethanol, an alternative fuel derived from corn, grain, and agricultural waste.

5.  EDTA  (Ethylene Diamine Tetraacetic acid)

This is a group of compounds used as an alternative to phosphates.  They cause reproductive and developmental effects in lab animals and do not readily biodegrade.

6.  Linear Alky Benzene Sulfonates (LAS)

Synthetic petrochemicals that biodegrade slowly making them an environmental hazard.  Benzene may cause cancer in  humans and animals.

7.  Nonylphenol Ethoxylate (NPE)

Petrochemical surfactants banned in the EU and Canada but allowed in the USA.  They cause liver and kidney damage.  Although they can be biodegradable, they do not biodegrade very easy and usually biodegrade into more toxic substances.  They are being found in freshwater, saltwater, groundwater, sediment and soil as dangerous contaminants.

8.  Petroleum distillates (aka napthas)

Derived from synthetic crude oil, linked to caner, lung and mucous membrane damage.

9.  Sodium Hypochlorite (household bleach)

A chemical precursor to chlorine, which is extremely toxic.  Skin contact can product caustic irritation or burns,  Mixing with other cleaning products can create hazardous fumes.

10.   Phenols

Can cause toxicity throughout the entire body.

11.  Artificial fragrances

Linked to various toxic effects on fish and mammals.  They can cause allergies, skin and eye irritation to humans.

12.  Optical brighteners

Toxic to fish and cause allergic reactions in humans.

Green Laundering Tips

1.  Wear your clothes more than once if not really dirty

2.  Wash only full loads of laundry to wave water and energy

3.  Wash and rinse in cold water to save energy used to heat the water

4.  Use a clothesline to dry your clothes.  88 million dryers in the US alone emit a ton or more of carbon dioxide every year.  Use a clothesline and your clothes will last longer and smell fresher.

5.  Avoid dry cleaning.  Dry cleaning is a toxic process with uses carcinogenic chemicals such as perchloroethylene (aka ‘perc’).

6.  Buy concentrated detergents which have reduced packaging and state the following on their label:

100% non-toxic and 100% biodegradable

Uses only plant-based enzymes not animal enzymes.  Using 3 plant-based enzymes can replace very large quantities of synthetic chemicals.  They work effectively in very low temperatures and are fully biodegradable.

Phosphates and Sulfates free.

Petrochemical Free

Contains no bleach dyes, fragrances, optical brighteners, and masking agents.  Uses only natural oils and food-grade cleaning sources.

Includes a plant-based softener so no need for a separate softener

Performs ideally in cold water and is safe for delicate fabrics and colors.

Derived from plants, vegetables, and natural food sources

Uses 100% natural and eco-certified ingredients  tested by an independent agency that certifies  ingredients are indeed “green”.

In summary, check out whatever liquid or powder you’re pouring into your washing machine week after week is really “green”.  If the label doesn’t disclose enough information  to determine its safety and “green” status, consider contacting the manufacturer and ask for an ingredient list for safe health concerns.  It the list doesn’t cover  the above Safe Green Laundering Tips, consider changing to a brand that does meet health and safety guidelines.