According to care2, the average home contains 10-40 litres of toxic chemicals in the form of cleaners and detergents that can cause respiratory problems, irritation, disruption of the body’s systems, and other health issues. The United States Environmental Protection Agency reports that because we use these products to clean our homes, the air inside a house can be 2-5 times more polluted than the air outside.
One of the worst offenders is laundry detergents and powders, as they leave residue on our clothes that we then wear against our skin. The average household washes around 20kg of laundry per week – more than 6,000 items of clothing in a year! If you’re using an off-the-shelf detergent, all your clothes could be exposed to these common chemicals:
1. Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) or Sodium laureth sulfate (SLES)
These chemicals are detergents, emulsifiers, and surfactants used in thousands of common cleaning products. SLS originates from coconuts, but that doesn’t mean it’s good for you – the list of health concerns is long – irritation of skin, irritation of the eyes, organ toxicity, endochrine disruption, cellular changes. It’s even been linked to cancer. In scientific studies, this chemical is used as a skin irritant as it strips the skin of protective oils and moisture. So why are we using it in laundry products that are worn against our skin?
This isn’t actually an ingredient. It’s a by-product of cheap shortcut many companies use in manufacturing detergents containing SLS. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), it’s a respiratory toxicant and has been linked to cancer.
Because 1.4-dioxane is a by-product, you won’t find it listed on an ingredients list. Manufacturers can remove it before products go on sale, but many prefer not to in order to save on costs.
The only way to be sure a product doesn’t contain 1.4-dioxane is to purchase green laundry detergents that don’t contain SLS.
3. Petroleum distillates (a.k.a. naphthas)
These petrochemicals derived from synthetic crude oil are used as the cleaning agent in some laundry liquids and have been linked to cancer and lung damage, and that’s not even mentioning the damage petroleum-based product do to the environment.
According to one study, if every household replaced one bottle of petroleum-based laundry detergent with an eco-friendly one, it would save 149,000 barrels of oil per year).
4. Chlorinated bleach
A water solution of sodium hypochlorite that is the base of what the ‘bleach’ products you use in the laundry to get your whites whiter. Bleach comes with a number of health risks, including eye and skin irritation and respiratory tract illness – simply from inhaling the fumes. The fact manufacturers recommend you wear gloves and a safety mask in a well-ventilated room while using bleach suggests you’re not making the healthiest choice.
The EWG consider it a potentially significant hazard to health and the environment. When bleach gets into waterways, it’s lethal to aquatic life, not to mention the increased potential exposure for other humans.
5. Nonylphenol Ethoxylates (NPEs)
Manufacturers can use NPEs to create oily emulsions without making foam, which makes them a handy ingredient. However, they’re also toxic to aquatic life and are an estrogen mimicker. This means your body can absorb MPE instead of estrogen and it doesn’t know the difference.
Rainbow trout exposed to NPE switch gender from male to female. Rodents tested with NPE have numerous reproductive and developmental defects. Concern over these effects (and their unknown impact on humans) is such that NPE is banned in Europe and Canada.
We recommend actively searching out products that advertise as “NPE free” in their labels, such as those in the Living Green Laundry Range.
Remember that whatever you put into your washing machine ends up against your skin. Choosing a natural, green alternative doesn’t just improve your carbon footprint, it helps make your home and your family healthier, safer, and brighter.