Is Your Laundry Detergent Safe?

Posted by Karalynne Call on

How do you pick your laundry detergent? Maybe you use the kind your mom bought growing up, or maybe you grab whatever brand is on sale at the store – Tide, Gain, Seventh Generation, All, the usual suspects. Perhaps you’re using a specific baby laundry detergent for your baby’s clothes. But, even while using a product specifically made for infants, are deceptive marketing tactics misleading you? Let’s talk about what ingredients you can avoid to keep your family safe. I’ll also share some of my favorite clean, non-toxic laundry detergents.

The Truth About Laundry Detergent

Once I began thinking critically about the products I was using to care for my family, I realized just how toxic the mainstream laundry detergents are. Loaded with endocrine disruptors and known carcinogens, including fragrances, phthalates, and other chemicals, popular laundry detergent brands can be incredibly harmful. Keeping that in mind, how do you pick the best laundry detergent for your family? Especially considering there’s so many misleading options on the market.

Busting Laundry Myths

Doesn’t the water just rinse out the soap in the clothes? Why does it matter what’s in the detergent?

Unfortunately, no. Many of the chemicals in laundry detergents stick to your clothes to keep them smelling fresh and clean throughout the day. As your clothes lose that just-washed smell, where did all those scent chemicals go? Yep. You guessed it – they rubbed right off onto your skin. Which is exactly why it matters what’s in your laundry detergent. 

What ingredients are in laundry detergents that make them so bad?

Remember the Tide Pod Challenge? That viral social media challenge where kids and teenagers dared each other to eat Tide Pods? Well, that prompted Tide to release a statement saying that their laundry products contained “highly-concentrated, toxic detergent.” That’s when people started wondering what’s really in their laundry detergent. So, let’s break that down. 

Toxic Ingredients in Laundry Detergents

Here are just a few (yes a few – unfortunately, there are more) of the things to be on the lookout for when selecting your laundry detergent. 


Phthalates are in the fragrance you smell and absorb through your skin. These guys are big endocrine disruptors. They interfere with your hormones affecting the body’s ability to regulate biological processes. Phthalates are tricky. Because fragrance “recipes” are considered proprietary and do not have to be disclosed, they’re typically not listed on labels. Keeping this in mind, the best way to steer clear of them is by selecting a detergent that specifically states it’s phthalate-free.


VOCs, or volatile organic compounds, are emitted from many conventional laundry detergents. When exposed to air, they become dangerous vapors and gasses that are hazardous to breathe. These are the chemicals that stick to your clothing in the form of fragrance and emit toxic VOCs throughout the day. These can cause skin irritation and breathing problems. Since there is no “safe level” of exposure to VOCs, it’s best to completely avoid them – especially in products that will be touching your skin all day long.


1,4-Dioxane is a harmful chemical byproduct that can cause nose, eye, throat, and skin irritation. The EPA has classified it as a Group B2 chemical, which means it’s a probable human carcinogen. 

Artificial dyes

Artificial dyes are another endocrine disrupter. They can also end up in water systems which can cause problems outside your household as well. Labels that say “free and clear” typically do not contain artificial dyes, but may still contain some of the other toxins listed above. 


While Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) gives laundry detergent its soapy, foaming properties, it’s also a potential skin irritant. SLES can cause itchy, cracked, and dry skin. Especially when they’re absorbed by your body all day long. 


While fragrance is likely one of the ingredients we’re most familiar with, it can certainly be one of the most misleading on labels. Fragrance is anything that makes the product smell better, whether from a natural source or a synthetic one. In many popular laundry detergent brands, the fragrance is likely from synthetic sources. They emit dangerous chemicals considered toxic by federal standards

Is Fragrance in Laundry Detergent Really That Bad?

For most people, saying goodbye to that fresh and clean laundry smell makes it tough to switch to a non-toxic brand, but consider this: 

University of Washington study tested scented laundry products and found that “nearly 100 volatile organic compounds were emitted” and none were listed on the product label. The EPA lists the adverse health effects of VOCs ranging from headaches to liver and central nervous system damage.

Many mainstream laundry detergents contain a significant amount of artificial fragrances. Highly-durable and artificially-engineered,  these are what gives your laundry the “fresh and clean” smell long after a wash. These “clean” smelling fragrances are typically chemical based and embed into your clothes, bedding, and other linens. Considering they’re in close contact with our skin for long periods of time, this is incredibly problematic.

Non-Toxic Laundry Detergent Options

Now, you know what to look out for, so you can choose the best laundry detergent for your family. I’m sharing a few of my favorites here, as well as a budget-friendly DIY, homemade laundry detergent too. While these are great alternatives, keep in mind this is not a comprehensive list. Always do your research to select the best laundry detergent for your family and let me know in the comments below what clean brands work best for you!

Homemade Laundry Detergent Recipe

Try this homemade, budget-friendly laundry detergent recipe to wash your clothes and keep your family safe from chemicals.  Add one cup of baking soda to the detergent compartment of your laundry machine, as well as a few drops of your favorite essential oil. Your laundry will come out fresh, clean, and safe for your whole family!

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