In the journey to a cleaner home, there is one room that is often overlooked—the laundry room. Switching out toxic products seems like a no-brainer when it comes to the things that directly touch our skin, but many people forget about the possible exposure that comes from laundry detergent. While it may seem like the water washes all of the soap off of your clothing, some chemicals actually are designed to stick to your clothes so they remain scented. As your clothes lose their fresh smell throughout the day, the chemicals rub off and absorb into your skin.
There are a lot of different laundry detergents on store shelves that are marketed as “free” or “clear” and they’re often as bad chemically as standard detergents. Many companies will “greenwash” their products with labels that imply that they’re natural or plant-based, when words like “free and clear” or “natural” aren’t actually regulated. These words are often used as a marketing strategy and can mislead consumers into thinking that they’re purchasing non-toxic products for their household.
As always, my goal is to help you decipher these labels and feel confident about the choices you bring into your home. Let’s start with a few ingredients that you should look for and avoid:
Fragrance is one of the easier words to read on a label, but can also be one of the most confusing. Fragrance means anything that makes the product smell better, whether from a natural source or a synthetic one. Many synthetic sources of fragrance emit dangerous chemicals that are toxic by federal standards.
One study found that of the six laundry detergents tested, all of them gave off dangerous VOCs (volatile organic compounds). Five of them even gave off chemicals that are known to be carcinogenic hazardous air pollutants—yikes, right? Synthetic scents can also cause dermatitis, or skin irritation, and can exacerbating breathing problems caused by asthma or allergies. Natural forms of fragrance such as organic essential oils do not have the same effect on the air or your body. However, it can be difficult to find out what brands are using if they are simply labeling them as “fragrance.”
As mentioned above, volatile organic compounds are emitted from many conventional laundry detergents. This means that when they’re exposed to air, they make the air around you dangerous to breathe. When these chemicals remain on your clothing in the form of fragrance, they emit these toxic VOCs throughout the day, potentially causing skin irritation and breathing problems. VOCs have also been associated with a variety of health problems including cancers, headaches and nausea, and liver and nervous system injuries. There is no “safe” level of exposure to VOCs so it’s best to completely avoid them, especially in products that will be touching your skin all day every day.
Phthalates are chemicals that make plastic soft and flexible. They function in personal care products such as cleaners and laundry detergents to bind different chemicals together and make the fragrance last longer. In the case of laundry detergent, this means that the phthalates sit on your clothes for a long period of time and are absorbed into the skin throughout the day.
Children in particular have been found to be more likely exposed to phthalates and research has found that younger children had higher amounts of them in their systems than older children. There is also a link between cholesterol levels and phthalate concentration in the urine, implicating that it may possibly affect your body’s absorption and processing of nutrients. In addition, there have been studies done on the effects of phthalates on hormones. Phthalates are considered to be endocrine disrupters, otherwise known as a chemical that alters hormone signaling. It mimics the real hormone, so the real hormone may not be able to do its actual job. This can have an effect on the reproductive, immune, and nervous systems. One study done in rats found that phthalate concentration significantly affects ovulation.
The tricky part about phthalates is that they’re not typically included on labels. This is because fragrance “recipes” don’t have to be disclosed, unless a product comes with a phthalate-free label, there is no way for you to know for sure whether it contains them. The best way to avoid them? Choose labels that specifically state that they’re phthalate-free.
Artificial dyes are another endocrine disrupter that is commonly found in laundry detergents and other household products. These dyes make their way into our water systems causing problems outside our households as well. Labels that say “free and clear” typically do not contain artificially dyes, but as mentioned above, they often contain many other toxic chemicals that should be avoided. There are better choices out there, and they don’t have to break the budget, there are options for every price point!
Better Choice Laundry Detergents
The good news is that since many consumers have been making the switch to cleaner home products, brands are listening! There are now many great brands out there that make incredible products that will keep your family clean and healthy (and smelling great!) Here are a few of my favorites:
- Molly’s Suds
- Aspen Clean
- Humble Suds
- Branch Basics
- DIY Recipe
- For a super budget friendly way to wash your clothes and keep your family from being exposed to chemicals, try this easy DIY detergent. 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!
Another area you can clean up in your laundry room is your dyer sheets. These often contain the same phthalates and fragrances that toxic laundry detergents have. This means that they can cause respiratory problems along with hormonal issues. While dryer sheets make your clothes dry faster and add softness, there are great alternatives that will make your clothes just as soft!
A super easy way to do this is to get yourself some wool dryer balls. These can be thrown into your dryer with a few drops of essential oils. Note: some essential oils are not safe to use in the dryer as they can be flammable. The best to use are jasmine essential oil, lemongrass essential oil, and lavender essential oil. Before using any essential oil in the dryer, it’s best to check its flash point to make sure it wouldn’t ignite in your dryer. If you’re worried about the possibility of fire, use a lower temperature as well.
If you find yourself unable to give up dryer sheets, Molly’s Suds recently released dryer sheets that are made with only their verified safe ingredients. You can check their website for their list of ingredients, where they’re derived from, and why they’re safer for your family. If wool dryer balls aren’t your thing, this is a better option than most dryer sheets on the market.
I hope this post helps you on your journey to a cleaner home! This one simple change you can make in your laundry room will reduce the amount of chemicals your family is exposed to all day long. It’s an easy swap with a big impact.
Have you already made the switch to a better choice laundry detergent? Tell me about your experience in the comments!