Who doesn’t love a fresh load of clean laundry–that lovely scent and the warmth of the clothes right out the dryer. Unfortunately, laundry detergent could be a mix of very harmful chemicals, some of which aren’t even listed on the label.

Worse yet, the laundry room could be one of the highest contributors to indoor air pollution in your home. You might ask, “How could that be? It smells like a fresh ocean breeze in here.” Well, often times, fragrances mask some very dirty ingredients and trick you into thinking your clothes are clean and pristine. That is far from the case though. While you’re sniffing in that mountain rain, you’re probably also getting some formaldehyde and other carcinogens.

Laundry Room with washer and dryer

Researchers from the University of Washington performed a study in 2011 which examined the air vented from machines after using scented laundry detergent and dryer sheets. They captured the exhaust from the dryer vent and found it contained 7 hazardous air pollutants–the 2 carcinogens being acetaldehyde and benzene.

What To Look Out For

The ingredients you want to be cautious of are sodium lauryl sulfate/sodium laureth sulfate (SLS/SLES), 1,4-dioxane, phosphates, nonylphenol ethoxylate (NPE), and optical brighteners. Let me address the last 2 chemicals.

NPE is a petrochemical (a synthetic chemical made out of petroleum), which has been banned in the European Union and Canada but not in the United States. NPEs can imitate estrogen, meaning it disrupts hormonal balance. Furthermore, water treatment facilities can’t completely break down NPEs, so it ends up lingering in the environment and causing harm to aquatic life.

How did petrochemicals even find their way into the list of laundry detergent ingredients? During WWII, since fats and oils used to make soap were prioritized for making explosives, another source for detergents had to be found. During that time, people discovered the abundance of petroleum and all the different chemicals that could be derived from it. So voila, the beginning of petrochemical use in laundry detergent.

Laundry Detergent Ad from War Time

Optical brighteners are chemicals that absorb light in the UV region and re-emit light in the blue region by fluorescence, thus enhancing the appearance of fabrics. They create an illusion of brighter whites, which makes your clothes appear cleaner. Pretty interesting, right? The chemicals work though by remaining on your clothes, which means it can come in contact with your skin. To determine the safety of optical brighteners, future studies need to look into skin reactions and harm to aquatic life.

Laundry hanging out to dry

So, which laundry detergent brands should I avoid?

There are the obvious mainstream brands, like Tide and Gain, that you’ll want to steer clear of. However, other brands that sound natural and eco-friendly, like Babyganics, Mrs. Meyer’s, and Green Works are just as offensive. They scored an “F” on the Environmental Working Group site, so don’t be fooled by the name and branding. If you or anyone in your family has unexplained skin rashes or irritation, it wouldn’t hurt to try changing your laundry detergent to one of the recommended brands below.

Helpful Tips for Laundering:

1. Wear your clothes more than once if possible, so you decrease your laundry load. Less chores for you!
2. Avoid bleach, dyes, and synthetic fragrance. Don’t underestimate the power of vinegar and baking soda.
3. Experiment and find out the least amount of detergent you need to use per load. More money in your pocket!
4. If you need to dryclean, find businesses that are eco-friendly and use non-toxic practices.
5. Use biodegradable, non-toxic laundry detergents. Be wary of brands that aren’t willing to list out specific ingredients; they’re probably hiding something. “Naturally derived plant based cleaning agents” usually means SLS or SLES. If they can’t tell you the truth, they don’t deserve your $$.
6. Don’t launder your money. (Anyone watching Ozark? Great Netflix show to watch while you’re folding laundry!)

Best Laundry Detergents I Like

rebel green laundry best laundry detergents

Rebel Green Laundry Detergent

Why I Like It: Rebel Green’s plant-based, biodegradable laundry detergent boasts a USDA organic certification. It’s free of harmful chemicals and toxins. Furthermore, the cute retro design will make the chore of laundry just a tad more enjoyable.

Molly's Suds laundry powder best laundry detergents

Molly’s Suds Laundry Powder

Why I Like It: Molly’s Suds contains no harsh chemicals, scoring an “A” rating from EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning. It’s gentle and safe for people with sensitive skin, allergies, and eczema. The way they formulated the concentrated powder deems it safe for standard or HE machines.

better life best laundry detergents

Better Life Laundry Detergent

Why I Like It: You can rest assured if you’re using Better Life’s plant-based, biodegradable liquid detergent. The ultra concentrated, cruelty free, and non-toxic formula leaves your clothes looking clean and smelling great!

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