We don’t exactly like doing laundry, but it’s a necessary evil. Our clothes, sheets, and towels all need to be washed. While we think we’re doing something good when we clean our clothes, if we use laundry detergent that contains dangerous ingredients, we could be doing more harm than good.
Wait, there are dangerous ingredients in laundry detergent?
Surprising, right? It turns out that major brands of laundry detergent, including one that might be in your laundry room right now, scored an F rating by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). In case you don’t already know, the EWG is “a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to protecting human health and the environment.”
When the EWG reviews products and gives them a score, they base it on the ingredients that are in the product and the level of potential harm those ingredients can cause.
Here are some of the concerning ingredients they found in popular brands of laundry detergent.
- Nonylphenols and Nonylphenol Ethoxylates (NE/NPEs)These detergent-like chemicals have been linked to skin allergies, respiratory issues, asthma, hormone disruption, DNA damage and cancer.
- 1,4-DioxaneThis is a known carcinogen. It has also may cause non-reproductive organ toxicity and irritation of the skin, eyes and lungs.
- Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) and Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS)These ingredients can be contaminated with 1,4-Dioxane or ethylene oxide (another carcinogen). They can also cause nervous system problems and eye, skin and respiratory irritation. They’re also bad for the environment. When these chemicals are washed down the drain, they don’t degrade very easily, so they can damage both animals and humans.
- FragrancesAlthough it’s listed as one ingredient, fragrance can actually include many different chemicals that are mixed together to create a scent. According to the EWG, these chemicals can cause eye irritation, dermatitis, respiratory distress and negative effects to the reproductive system.
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While you should run screaming if you see any of these ingredients in your laundry detergent (or at least, buy a different detergent), you’ll find them in many other types of products as well, ranging from household cleaners to cosmetics. It’s definitely important to check the ingredients in the products that you bring into your home.
Out of 269 HE (high efficiency) laundry detergents, the EWG gave an F rating to 36% of them. Of 434 GP (general purpose) laundry detergents, the EWG gave an F rating to 37.6%. A total of 386 laundry cleaning products (detergents, fabric softeners, dryer sheets and stain removers) scored an F rating. Yikes!
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Which ones got an F rating? There were many popular brands on this failing list. Some of them, in alphabetical order, included Ajax, All, Arm & Hammer, Babyganics, Boulder Clean, Cheer, Dreft, Era, Fab Ultra, Gain, Green Works, Ivory, Just the Basics, Kirkland, LA’s Totally Awesome, Melaleuca, Mrs Meyers, OxiClean, Persil, Resolve and Tide.
Don’t assume that your laundry detergent is safe just because it’s not on this abbreviated list. As we mentioned above, there are 386 laundry cleaners on the EWG’s failed list, and we couldn’t list them all. Also, keep in mind that many of these brands make more than one laundry detergent, so even if your brand is on the list here, your particular version might have been rated better than an F.
We recommend checking the EWG’s full list of F-rated laundry products here. It’s also a good idea to check ingredient lists on the products you buy, and be careful not to be fooled by words like “organic” or “natural.” As you can see in the list here, some brands that sound good (like Green Works and Babyganics) were still F-rated.