This is one of the main problems, and the focus of the two studies above. Manufacturers combine a number of chemicals to produce a fragrance—so you’ll believe your clothes are clean because they smell clean—and they don’t have to list those chemicals on the label because of trade protection. As we’ve seen, some of those chemicals can be very toxic.
Chemicals like quaternium-15 is known to release formaldehyde, which is a known carcinogen
These chemicals help stabilize the formula, so that it lasts longer on the shelf. Examples include polyalkylene oxide or ethylene oxide, which are linked with eye and lung irritation, and even dermatitis.
Bleach may be used separately or may be included in the detergent itself. It’s known to irritate skin, eyes, and lungs, and when it mixes with wastewater, it can form toxic organic compounds that have been linked with respiratory issues, liver, and kidney damage.
You’ll find these in detergents advertising their “brightening” powers. Brighter whites! Brighter colors! What’s creating all this brightness? Chemicals that actually remain on the clothes to absorb UV light and help clothes “appear” brighter.
Manufacturers use phosphates to make detergents more effective in hard water, and to help prevent dirt from settling back on clothes when they’re washing. These chemicals have long been associated with environmental damage, particularly in our streams and waterways. They cause algae blooms that damage ecosystems.
There are lots of natural alternatives on the market these days. You can also make your own detergent. If you don’t want to do it yourself, look for the safer options out there. The Environmental Working Group has a great laundry guide where you can find those products that scored the lowest hazard rating.
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Photo Source: Unsplash, Averie Woodard