Are Your Detergents Toxic?

Did you know that your detergent could be toxic? That’s right! Manufacturers are adding chemicals that have been linked to numerous health problems and could affect you and your family. To keep you in the know, we’re going to break down 5 of the most common ingredients in detergent and see what impact they could be having on your health.

Synthetic fragrance


What is it: Synthetic fragrances are, more often than not, in anything scented. When you read “fragrance” on an ingredient list, you don’t actually know what you’re getting. The regulations are so loose that “fragrances” don’t have to be disclosed or tested. This means that we really don’t know what chemicals are making up the scents in your detergent.

Why is it in my detergent: Fragrance is added to your detergent to make it more pleasing to your senses. We enjoy nice smells, and that smell then translates to your clothing as you use it.

What is the danger: There are several dangers with synthetic fragrances. One issue is that they can cause allergies to become worse, especially for those who are more susceptible due to asthma. On top of that, obesity, diabetes, and problems with development can happen due to the phthalates in fragrances. This can be incredibly dangerous for children as they are still developing.


What is it: 1,4-dioxane is an unintentional byproduct of the ethoxylation process which detergent makers use to create more suds in the detergent. Because this process is very common, the commonality of 1,4-dioxane has greatly increased. You won’t find it on any label since it’s addition is unintentional. This arguably makes it more dangerous solely because you don’t even know it’s present.

Why is it in my detergent: In short, it’s not purposefully being added. It only occurs as a byproduct of a manufacturing shortcut, so it’s addition is known, but being ignored for the sake of convenience.

What is the danger: This is one of the more dangerous ingredients in detergents. According to the Center for Disease Control, it can be linked to kidney, respiratory, liver, and nervous system issues, in addition to affecting the brain.

Chlorine bleach

What is it: Bleach is a very popular whitening agent, used to whiten clothing and hair.

Why is it in my detergent: Usually it is not mixed into detergent, but is sold and used separately to clean.  

What is the danger: There are many dangers with bleach. It can burn skin, damage eyes, and cause respiratory issues if inhaled.

Sodium lauryl sulfate

What is it: Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) is a surfactant that is a common ingredient for creating suds in your detergent. Though it is naturally derived, it is still quite toxic.

Why is it in my detergent: SLS is used to increase the foam and bubbles in the detergent. This essentially convinces you that your clothing is being cleaned. Have you ever used a body wash that didn’t suds up? Did you still feel a little dirty after using it? SLS’s are essentially creating the foam that convinces you the detergent is going the extra mile.

What is the danger: SLS’s have been linked to a myriad of issues, from irritation of skin and eyes, to human developmental toxicity, to cancer.

Nonylphenol ethoxylate

What is it: Nonylphenol ethoxylate (NPE) is a surfactant the is extremely common in detergents. It’s so dangerous that that is has been banned in Canada and the Euorpean Union. Unfortunately, it is still being permitted in the United States.

Why is it in my detergent: It’s just one of the many surfactants that aid in the cleaning process.

What is the danger: Numerous studies have pointed to the effects NPE’s have on the functional properties of the neurologic, reproductive, immune, and endocrine systems. It also disrupts endocrine functions and has adverse effects on fetal development. This is all on top of being horrific for the environment, causing the fish exposed to be altered to part male and part female.

What’s the solution?

The solution is quite simple: stop using products that have these and other harmful chemicals. That’s easier said than done. Often reading the label isn’t enough, as many of us don’t know what the chemicals are or what they do. That’s not to mention the chemicals that aren’t even listed!


The bottom line is do your research. Know what you’re putting on your clothes, and ultimately, your body. Using a safe, non-toxic detergent will help you stay safe and away from chemicals that could cause you and your family harm.

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Monet Moore

Written by Monet Moore