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5 harmful chemicals to avoid in your laundry and dishwashing detergents

Like many consumers, we used to think that a bit of artificial fragrance won’t kill us. All plant-derived ingredients are good. Products are unsafe without biocides. A cleaning product needs to contain harsh chemicals, otherwise it won’t work. 

Our perception changed after we used SimplyClean (which we carry now at ReCo!). Now we know why we sneezed every time we opened a box of ‘triple action’ laundry powder. Methylisothiazolinone, used in ‘natural’ laundry detergents, is in fact a toxic ingredient. 

Most importantly, a cleaning product can perform perfectly without any harmful chemicals – so why do we still need these nasties in our life? 

In this article, we list five of the most common, harmful chemicals in laundry and dishwashing detergents – they are the ingredients in our ‘strictly-not-to-have’ ingredient list when it comes to product sourcing. Read on!

 

Fragrance lab

Image: womensvoices.org

1. Fragrances (Unspecified / Parfum)

What is it / what is it for?

Fragrances, mostly petroleum-based artificial fragrances, are the most common ingredients found on laundry and dishwashing detergent labels. But what’s in it? Well, none of us know because the recipes are “trade secrets”. All we know is that hundreds of synthetic chemicals are used in artificial fragrances and they don’t have to be disclosed or tested. 

Other than covering the smell of the chemicals used in the products, fragrances are also a ‘scent marketing’ strategy, creating a feel-good factor to make you open your wallet. 

Why is it bad for you?

Artificial fragrances have been classified as allergens, hormone disruptors and neurotoxins. They cause skin and eye irritation, trigger asthma attacks and allergies, and potentially cause neurological damage if you’re exposed to them long term. 

If you find fragrances linger on your washed clothes, phthalates are likely to be used to help scents last longer. Guess what, phthalates have been linked to cancerreproductive harm, and respiratory toxicity

2. SLES & SLS 

What is it / what is it for?

SLES (Sodium Laureth Sulfate / Sodium Lauryl Ether Sulfate) and SLS (Sodium Lauryl Sulfate or SDS: Sodium Dodecyl Sulfate) are synthetic organic compounds, commonly found in household and personal care products, such as shampoo, soaps and toothpastes. They’re derived from palm kernel oil or coconut oil.

They make bubbles. It makes us think that our dirty clothes or teeth are being effectively cleaned. They also act as surfactants (surface-active agents) to make grease and dirt dissolve in water. 

Why is it bad for you?

SLES is a lot more harmful than SLS, due to the measurable amounts of 1,4-dioxane that may be found in the compound. The US EPA has established 1,4-dioxane is ‘a likely human carcinogen’. It’s not easily degradable and can contaminate the waterways. 

SLS is not established to be carcinogenic, though there were researches showing various toxicities. It does cause skin and eye irritation due to the fact that it removes the oils from the skin.  

3. MIT and BIT

What is it / what is it for?

Both MIT (Methylisothiazolinone) and BIT (Benzisothiazolinone) are biocides and preservatives. They are effective in controlling microbial growth in water-containing solutions, thus are used in a wide range of personal care products and industrial products, including products that claim to be ‘natural’. 

Why is it bad for you?

Methylisothiazolinone has been partially banned in the European Union since 2017, due to its toxicity, allergic skin reactions, skin sensitization and potentially neurotoxicity. 

Although Benzisothiazolinone is not banned, it’s classified as an irritant for skin and eyes and only a very limited dose is allowed. In the EPA’s 2015 review of the chemical, it was also established that Benzisothiazolinone is toxic to aquatic life. 

4. PEGs

What is it / what is it for?

PEGs (Polyethylene Glycols) are polyether compounds. They are made using the by-products from petroleum refining or derived from natural gas and coal. (source: madesafe.org)

In household and personal care products, they are being used as thickeners, softeners, moisture-carrying agents, penetration enhancers and surfactants.

Why is it bad for you?

Carcinogenic contaminants are the primary concern for PEGs. Like SLES, PEGs may be contaminated with measurable amounts of 1,4-dioxane, a possible human carcinogen. The ethoxylation process of making PEGs could also contaminate ethylene oxide, a known carcinogen. 

According to David Suzuki’s Dirty Dozen list, PEGs show evidence of genotoxicity and are unsafe to be used on damaged skin. Its function as a ‘penetration enhancer’ could increase absorption of toxins in the skin. 

5. Fillers

What is it / what is it for?

We’ve talked about the shocking truth of fillers with Huw in our interview earlier. Fillers are cheap bulking agents, added to most laundry powder to make the volume appear bigger. The fillers allow brands to sell a ‘concentrated version’ at a higher cost, simply by taking out the fillers!

Ingredients in fillers are not disclosed, however they could include sodium sulfate, sodium chloride, borax, alcohols and anti-foaming agents. 

Why is it bad for you?

If you’ve found any white residues in your laundry, that’s it – they’re the fillers. It’s not only annoying that all this white stuff just stays in your fresh laundry, but because the particles are trapped in your clothes and bedsheets, it could trigger allergic reactions or cause allergy development long term. 

They could also build up in your washing machine and are also unsafe for the septic systems as they could create an oxygen-blocking crust over the soil. 

This month, we celebrate our dishwasher powder being selected as a finalist at the Australian Non-toxic Awards. Besides reducing plastic waste, eliminating household toxin is also part of our mission. This is why we choose to partner with SimplyClean. SimplyClean’s products are made in the Northern Rivers, NSW. They are not only free of toxins, carcinogens and allergens, but are also highly efficient. 

Learn more about our lemon myrtle laundry powder and dishwasher powder


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Anett Petrovics