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Published on March 3rd, 2008 | by Stephanie Evans


The Dirty Scoop on Laundry Soap

Health-conscious label readers know that the lists of barely recognizable ingredients on product labels can be dizzying, and deceptive.  But the effort put into deciphering labels is worthwhile, as increasing our awareness helps us to make people-friendly, eco-conscious choices.

So what’s really in that little white scoopful of soap powder?

Let’s break it down and identify some common laundry detergent chemicals that pose risks to you and to the environment…

Laundry Detergent

Laundry Soap Toxins

Unfortunately, most laundry detergents contain something toxic—buyers  often have to choose between lesser evils, or make their own product.  The following chemical offenders have received the most attention from environmentally minded launderers.

Surfactants like alkyl benzene sulfurates and alkylphenol ethoxylates and their byproducts present a low level of toxins to the environment via wash water run-off but they are biodegradable.  These ingredients can also cause minor skin irritation.

  • Diathanolamines neutralize acid in laundry detergent but they can react with other naturally occurring substances in the air to create carcinogens.  Also, they are very slow to biodegrade.

Phosphates have little impact on human skin but they remove oxygen from water and the run-off causes problems for aquatic life.  It is true that the removal of oxygen from water is a natural process that would happen anyway, but phosphates speed the process up to an alarming and highly unnatural rate.

Petroleum-based ingredients found in the fragrances added to detergent are decidedly nonrenewable.  Many solvents in detergents are also petroleum-based and can cause skin and eye irritations.

Avoid products containing naphthas or any sort of petroleum-distillate.

Optical brighteners use a process called fluorescent whitening to remove yellowing from fabric.  They endanger aquatic life by causing mutations in fish and they take a long time to break down.

Additional Resources

The list of harmful chemicals is lengthy.  Those described above are common and somewhat easier to remember than the lengthier names of chemicals found on many labels.

For more information and a more thorough list of chemicals and their negative effects, consult The Laundry Alternative or Pinstripes and Polkadots.

So what alternatives do we have to the conventional products laden with harmful chemicals?  To find out, check out Soap Up Safely with Natural Detergents.

Get the Green Living Ideas book in softcover or PDF for as low as $2.99!

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