How Toxic Are Your Clean Clothes?

In 1962 I learned about the danger of using the wrong laundry detergent. My two little children both developed nasty red rashes all over their bodies and I discovered they were caused by the laundry detergent that I had been using. It was a blessing that I found the right answer. The rashes disappeared, when I stopped using this detergent.

For over 25 years I have been doing nutritional consultations, giving people information about their specific foods, but I also let people know about their personal care and other household products that they are using. I have told people about my experience with my laundry detergent and recently found out that the detergent I had used back in the early 1960’s – Tide – is at the top of the list of detergents – loaded with a synthetic petrochemical carcinogen, 1,4-dioxane.

1,4-dioxane is in many consumer products. Since hair care products, cleaning formulas and laundry detergents are all susceptible to containing this toxic chemical byproduct, which is not listed on product labels, Below, I will provide a list of laundry products and the parts per million of 1,4-dioxane.

David Steinman of the Green Patriot Working Group (GPWG) began a study in 2007 to see which consumer products are the worst offenders. In 2010, his organization along with the Organic Consumers Association (OCA), released the results of a portion of the study conducted last year on laundry detergents.

When cleaning products and detergents are processed using ethoxylation, a cheap technique that lessens the severity of the harsher ingredients, 1,4-dioxane is created. Since it is considered a byproduct of ethylene oxide reacting with other ingredients, 1,4-dioxane is technically considered a contaminant and thus does not have to be included on product labeling. As a result, consumers are largely unaware of its presence in major household products.

For the study, Steinman evaluated 20 different laundry detergents from both conventional and “natural” brands. Evoxa, an independent third-party laboratory that is highly respected for its rigorous methods and high standards, conducted all product testing. The results are as follows:

Conventional brands:

1. Tide (P&G) 55 parts per million (ppm)

2. Ivory Snow Gentle (P&G) 31 ppm

3. Tide Free (P&G) 29 ppm

4. Purex (Dial Corp.)25 ppm

5. Gain 2x Ultra (P&G) 21 ppm

6. Cheer BrightClean Detergent (P&G) 20 ppm

7. Era 2x Ultra (P&G) 14 ppm

8. Arm & Hammer (Church & Dwight Co.) 5.0 ppm

9. Wisk 2x Ultra (Sun Products Corp.) 3.9 ppm

10. Woolite Complete Detergent (Reckitt Benckiser) 1.3 ppm

11. All Laundry Detergent (Unilever) 0.6 ppm

12. Dreft powdered detergent (P&G) non-detectable (ND)

13. Sun Burst (Sun Products Corp) ND

“Natural Brands”:

1. Planet Ultra Liquid laundry detergent 6.1 ppm

2. Mrs. Meyers laundry detergent 1.5 ppm

3. Clorox Green Works Natural laundry detergent – ND

4. Ecos laundry detergent (Earth Friendly Products) – ND

5. Life Tree Laundry Liquid – ND

6. Method Squeaky Clean Green laundry detergent – ND

7. Seventh Generation Free & Clear laundry detergent – ND

Of the products detected, P&G products came up with the highest in 1,4-dioxane levels, as did most of the conventional brands. Of the natural brands tested, only two were found to contain 1,4-dioxane, and in levels far below the average conventional brand. While not all available brands were tested, it is clear from the results that consumers need to be wary of most conventional brands. They also need to make sure that their “natural” brand is truly free of 1,4-dioxane as well.

The 1,4-dioxane found in laundry detergent is particularly harmful in the fact that the chemical binds easily to water and remains there. Even after water containing the chemical has been purified and filtered, low levels have been detected, indicating it is not easily removed from water. Numerous water supplies across the country have been found to be tainted with 1,4-dioxane.

Of the 80,000 known chemicals, ONLY 200 ARE TESTED by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 1,4-DIOXANE IS NOT ONE OF THEM. Average aggregate exposure to 1,4-dioxane is unknown since it is found in numerous consumer care products. Because it is a known carcinogen that is implicated in causing cancer, liver disease and other serious problems, it is important to avoid it.

Organic Consumers Association (OCA) has prepared a Personal Care and Cleaning Products Safety Guide outlining which consumer products are safe and free of 1,4-dioxane and which ones are not. Categories include dishwashing soap, hand soap, all-purpose soap, laundry detergents, household cleaners, body washes and shampoos, conditioners, facial cleansers, lotions, sunscreens and deodorants,.

We care about having clothes that are clean, but ironically the detergents that that we use to make our clothes “clean” leave residue that can break down our bodies; and also harm the environment If you take a look at a box or bottle of detergent, you’ll find that the ingredients are rather vague, but it is a chemical stew, which is contaminating the planet.

The list might read:

* Cleaning agents (anionic and nonionic surfactants)

* Buffering agent

* Stabilizer

* Brightening agent

* Fragrance

The following common ingredients are in many detergents:

Linear Alkyl Sodium Suffocates (LAS): These synthetic surfactants are commonly listed as ;anionic surfactants’ on labels, and are one of the most common surfactants in use. During their production process, carcinogenic and reproductive toxins such as benzene are released into the environment. They also biodegrade slowly, making them a hazard in the environment.

Petroleum Distillates (aka napthas) These chemicals have been linked to cancer, lung damage, lung inflammation and damage to mucous membranes.

Phenols: According to the National Institutes of Health, phenol is toxic and people who are hypersensitive to it could experience death or serious side effects at very low exposures. Plus it is rapidly absorbed and can cause toxicity throughout the entire body. Typically, death and severe toxicity result from phenol’s effects on the central nervous system, heart, blood vessels, lungs and kidneys. One common surfactant in U.S. laundry detergents is nonyl phenol ethoxylate (this chemical has been banned in Europe and has been found to slowly biodegrade into even more toxic compounds). Studies have found that this surfactant stimulates the growth of breast cancer cells and feminizes male fish.

Optical brighteners: These synthetic chemicals convert UV light wavelengths into visible light, which makes laundered clothes appear whiter (although it does not affect the cleanliness). They’ve been found to be toxic to fish and to cause bacterial mutations. Further, they can cause allergic reactions when exposed to skin that is later exposed to sunlight.

Phosphates: These chemicals are used to remove hard-water minerals to make detergents more effective, and to prevent dirt from settling back into clothes during a wash. A major problem with them is that, when released into the environment, they stimulate the growth of certain marine plants, which contributes to unbalanced ecosystems. Many states have banned or restricted the use of phosphates for this reason, and you may see laundry detergents advertised as “low-phosphate” or “phosphate-free.“

Sodium hypochlorite (household bleach): This is a chemical precursor to chlorine, which is highly toxic and involved in more household poisonings than any other chemical. When it reacts with organic materials in the environment, carcinogenic and toxic compounds are created that can cause reproductive, endocrine and immune system disorders.

EDTA (ethylene-diamino-tetra-acetate): EDTA is a class of compounds used as an alternative to phosphates to reduce mineral hardness in water, prevent bleaching agents from becoming active before they’re put in water and as a foaming stabilizer. EDTA does nor biodegrade readily and can re-dissolve toxic heavy metals in the environment, allowing them to re-enter the food chain.

Artificial fragrances: Many of these can be made from petroleum (see petroleum distillates above), and do not degrade in the environment. They’ve been linked to various toxic defects on fish and mammals, and often cause allergies and skin and eye irritation.

In order to make sure that your laundry is as non-toxic as possible, it would pay to make sure you are using a detergent that would not be harmful to you or the environment. For your information there is a magnetic laundry system that works with a regular washer, which eliminates the use of detergents, period. Check out:www.lifenatural,htm I haven’t used it, but I am thinking of giving it a try. It sure would be beneficial health-wise and ecology-wise.

In addition, fabric softeners and dryer sheets contain toxic chemicals, too. Check out: Toxic danger of fabric softener and dryer sheets.

We are living in a very unnatural chemicalized environment and we need to be aware, so we can defend ourselves. It is really bad, when even our clean clothes can turn against us.

Healthfully Yours,

Barbara Charis

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