Chemicals in Laundry Detergents Include Optical Brighteners, Phthalates & Fragrances - Go for Green Laundry Detergent

Chemicals in Laundry Detergents Include Optical Brighteners, Phthalates & Fragrances - Go for Green Laundry Detergent
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Optical Brighteners - Synthetic Chemicals That Your Green Laundry Detergent Can do Without

Detergent ingredients often include optical brighteners. These are synthetic chemicals. The manufacture of these synthetics brings with it the usual risk of trace impurities tagging along in the mix. And, this is the first and un-necessary risk posed by the addition of this chemical to a laundry detergent. Furthermore, when laundry is cleaned with a detergent which includes an optical brightener, this compound is not washed away but remains clinging to the laundered fabric once it has been dried. The optical brightener causes white fabrics to appear whiter by converting UV light wavelengths into visible light. When you wear clothing that is impregnated with this chemical some of the optical brightener (which has been found to be toxic to fish and to cause bacterial mutations) will inevitably find its way to your skin. Allergic reactions have been experienced by some individuals when they expose their skin to the sun following exposure to these chemicals.(, 2005). And, that is the acute response in the case with persons who are sensitive. What is the long term effect of exposure to this chemical in less sensitive persons?

Articficial Fragrances: Phthalates; a Toxin Your Laundry Might Avoid

When you consider what harmful and or un-necessary chemicals might be found in a laundry detergent, you must also remember to look at the synthetic chemicals that artificial fragrances are composed of. These chemicals tend to be very stable, do not degrade in the environment easily, and exhort toxic effects on fish and mammals. Sensitive people can experience skin, eye and nose irritations or allergic reactions that are caused by these substances.

Recent concerns over phthalate esters have prompted discussions on the safety of these types of chemicals. Laundry detergents commonly use phthalate esters to impart fragrance to laundry. Most detergents include these additives. Consumers are, for the most part, unaware of the health risks of phthalates. Few laundry detergents are offered in fragrance-free formulations.

Phthalate esters, it appears, may be capable of interfering with hormonal communication systems in fish, and exhibit anti-estrogenic effects in man and animal alike. Europe has banned the use of several different phthalates. One of the banned phthalates which is used more commonly in detergents in the USA has been listed as a reproductive toxin in the EU. Other phthalates have been banned there also because of liver and kidney toxicity. (Greenpeace Italy)

Study Finds Impact of Detergent Phthalate Worse Than Impact of Plastics Phthalate

In a recent study (CDC, September 2000) researchers measured the presence of metabolites of seven different phthalates in the human subjects who participated in the study. The phthalates found at the highest levels are compounds that are used primarily in detergents, lubricating oils and solvents. They were diethyl phthalate, (DEP) dibutly phthalate (DBP) and benzylbutyl phthalate (BzBP) This surprised the researchers, since the phthalate most abundantly used in industry are not among these phthalates.

The phthalates most commonly used in industry, and present in consumer products in the greatest quantities are those in which the compound Di-(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate (DEHP) is the primary example. These more common phthalates would include those which are used as plasticizers in flexible polyvinyl chloride products (PVCs) such as in food packaging, in medical supplies, and in children’s toys.

Evidently the detergent borne phthalate is more easily transferred to the human body than these other more abundantly used forms of phthalate.

Phthalates: A Toxin You Could be Getting From Your “Clean” Clothes

So why is it that the less common phthalate is ending up in people’s bodies? One thing we know is that this particular phthalate is in very close contact with human bodies since it is the one that will be present on clothing as a residue from the laundering processes.

Even if this compound is present only in very small concentrations, it will not be strongly bonded to the clothing fibers upon which it is clinging and it is likely to transfer very easily from the garment’s fibers to the skin’s surface. This means that for a detergent user, this compound will be in contact with the skin on a long term basis. We wear clothes almost all the time so detergent residues which remain on fabric fibers after laundering, have an enormous window of time in which to transfer themselves onto our bodies. Once an oil soluble substance such as a phthalate makes contact with the skin it is readily absorbed into the skin layers and ultimately into the underlying living tissues. This is because cell membranes are themselves composed of fatty acids and naturally absorb non-polar (fat soluble ) substances into their structure.

Time proximity are winning out and the phthalates that are included in detergents will therefor impacting our bodies more significantly than the phthalates from other sources.


Greenpeace Italy; The Chemical Shopping Basket Chemical Analysis of 12 Consumer Products: [Internet] Available from (

Centers for Disease Control and Preventions national Center for Environmental Health; study Demonstrates exposure of People to Phthalates [Internet] CDC; September 1, 2000. Available from: (; Toxic Dangers of Typical Laundry Detergent [Internet] July,6, 2005. Available from: (

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This post is part of the series: Green Laundry Detergents

Tons and tons and tons of laundry detergents are being produced and used across the planet every day. What exactly is in a laundry detergent mixture? How does it effect the health of people and the environment? What is a green laundry detergent.? Find out here.

  1. Green Laundry Detergents: First Understand What is in Laundry Detergents
  2. Green Laundry Detergents - Understanding Surfactants, The Detergent’s Mover and Groover
  3. Green Laundry: Water Hardness and What Your Detergent is Up Against
  4. Green Laundry Detergents Versus Regular Detergents & Their Tag-Alongs
  5. “Green Laundry Detergents” that really are “Green”