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Non-Toxic Product Guides:
How To Choose A Non-Toxic Laundry Detergent (& 3 of our Faves!)

We wash our clothes to get rid of the gross stuff we interact with every day at work, school and sports. So, how crazy is it that laundry detergents are some of the worst offenders when it comes to toxic ingredients? Even worse: your skin can absorb toxic chemicals (think paragons & phthalates), so wearing clothes that have been treated with toxins is a super bad idea, especially for children. And, while we wish this weren’t the case, the government regulation in this space is severely lacking when it comes to chemical safety. In fact, 0f the over 62,000 chemicals approved for use in the US, only about 300 have actually been tested for safety.  Most people also don’t realize that laundry detergent manufacturers aren’t required to show their full ingredient lists, or that “fragrance” on a laundry detergent can actually mask a cocktail of dozens of toxic ingredients! So how do you find a safe laundry detergent when the Environmental Working Group (EWG), the authority on product & environmental safety, rates almost 70% of laundry detergents a D or F (their highest safety concern)? Don’t worry, we’ve got you! Here’s our Non-Toxic Laundry Detergent Product Guide and a few products we’re currently loving.

Top Ingredients to Avoid for a Non-Toxic Laundry Detergent

1. Bleach & Brighteners: Just in case you need a reminder on the safety risks, sodium hypochlorite (bleach) is extremely toxic and dangerous given its ability to cause severe skin burns & eye damage,  trigger dangerous allergy and asthma reactions, its link to cancer and organ damage, and its extreme toxicity if inhaled or ingested.

What’s creating the extra brightness from optical brighteners? Chemicals that actually remain on the clothes to absorb UV light & minimize yellow so that clothes appear brighter. EWG recommends that consumers stay away from these because of skin irritation and environmental safety concerns, and the EPA has said that these are potentially toxic. These ingredients aren’t always listed, so a helpful rule of thumb is that if the product is labeled as biodegradable, it probably doesn’t contain optical brighteners.

2. Fragrances & Phthalates: Fragrances in laundry detergents are designed to stay in clothing after washing, which means you should definitely be concerned about their safety.  Fragrance chemicals can pass through the skin and enter the blood stream. They are often manufactured from petroleum and coal tar and are classified as carcinogens, hormone disruptors, neurotoxins, skin and respiratory irritants. Unfortunately the fragrance industry is self-regulated, where safety testing does not have to precede product sales and fragrance cocktails don’t even have to be reviewed by regulatory agencies. In household products like laundry detergents, fragrances are considered trade secrets, meaning that manufacturers aren’t required to disclose the potentially hundreds of ingredients hiding behind the one word “fragrance”.

Phthalates are often present in laundry detergent but you won’t find them listed on labels. They’re typically associated with fragrances (they make scents last), so here is yet another reason to avoid fragrances. Across multiple studies, phthalates have been shown to cause hormone disruption. The Centers for Disease Control reported that phthalates can be found in the blood of most Americans, and the greatest quantities are in women. They can also be found in some plastic containers, so avoid detergents with recycling codes 3 & 7.

Even more irritating:  Don’t be tricked by the phrase “fragrance-free” or “unscented”. You also have to check the ingredient list, because sometimes companies use masking fragrances to cover the chemical smells of their products. Also watch out for products labeled as “natural” or “natural fragrance,” because there is no standard criteria for what these words mean.

3. Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulfate (SLES):  Sodium lauryl sulfate has been linked to skin & eye irritation, organ toxicity, reproductive toxicity, neurotoxicity, endocrine disruption & ecotoxicology. The manufacturing of these also leads to a highly toxic & carcinogenic by-product called 1,4 dioxane. Nixing the SLS & SLES can go a long way in your quest towards a non-toxic laundry detergent.

4. Methylisothiazolinone & Benzisothiazolinone– These are preservatives to watch for & both are common in detergents labeled as “natural”. Methylisothiazolinone is linked with inhalation toxicity, dangerous allergic reactions and possible neurotoxicity. Benzisothiazolinone is an antimicrobial agent. It’s notorious as a skin, eye, and lung irritant, and it’s also an environmental pollutant that’s toxic to fish.

3 Non-Toxic Laundry Detergents We’re Loving Right Now

Our Top Pick: Attitude Baby Laundry Detergent, Fragrance Free and Natural Laundry Detergent, Fragrance Free are unscented options from the Attitude brand, helping these formulas rise to the top for us. And, while they may be formulated not to irritate a baby’s sensitive skin (and safe to use on cloth diapers) these are a fantastic choice for grown up laundry, too, or, even worse, a teenager’s!

Nobody’s Perfect: Other offerings from this brand are scented and we think it’s important to note that even natural fragrances (like those from essential oils) can trigger allergies and aren’t necessarily safer.

Next Best: Better Life Naturally Dirt Demolishing Laundry Detergent is a natural, color-safe, 4x ultra-concentrated detergent that dissolves dirt and stains and is compatible for HE and standard machines. The company was started by two dads who wanted to create products that were highly effective, but also safe to use around their little ones.

Nobody’s Perfect: The scented formula contains citrus oils which can be an allergen, so we recommend sticking with the the unscented formula.

Dr. Bonner’s Baby Unscented Pure-Castile Soap is a great, unscented option for a non-toxic laundry detergent and (even cooler) you can dilute it with water, so a little goes a long way.

Nobody’s Perfect: Broken record here! The scented formulas contain a range of essential oils, so, once again, we would take the safest route and pick the unscented option, especially for those with asthma or young children and babies.

Learn More

At Force of Nature, we’re real humans and parents, so we get that you want to keep your family safe while you’re cleaning up life’s messes. Our revolutionary cleaning system, Force of Nature, is as effective as bleach, yet gentle enough to use around your children and pets. For even more great info, check out post on stink-causing laundry habits you need to break right now and 20 surprising uses for Force of Nature. Happy laundering!

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