How Toxic Is Your Scented Laundry Detergent?

Walking down the aisle of cleaning products in a supermarket, you're bound to find rows of colorful laundry detergent bottles lining store shelves, donning attention-grabbing logos and listing the fragrances added to make your clothes and linens smell clean. But this vibrant packaging often disguises a looming threat, one that puts the health and safety of yourself and your loved ones at risk each time you use these products. Scented laundry detergents, along with some unscented varieties produced by popular laundry brands, are scientifically proven to contain an array of harmful toxins and chemicals that can generate long-lasting negative effects on the health and well-being of those who use them.

It's understandable why so many brands rely on synthetic chemicals when developing formulas for detergent, as consumers expect these products to whiten, brighten, and remove even the toughest set-in stains during the washing process. However, problems arise when brands falsely advertise their products as "gentle on skin" or child-safe and get away with it due to existing legislation that allows companies to bypass listing the ingredients inside their detergents. On the other hand, natural, biodegradable detergents are developed using plant-based ingredients, which decompose easier than their synthetic counterparts, thus being kinder to the environment and the human beings that use them in the process. Here is a breakdown of the negative effects scented laundry detergents can have on consumers and the environment, as well as healthier, natural alternatives to use in the place of conventional detergent formulas.

The harm behind scented laundry detergents

Laundry detergents produced by the most popular household brands are typically loaded with harsh chemicals that are detrimental to human health if inhaled or ingested, especially the scented formulas. According to a 2011 study in Air Quality, Atmosphere & Health, scented laundry detergents contain a plethora of harmful chemicals, including carcinogens, natural or manmade cancer-causing substances found inside cigarette smoke, ultraviolet sun rays, and a host of other household cleaning products. The chemicals in these laundry detergents can cause allergies, reproductive complications, cognitive issues, respiratory problems, and organ damage. These symptoms can be even more severe for small children or those with sensitive skin.

Commercial laundry detergent also tends to generate more harm to the environment when used, as the chemicals mixed into the product can threaten marine life when the soapy wastewater mixture is released from your washing machine and into the ocean. Some of this wastewater also evaporates into the air that people and animals breathe, creating more opportunities for these added chemicals to do harm even after detergents are used. Distributing laundry detergent inside non-recyclable bottles also harbors hazardous effects on the planet, with the leftover plastic disposed into landfills and left to cause additional problems for wildlife for decades to come. Other laundry washing tactics, like opting for cold washes over warm or hot washes when possible, can instead benefit the environment by reducing overall energy usage and, in tandem, your household's carbon footprint.

Toxin-free laundry detergent alternatives

If you're concerned about the number of toxins that may be permeating your favorite brand of laundry detergent, you're certainly not left without options. There are droves of natural laundry detergent substitutes hitting store shelves that are much more gentle to human skin and lungs, as well as the environment. Many shoppers opt for traditional laundry detergents over the newer, eco-friendly formulas because detergents riddled with chemicals smell "cleaner" or "stronger" or because they're manufactured by a brand they're familiar with. But natural detergents remove stains and freshen clothes just as effectively as the most popular options on the market, all while leaving your clothes with a subtle scent of your choosing.

With sustainability being at the forefront of many brand policies nowadays, non-toxic laundry products shouldn't be hard to find in your local grocery store. Labels for toxin-free detergents will likely include words like "organic" or "biodegradable." Though, some laundry product brands specifically use manipulative language as a marketing tactic to hop onto the eco-friendly trend and continue selling their products. So, the best way to know for sure that the products you purchase are safe is to investigate yourself by researching online and checking for symbols like the EPA's Safer Choice label on each bottle. Some natural detergent brands known for their non-toxic formulas include The Simply Co., Rosey, and Blueland, all of which can be found online or in select retailers near you.