10 Ingredients to Avoid in Laundry Detergents

Trying to analyse a product’s ingredients without an ingredient list is like driving a car without fuel. You get nowhere. Yet there are products on store shelves that are being sold without disclosing their contents. And this is all legal. Chances are likely that you have purchased them. If you’ve bought a brand name laundry detergent, this may apply to you.

Because [laundry] detergent manufacturers are not required to list their ingredients, you may be exposing yourself and your family to questionable chemicals that you would prefer to avoid. So how does one know what isn’t being told?  Here are some label detective tips using real-life examples and including 10 common laundry ingredients better avoided.

Revealed Lists

Although detergent manufacturers are not required to disclose their ingredients, due to public pressure, there are some that do share their ingredients. As green-conscious consumers, we are right to be concerned. Tide, a very popular laundry detergent manufacturer shares the most common ingredients in their products.(2)

1- Alcohol Ethoxylate (AE) – Is a surfactant. Studies show that AE is a teratogen. A teratogen is an agent that disrupts or disturbs the development of an embryo or fetus. One particular study shows “the AE exhibited ultrastructural alterations of mitochondria and narcotic effects.”(1)  A non-ionic surfactant. Surfactants allow water and grease to mix, helping to remove greasy stains from your garments.

2- Alkyl Ethoxy Sulfate (AES) and Alkyl Sulfate (AS) – A nonflammable, wetting agent – also a surfactant. Repeated skin contact with concentrated solutions may cause dermatitis and ingestion may cause gastrointestinal irritation, vomiting and diarrhea.(3)

3- Amine Oxide– Also known as Lauramine Oxide, is a surfactant and emulsifier, particularly for bleach. Detergents can dissolve lipid layers in the skin and produce local irritation and injury. In cases of mild to moderate toxicity, common effects are skin, mucosal, eye irritation, vomiting and diarrhea.(4).

4- Cyclodextrin reduces odors and acts a soluble, dissolving agent in pharmaceutical medications and commercial multivitamins. Cyclodextrin may interact with some components of the skin and may produce irritating effects. Cyclodextrin in combination with other absorption-promoting agents can permeate the skin up to 53%. (5)

5- Linear Alkylbenzene Sulfonate (LAS) – Used as a stain remover, LAS is a cytotoxic synthetic anionic surfactant. Unfortunately, it is widely present in the environment due to its wide-scale use in the detergent industry. Studies have shown that LAS, at non-cytotoxic levels, increases the rate of colon cancer cell growth.(6)

6- Perfumes – a perfuming, masking agent, that can contain thousands of independent ingredients. Manufacturers are not required to reveal the contents of scenting agents and they may contain carcinogens. Reported effects of perfumes/parfum are eye and skin irritants. They are also air pollutants.

7- Polyethylene Glycols (PEG), Polyethylene Oxide (PEO) or Polyoxyethylene (POE) – Used in detergents to dissolve grease and oil, PEGs have wide application uses from industrial to medicinal. It is the most common form of plastic and combined with glycol it becomes a thick liquid. It also acts a skin penetration enhancer. The number shown after PEG is indicative of its molecular weight. The smaller the number, the easier it can penetrate the skin. PEGs can be contaminated with impurities such as iron, nickel, arsenic and may be an irritant to the skin.(7)

Are Green Laundry Detergents Really Green?

More “green” manufacturers are heeding consumer demands to reveal their ingredients. Seventh Generation is a popular green detergent producer that many eco-conscious consumers purchase to support their agenda of living environmentally friendly. Suffice it to say, their contents can hardly be considered green.

Seventh Generation shares their ingredient glossary(8) on their site and a few notable contents stand out.

8- Sodium Laureth Sulfate – SLS is a synthetic foaming agent that is often contaminated with 1,4 dioxane, up to 300 ppm. 1,4 dioxane is formed during the ethoxylation process of SLS and is considered a probable human carcinogen and is classified as such under in California, USA under proposition 65.(9)

9- Sodium Benzoate – A synthetic preservative that can react with ascorbic acid, citric acid or benzoate salts to form benzene, a known carcinogen.(10)(11)

10- PPG-10 Laureth 7 and PPG-4 Laureth 8 are synthetic foaming agents that may be contaminated with Ethylene Oxide, a probable carcinogen, and reproductive toxicity agent. PPG may be contaminated with 1,4 dioxane. 1,4 dioxane also has been shown to have low acute toxicity on aquatic life.(12)

Although Seventh Generation’s “Sensitive and Hypoallergenic-free” line may cater to those with sensitivity requirements, their “Free & Clear Natural Liquid Laundry Detergent” contains Methylisothiazolinone and Benzisothiazolinone, which may produce allergic reactions or irritant effects.(13)

Full ingredient list for “Free & Clear”:

Water, Laureth-6 (Plant-Derived Cleaning Agent), Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (Plant-Derived Cleaning Agent), Sodium Citrate (Plant-Derived Water Softener), Glycerin (Plant-Derived Enzyme Stabilizer), Sodium Chloride (Mineral-Based Viscosity Modifier), Oleic Acid (Plant-Derived Anti-Foaming Agent), Sodium Hydroxide (Mineral-Based pH Adjuster), Calcium Chloride (Mineral-Based Enzyme Stabilizer), Citric Acid (Plant-Derived pH Adjuster), Protease (Plant-Derived Enzyme Blend Soil Remover), Amylase (Plant-Derived Enzyme Blend Soil Remover), Mannanase (Plant-Derived Enzyme Blend Soil Remover), Benzisothiazolinone (Synthetic Preservative), Methylisothiazolinone (Synthetic Preservative).(14)


How to Avoid Chemical Derived Detergent Cleaners

Companies like Tide and Seventh Generation contain certifications such as “Biobased” or Biopreferred”. Which means their products are made up of a certain amount of material that is “plant-derived”. Here’s how it’s explained…

“Biobased products are derived from plants and other renewable agricultural, marine, and forestry materials and provide an alternative to conventional petroleum-derived products. Biobased products include diverse categories such as lubricants, cleaning products, inks, fertilizers, and bioplastics. For purposes of the BioPreferred program, biobased products do not include food, animal feed, or fuel.” – USDA Biopreferred Fact Sheet Program


To be clear, products that are Biopreferred certified contain up to a certain percentage of USDA approved renewable materials. It does not indicate that the product is chemical-free or free of petroleum products.

However, you’ll be happy to hear that there are detergent products that are certified organic, though they are far and few in between. Certified organic is a higher standard, needless to say, than the Biopreferred program, when it comes to limiting your chemical exposure. Some certified organic laundry detergents are made from soap nuts which are a seed and contains natural soap compounds. So, look for the USDA or ACO(Australian) Organic seal when purchasing your laundry detergent.

And as an added bonus, here is a fun and very easy recipe to make your own eco-friendly fabric softener…

Eco & People Friendly Fabric Softener Recipe

3 parts Epsom Salts

1 part Baking Soda

18 to 20 drops of your favorite essential oil. (optional)


Combine all the contents in a salt-resistant container and mix thoroughly.


¼ to ½ cup of softener per large load.


Store in an airtight container. Keep in a dry area.




Sources Cited

1 – Pub Med – Teratogenic and Toxic Effects of AE…

2 – Tide – Laundrypedia

3 – Cameo Chemicals – SODIUM ALKYL SULFATES

4 – ToxNet – Lauramine Oxide

5 – European Medicines Agency – Cyclodextrin

6 – Pub Med – Effect of LAS on Colon Cancer Cells…

7 – Truth in Aging – What is it – PEGs?

8 – Seventh Generation – Ingredients Glossary

9 – Wikipedia – Sodium Laureth Sulfate

10 – US Food & Drug Association – Benzene Q&A

11 – Wikipedia – Sodium Benzoate

12 – EWG – PPG-10 Laureth 7

13 – Seventh Generation – How to Read the Product Labels

14 – Target – Full Ingredient List for “Free & Clear”


Article reprinted from MiCommunity 2017 with minor edits.



This article is written and presented in an informative manner and has not been reviewed or evaluated by the FDA and should be not be used to diagnose, cure or treat any diseases.

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