Irritations from soaps, perfumes, and dyes in laundry soap can be very irritating to some people’s skin. It may be nice to smell that spring air or fresh rain, but the cocktail of chemicals that it takes to produce that scent can irritate your skin or worse.

Research performed at the University of Washington studied a popular detergent and found that it emitted 13 volatile organic compounds (VOCs), five of which the EPA regulates for being toxic or hazardous. Study author Anne Steinemann, PhD, professor of civil and environmental engineering and public affairs, states, “Often, laundry products can contain hazardous chemicals such as neurotoxins and carcinogens. Exposure to them can cause migraine headaches and asthma attacks.”

Manufacturers are not required to list the ingredients used in laundry products and air fresheners. Personal-care products and cleaners often contain similar fragrance chemicals, Steinemann said. And although cosmetics are required by the Food and Drug Administration to list ingredients, no law requires products of any kind to list chemicals used in fragrances.


Most of these chemicals don’t help clean the clothes, they’re there to add fragrance only. Choose a fragrance and dye-free brand of laundry soap. Steinemann says, “Unscented may mean a masking agent was used to cover up the detergent aroma, but harmful agents can remain.” And beware of natural or organic scents, they can be just as toxic as the regular ones, Steinemann discovered.

Dryer sheets also emit chemicals regulated as toxic and can cause breathing difficulties and irritated skin. Liquid fabric softeners can have the same effect. To help move air between your clothes and reduce static cling, use plastic dryer balls instead. I have heard, however, that the blue dryer balls are made of PVC, so avoid this color.

To soften your laundry, you can add 1/2 cup baking soda to the rinse cycle of your wash.

Of course, homemade laundry detergent is best. Try our recipe for our homemade version on Strive to Simplify.