Learn about five common components of laundry detergents and whether or not they pose any serious health risks. Also, find out three helpful tips to help minimize the potential toxicity associated with detergents.
Capitalizing on our desire to be clean, look good and smell great, laundry detergents harbor a number of chemicals to appeal to consumers. Synthetic cleaning agents, bleaches and optical brighteners are just a handful of the chemicals used to remove many kinds of dirt from clothing, brighten colors, whiten whites, work in cold water and clean in a relatively short amount of time. However, modernized attempts to get laundry looking brand new have invited an array of chemicals into our homes and garments. For people living with liver disease, these chemicals can put an additional burden of toxicity on an already taxed organ.
Although one might suppose that detergent is removed from clothing in a washing machine’s rinse cycle, this is rarely the case. Residues of the chemicals in laundry detergent usually remain on clothing, rendering them easily soaked up by the skin to be circulated throughout the body. While reading labels to avoid potentially harmful ingredients works well for food, it is less effective when choosing a laundry detergent. Because the ingredients listed are often vague, the general public is usually unaware of the chemicals that will eventually lie right next to one of our body’s most absorbent surfaces, the skin. A typical bottle of laundry detergent will cite ingredients such as:
· Cleaning agents (surfactants)
· Buffering agent
· Brightening agent
Because these indistinct ingredients do not sound like toxic chemicals, they often fool even the most scrutinizing consumer into thinking them to be harmless.
Since deciphering the list of ingredients in laundry detergent can be a monumental task, below is a little background on five common components:
1. Surfactants – Used to help the water penetrate fabric, surfactants are sometimes referred to as wetting agents. Ecological studies have demonstrated that when surfactants are broken down, toxins such as benzene are released into the environment. One of the most common surfactants in laundry detergents is linear alkyl sodium sulfonate (LAS). While the synthetic chemical LAS biodegrades, it does so slowly. According to the State of Texas Department of Health, LAS is suspected to cause liver damage.
2. Petroleum Distillates (aka napthas) – A category of solvents used to dissolve dirt, petroleum distillates are a group of hydrocarbon-based chemicals refined from crude oil. These chemicals have been linked to cancer, lung damage, lung inflammation and damage to mucous membranes. As with any synthetic substance in the body, the liver must filter this chemical out to prevent it from accumulating and causing damage to the body.
3. Optical Brighteners – These synthetic chemicals convert ultraviolet light wavelengths into visible light, making laundered clothes appear whiter (although they do not actually affect the cleanliness of the clothing). Optical brighteners have been found to be toxic to fish and to cause bacterial mutations. Further, they can cause allergic reactions when exposed to skin that is later exposed to sunlight.
4. Bleach – Sodium hypochlorite (bleach) is a chemical precursor to chlorine, which is highly toxic and involved in more household poisonings than any other chemical. When it reacts with organic materials in the environment, carcinogenic and toxic compounds are created that can cause reproductive, endocrine and immune system disorders.
5. Artificial Fragrances – Many artificial fragrances are manufactured from petroleum (see petroleum distillates above), and do not degrade in the environment. They’ve been linked to various toxic effects on fish and mammals, and often cause allergies and skin and eye irritation.
The Liver Disease Disadvantage
When considering everything we touch, breathe and ingest, everyone encounters hundreds of these types of chemicals every day. People with strong immune and blood filtration systems often are unaffected by small amounts of toxin exposure. However, a person with liver disease may have less of a fully functioning liver available to efficiently remove these chemicals. When living with an inefficient toxin filter, synthetic chemicals build up in the blood over time. As these chemicals accumulate, their potential to damage the body grows.
For the most part, our society revolves around cleanliness. Nowhere is this more apparent than as revealed by the clothing on our backs. Those wearing dirty, smelly, dull and wrinkled garments are perceived differently than those wearing items that are clean, fresh and vibrant. In addition to cultural perceptions and hygiene issues, there is also a boosted level of confidence typically accompanying freshly laundered clothes. Therefore, abandoning the idea of clean clothes is not an ideal solution for those greatly affected by laundry detergent’s chemicals. Three ideas to help minimize the toxicity associated with detergents are listed below:
1. Use Chemical-Free Detergent – Because the number of those with liver disease or chemical sensitivities continues to grow, an increasing number of commercial laundry detergent alternatives are now available. These may be hard to find in some grocery stores, but chemical-free detergents are available in natural food stores and through specialty retailers.
2. Protect Your Liver – Supplying your liver with high quality milk thistle can protect it from incurring further damage. Documented to prevent liver cells from dying, this single herb is a must for a person living with liver disease in our chemically-laden world.
3. Detoxify* – Helping your liver filter out toxins that have accumulated can reduce the damage inflicted by chemicals lingering in your body. Detoxification can be aided by drinking lots of water, taking the trusted formula LiverCare (Liv.52), or by intentional perspiration.
Dependent upon what you use to clean your laundry, you may be putting your liver at risk. If you are living with liver disease and using a commercially available detergent, there is enough of a reason to consider making a change. Protect your liver, detoxify your body or switch to a detergent made without toxic chemicals to remove any concerns you may have about sporting a clean and fresh wardrobe.
*Editor’s Note: A person with liver disease should always consult with his or her physician prior to embarking on aided detoxification.
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www.libertyzone.com, Hazardous Chemicals, Department of Health, State of Texas, 2007.
www.momsorganichouse.com, Laundry Detergent: Dangerous to More Than Just Humans, MOM, June 2007.
www.newstarget.com, Highly toxic chemicals are found in laundry detergents, dryer sheets, deodorants, perfumes, soaps and other household products, Mike Adams, Truth Publishing LLC, May 2004.
www.plumorganics.com, The Seventh Generation Guide to a Toxin-Free Home, Seventh Generation, 2007.
www.sixwise.com, Toxic Dangers of Typical Laundry Detergent, sixwise.com, 2007.