Natural Laundry Products Westport CT
Living Spaces—What Lurks in Your Laundry?
By Lisa Turner
“Mountain fresh.” “Spring rain.” “Ocean breeze.” The names of laundry detergents and fabric softeners sound gentle, safe, even comforting. But in spite of the clean-and-natural terminology, mainstream laundry products actually saturate your clothes in a wash of harsh, irritating, and possibly toxic chemicals.
“What are the short- and long-term health consequences of exposure to these chemicals?” asks Jeffrey Hollander, author of Naturally Clean: The Seventh Generation Guide to Safe and Healthy, Non-Toxic Cleaning (New Society Publishers, 2005). “What happens inside our bodies when we come into contact with multiple chemicals from multiple sources at the same time? The fact is, we really don’t know, since no government agency requires research to determine the safety of household chemicals.”
Conventional laundry products contain a range of chemicals that irritate skin and eyes, trigger allergic reactions and asthma, damage the environment, and may have harmful long-term effects. Scientists suspect that some of these chemicals cause cancer; others disrupt the endocrine system and interfere with the reproductive health of both humans and wildlife. But most of these chemicals haven’t been tested for their long-term effects on humans. The reason? Potentially harmful ingredients in laundry products enter the body primarily via inhalation or skin contact, not ingestion.
“Chemicals are generally tested for safety by feeding them to animals,” says Theo Colborn, PhD, a leading researcher on environmental toxins and coauthor of Our Stolen Future (Penguin USA, 1997). “So the dermal and inhalation effect of many chemicals has never been studied. Safety tests don’t address the way we’re usually exposed to chemicals: not by drinking them and not in large quantities, but by touching them or inhaling the fumes in small quantities, in repeated doses, and over a long period of time.”
We also come into contact with some of these harsh chemicals through residues left in clothing, towels, sheets, and other washables. “Clothing is up against your skin all day, you lie under your sheets all night, you rub towels all over your body,” says Karyn Siegel-Maier, author of The Naturally Clean Home (Storey, 1999). “There’s a lot of exposure—and a lot of opportunity for irritation and harmful effects.”
Experts suspect many ingredients in laundry products of causing long-term harm, as well as immediate and direct reactions, especially allergies and skin, lung, and eye irritation. Here are some dirty cleaning products to watch out for:
• Surfactants. These compounds, which create bubbles and suds in laundry detergents, carry such potential for harm that many European countries have banned them. The most commonly used surfactants, alkyl phenol ethoxylates (APEs), classify as endocrine disruptors. Scientists have linked endocrine disruptors with many adverse health effects, including decreased sperm counts and increased risk of testic...
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