True Cellular Formulas Team - June 18, 2024

Top 10 Unsafe Detergent Ingredients

Discover Safer Cleaning with a DIY Alternative


Harmful Ingredients in Laundry Detergents

Many people don’t consider the ingredients in their laundry detergents, yet many commercial brands contain harmful chemicals. Here are the top 10 toxins to be aware of in laundry detergents, followed by a simple homemade laundry soap recipe.

  1. Phthalates Phthalates, often found in synthetic fragrances, can disrupt endocrine functions and are associated with reproductive health issues. Opt for detergents labeled "fragrance-free" or natural essential oils.
  2. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulfate (SLES). These surfactants can cause skin and eye irritation and may be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, a probable carcinogen. Use detergents with plant-based surfactants instead.
  3. 1,4-Dioxane A byproduct of the detergent manufacturing process, 1,4-dioxane is a probable human carcinogen and can irritate the skin. Look for "1,4-dioxane-free" detergents or those certified by a trusted third-party organization.
  4. Nonylphenol Ethoxylates (NPEs) NPEs are hormone-disrupting surfactants that are toxic to aquatic life. Choose "NPE-free" detergents for a healthier home and environment.
  5. Optical Brighteners These chemicals make fabrics look brighter but can irritate the skin, are not biodegradable, and affect aquatic life. Avoid products listing "optical brighteners."
  6. Chlorine Bleach Chlorine bleach can cause respiratory problems and skin irritation, and its byproducts harm the environment. Use oxygen bleach or hydrogen peroxide-based alternatives.
  7. Artificial Fragrances Artificial fragrances can include various chemicals that may act as allergens, hormone disruptors, or carcinogens. Select unscented products or those scented with natural essential oils.
  8. Ammonium Quaternary Sanitizers (Quats) Quats have antimicrobial properties but can trigger asthma and respiratory issues. Avoid detergents containing quaternary ammonium compounds.
  9. Formaldehyde is sometimes used as a preservative in detergents. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen and can irritate the skin and respiratory system. Choose formaldehyde-free products.
  10. Phosphates Phosphates contribute to water pollution and algal blooms, which harm aquatic ecosystems. Opt for phosphate-free detergents.

DIY Laundry Soap Recipe

You can avoid these harmful chemicals by making your own laundry detergent. Here’s a simple recipe:


  • 1 bar of Castile soap (or any natural, fragrance-free soap)
  • 1 cup washing soda (sodium carbonate)
  • 1 cup baking soda (sodium bicarbonate)
  • 1 cup borax (sodium borate)


  1. Grate the Soap: Finely grate the soap bar with a cheese grater.
  2. Mix the Ingredients: Combine the grated soap, washing soda, baking soda, and borax in a large bowl.
  3. Store: Transfer the mixture to an airtight container.

To Use: Add 2-3 tablespoons of the homemade laundry soap to your washing machine per load.

This DIY laundry soap is free from harmful chemicals and gentle on your clothes and the environment, making it an easy and cost-effective alternative.

  1. Wang, Yufei, and Haifeng Qian. “Phthalates and Their Impacts on Human Health.” Healthcare, vol. 9, no. 5, May 2021.
  2. Bondi, Cara AM, et al. “Human and Environmental Toxicity of Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS): Evidence for Safe Use in Household Cleaning Products.” Environmental Health Insights, vol. 9, Nov. 2015, pp. 27–32. PubMed Central
  3. PubChem. Edetic Acid. Accessed 5 June 2024.
  4. Badmus, Suaibu O., et al. “Environmental Risks and Toxicity of Surfactants: Overview of Analysis, Assessment, and Remediation Techniques.” Environmental Science and Pollution Research International, vol. 28, no. 44, 2021, pp. 62085–104. PubMed Central
  5. Ask Dr. Pete: What Are Optical Brighteners and Why Should We Care?” Dirty Labs, Accessed 5 June 2024.
  6. Benzoni, Thomas, and Jason D. Hatcher. “Bleach Toxicity.” StatPearls, StatPearls Publishing, 2024. PubMed
  7. Rádis-Baptista, Gandhi. “Do Synthetic Fragrances in Personal Care and Household Products Impact Indoor Air Quality and Pose Health Risks?” Journal of Xenobiotics, vol. 13, no. 1, Mar. 2023, pp. 121–31. PubMed Central
  8. Arnold, William A., et al. “Quaternary Ammonium Compounds: A Chemical Class of Emerging Concern.” Environmental Science & Technology, vol. 57, no. 20, May 2023, pp. 7645–65. PubMed Central
  9. PubChem. Formaldehyde. Accessed 5 June 2024.

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