February 10th, 2012

Two thirds of all common laundry detergents normally carried in supermarkets contain the deadly carcinogen, dioxane. And according to laboratory tests, the levels of dioxane are considered “high” compared to the levels recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency.

For example, the tests of one of the most popular laundry products, Tide™, showed that it contained 55 parts per million (ppm) dioxane. The environmental health groups that sponsored the test program, the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) and the Green Patriot Working Group (GPWG), say levels as low as 5 to 10 ppm are dangerous. In fact, exposure at any levels is not advisable.

1,4-dioxane, the full scientific name of the chemical, is a man-made petrochemical that is widely used in personal care and household cleaning products. But dioxane is not only present in the majority of laundry detergents, it is also found in many popular shampoos, body washes, lotions and even in baby shampoos. 1,4-dioxane is a proven carcinogen that is contaminating waterways across the country through wastewater. It cannot be removed through filtration, and is not biodegradable.

The GPWG’s David Steinman, a former representative at the National Academy of Sciences, has been on a crusade for several years to find and eliminate common sources of dioxane. His group is also promoting legislation to force manufacturers who use dioxane in their products to list it on their labels.

Dioxane has even been found in so-called “natural” and “organic” products. According to reports, some products were found to be so highly contaminated with dioxane that legal proceedings have been instituted against the manufacturers. In 2008, for example, the Attorney General of California filed lawsuits against Avalon Natural Products (Alba), Whole Foods Market California (365), Beaumont Products (Citrus Magic) and Nutribiotic.

Many consumer laundry products actually contain a long list of dangerously toxic chemicals. Some are reported as ingredients on the labels, others are not. In addition to dioxane, among the most toxic ingredients are sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) or sodium laureth sulfate (SLES), short for sodium lauryl ether sulfate, NPE (nonylphenol ethoxylate), and numerous so-called “phosphates”. Anyone who has read a shampoo label has certainly seen sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium laureth sulfate or some variation of it. These are found in nearly all shampoo and scalp treatments, hair coloring and bleaching products, body washes, make-ups, liquid hand soaps and even toothpaste, as well as common laundry detergents. Over 16,000 studies show that SLS in any form causes eye and skin irritation, organ toxicity, neurotoxicity, developmental and reproductive toxicity, endocrine disruption, mutations and cancer.

NPE has been shown to cause kidney and liver damage, disrupted growth and metabolic development, decreased testicular growth and sperm count, and increased mortality.

Fortunately, several brands of laundry products are free of these ingredients. The Organic Consumers Association recommends we avoid products with ingredients that include words with myreth, oleth, laureth, ceteareth or any other “eth”; PEG; polyethylene, polyethylene glycol or polyoxyethylene; and anything with “oxynol” in the name.

Phosphates, the main cleaning ingredients in detergents and household cleaners, can cause nausea, diarrhea and skin irritations. But their worst effects are in wastewater, destroying all life in lakes, streams and rivers.

 SOURCES:,; Journal of Oleo Science, 2007,; Environmental Working Group,



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