Laundry detergent can have caustic affects with prolonged exposure to your skin. What this section covers, though, is the effect of remnants of the laundry detergent and fabric softener left in your clothes when you wash them. Laundry detergent includes ingrediants such as:
- Surfactants dissolve in water and "lift" dirt and oils from the laundry.
- Builders aid the surfactants by softening hard (mineral-rich) water to make the detergent more effective.
- Enzymes are designed to break down stains made up of organic proteins, such as blood and grass.
- Chlorine bleach removes color from fabrics while also disinfecting and deodorizing the laundry.
- Oxygen bleach will bleach clothes, but is less powerful and safer for fabrics than chlorine bleach.
- Whiteners (optical brighteners) absorb invisible forms of light and re-emits it as blue light, making clothes seem brighter.
- Fragrance can mask the chemical smell of the detergent and produce an emotional response when using the product.
Builders and bleaches are caustic out of the box or bottle, but are readily rinsed away in the wash. The detergent's surfactant, as in other soaps, is low in toxicity, but could give you dry, itchy skin if your clothes are not thoroughly rinsed. The more notable irritants are the dyes and fragrances, which are left on clothes even after they are rinsed. These culprits can produce itching and rash for people with sensitive skin or specific dye or fragrance allergies. Fragrance and dyes in fabric softener can produce similar allergic reactions.
Many manufacturers have responded to their sensitive and allergic consumers, creating fragrance-free and dye-free detergents and fabric softeners. Without the fragrance, you can still smell the detergent's other ingredients. When your laundry is finished, though, all potential irritants should be rinsed away.