Is laundry detergent harmful to skin? If you’re experiencing rashes itchy skin or bumps, it’s a question worth asking. That’s the topic we cover in today’s article.

Laundry detergents contain a myriad of ingredients, some of which are known allergens and irritants. Even popular brands still use dangerous ingredients which may cause skin itching and irritation, acne, bumps, (and sometimes worse). Here are 6 of the most harmful ingredients that have somehow found their way into common laundry detergents.


1,4-Dioxane is a solvent commonly found in laundry detergents. Although it is not directly added to detergents as an ingredient, it can result as a by-product when actual ingredients in a laundry detergent interact. 1,4-Dioxane is a potential carcinogen that also causes harmful effects upon contact with your skin. According to the EPA, acute short-term exposure may cause vertigo and irritation to the eyes, nose, throat, and the skin. Now think of what happens with repeated exposure when you use a laundry detergent that contains this harmful solvent.


Many scented detergents and fabric softeners contain synthetic fragrances that give the illusion that clothes are clean because they smell nice. What you may not know is that that nice fragrance is made of hundreds of chemicals, some of which are harmful allergens. One of these notorious chemicals is Phthalates which is linked to lots of problems, including asthma and allergies. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), even natural fragrances said to be extracted from plants can still cause skin allergies.

Surfactants can be harmful to skin

Many laundry detergents contain surfactants which help to remove dirt and stains, making cleaners work better. Surfactants work by reducing the surface tension of water, binding to greasy particles, and dissolving them before carrying them with water during cleaning. While they help make your clothes cleaner, they are known skin irritants and have been closely linked with irritant contact dermatitis. Aside from being a danger to the skin, some chemical surfactants such as benzenes are known reproductive toxins, and are a general danger to the environment.


Household bleach works wonders when it comes to removing tough stains and whitening clothes. Bleach also helps disinfect clothes and surfaces by killing most bacteria, viruses, molds, and mildew. However, when used incorrectly, bleach can cause skin irritation, especially when it comes into direct contact with the skin.

Optical brighteners

Optical brighteners are added to cleaning detergents to make clothes appear brighter. They have no cleaning power, but are designed to remain behind after you’ve washed your clothes. In the presence of ultraviolet radiation (such as when you go outside), optical brighteners reflect visible light, making stains less visible. The downside? Some studies show that optical brighteners contain chemicals that can rub off your skin, causing an allergic reaction and increased sun sensitivity.


Most common detergents contain formaldehyde as an antibacterial agent as well as a preservative. Unfortunately, regular contact with formaldehyde has been associated with skin problems such as contact dermatitis and eczema.

What are some of the safer laundry detergent alternatives?

While doing laundry is not exactly one of the most popular activities in your household, it’s still necessary and has to be done. The best way around all these chemicals is to choose detergents and softeners that don’t use any harmful ingredients. Unfortunately, manufacturers are not obligated to list all their ingredients. Here are a few options:

  • In place of softeners, consider using ½ cup of white vinegar during the rinse cycle.
  • Instead of bleach, try baking soda and water to pre-treat stains. Hang clothes to dry in the sun, which also acts as a natural bleaching agent.
  • Try one of the laundry detergents from one of our favorite resources, MamaSuds. 
  • If you must, go for fragrance-free detergents when buying commercial detergents. You can also carefully investigate various brands to identify ones that don’t use harmful ingredients. If you are in doubt about any cleaning product you are using, consider running it through the EPA Safer Choice Standard search box.

For more information

If allergies or itchy rashes are bothering your skin, other products we use in the home may be contributing too. At Srida Herbals, we understand how delicate the skin can be, and are dedicated to helping you make safe choices when it comes to products that touch your skin! If you’re wondering “is laundry detergent harmful to skin,” or have other questions about skincare, contact us today and we will be happy to help provide guidance!