These detergents for white clothes contain problematic substances
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These detergents for white clothes contain problematic substances

Our test of laundry detergents for white clothes shows some products contain unwanted chemicals such as allergenic substances or suspected endocrine disruptors.

Katja Ravn · Foto: Getty Images · 29. juni 2022
Laundry detergent white clothes

We tested 20 different laundry detergents for white clothes – both liquid and powder - for unwanted chemicals.

We examined whether detergents for white laundry contain substances that are:

  • Allergenic
  • Environmentally damaging
  • Suspected endocrine disruptors
  • Suspected of being carcinogenic or harming reproduction

Plenty of good options for white laundry

The test shows that if you wish to avoid problematic chemicals, there are plenty of good options.

12 out of 20 detergents do not contain unwanted chemicals. Almost all of them are labelled with The Nordic Swan ecolabel and The Blue Label or the label Allergy Certified.

Do you want to avoid unwanted chemicals? Choose detergents with ecolabels. They are often free from a variety of unwanted chemicals.

Watch out for environmentally damaging substances

The test shows several products contain optical white and the substance group LAS.

Optical white is a chemical used in some detergents to make the clothes appear whiter.

LAS is short for Linear alkylbenzensulfonates, substances that dissolve grease and dirt.

Both of them are problematic for the environment since they do not easily biodegrade in environments with low levels of oxygen, and can cause great damage to fish and other living organisms in water. Optical white can also cause skin irritation.

One product contains a suspected endocrine disrupter

One of the tested detergents contains a suspected endocrine disrupter - boric acid.

This chemical is one out of several suspected endocrine disrupting borates found in laundry detergents.

Allergenic preservatives found in 3 detergents

We also found isothiazolinones in 3 laundry detergents. These preservatives are strongly allergenic and can be problematic when freshly washed clothes come into close contact with the skin.

These 3 detergents get the lowest rading, C-rating.

Unwanted chemicals are not always on the list of ingredients

When you have to choose a laundry detergent at the supermarket, you cannot be sure that you will be able to read about all the unwanted chemicals on the products label.

For detergents it is not required to declare all of the chemicals on the product itself.

It is only required to declare all ingredients on the companies websites.

Some chemicals are required to appear on the product. Such as:

  • Preservatives
  • Perfume
  • Optical white

These substances do not have to appear on the product:

  • The substance group LAS
  • Borates

The Danish Consumer Council THINK Chemicals: Declare all substances on products

“It is unfair that consumers have to find relevant information about unwanted chemicals on the companies' websites. And even on the website, you can still be misinformed. In the test we see that some websites are either missing the correct information or containing incorrect information about the products. It is simply not good enough. We need full declaration on all products. This is the only way consumers can make an informed and safe decision”.

Christel Søgaard Kirkeby, Project manager, The Danish Consumer Council THINK Chemicals

About the test

  • We tested 20 laundry detergents for white clothes – both liquid and powder. All are bought in Danish stores in the spring of 2022.

    We collected information about the substances on the websites listed on the products. Afterwards we asked the companies to confirm the content or send a list of ingredients in case it was not available online.

    The ingredient list is checked for substances of concern.

    This test is a declaration test. We have not performed chemical analyses and therefore the test does not consider quantities.

    • Isothiazolinones for example  Methylisothiazolinone, Octylisothiazolinone and Benzisothiazolinone. Found in 3 products. These chemicals are allergenic preservatives and only found in liquid detergent. Not in washing powder.
    • Boric acid. Found in 1 product. This chemical is a suspected endocrine disrupter. It is also suspected of impairing reproduction.
    • LAS, which can be environmentally damaging. Found in 5 products under names such as Sodium Dodecylbenzenesulfonate, Sodium C10-13 alkyl benzenesulfonate and Tea-dodecylbenzenesulfonate. 
    • Perfume. Found in 8 products. We also found some perfume substances which are required to be declared on products.
    • Optical whites. Found in 5 products. Optipal whites can be problematic for the environment. Found under names such as DASC-4, Disodium distyrylbiphenyl disulfonate, Disodium Anilinomorpholinotriazinylaminostilbenesulfonate and C.I. Fluorescent Brightener 260.