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Unwanted chemicals in wool detergents

In our test, 10 out of 33 wool detergents contain chemicals that can cause allergies or are suspected of being endocrine disruptors.

Katja Ravn · 12. januar 2024
Unwanted chemicals in wool detergent

Imagecredit: Getty Images

When you need to wash your favorite sweater, woolen socks, or homemade knitwear, you should use a gentle detergent to ensure that the wool is not damaged or felted.

Even though wool detergents are gentler to the wool than regular detergents, they may still contain unwanted chemicals.

In our test, almost every third wool detergent contains chemicals that can be allergenic, environmentally problematic, or suspected of being endocrine disruptors.

These 10 wool detergents contain unwanted chemicals:

  • Aclima – Wool Shampoo
  • Eucalan – delicate lavender, lanolin enriched
  • Eucalan – delicate unscented, lanolin enriched
  • Feldten – Natural Wash
  • Fibertec – Wool Wash Eco
  • Grangers – Merino Wash
  • Nikwax – Wool Wash
  • Soak - Lacey
  • Woolite – Delicate
  • 365 Minirisk – Fine Wash Wool and Silk

The Chemicals can contribute to your overall exposure

When you wash your woolens by hand, you come into contact with the wool detergent with your hands.

After you have washed your wool in the washing machine or by hand, some of the detergent may still remain in your clothes.

There may be ingredients in the detergent that can cause allergies or contribute to your overall exposure to unwanted chemicals in your daily life. This is known as the cocktail effect.

The detergents can also harm the aquatic environment, especially if they contain environmentally problematic substances.

These Substances Are in Wool Detergents

We have found several substances considered problematic by authorities or researchers.

We have found, among others, isothiazolinones in the form of benzisothiazolinone, methylisothiazolinone (MI), and methylchloroisothiazolinone, as well as the substance sodium pyrithione. These substances are allergenic and problematic for the environment.

We have also found cyclic siloxanes in the form of cyclopentasiloxane and cyclohexasiloxane, which are suspected of being endocrine disruptors and environmentally burdensome.

In two products, we have found Methyl ethyl ketone (MEK), and in one product, we have found benzophenone-4. These substances are suspected of being endocrine disruptors.

A single wool detergent may contain one or more of these unwanted chemicals.

About the Test

  • The Danish Consumer Council THINK Chemicals selected 33 wool detergents from the Danish market.

    We contacted the relevant companies to ensure that the products are still relevant for the market.

    Ingredient lists were obtained from the label, the manufacturers' websites, or through direct contact with the company behind the product, if the declaration was not available online.

    The ingredient lists were checked for substances that can have problematic properties for health or the environment.

    This test is a declaration test. Therefore, no chemical analyses of the products were conducted, and there were no functional tests of how well the detergents clean and care the wool.

  • Here's what we found:

    • 11 wool detergents receive the best rating, the A rating.
    • 12 wool detergents receive a medium rating, the B rating, due to the presence of perfume or plant extracts that can cause allergies.
    • 10 wool detergents receive the lowest rating, the C rating, due to the presence of suspected endocrine disrupting or allergenic substances.

    These Chemicals Trigger the C-rating

    • Benzisothiazolinone, which is allergenic and found in 3 products. The substance is also problematic for the environment.
    • Methylisothiazolinone, which is allergenic, found in 1 product. The substance is also problematic for the environment.
    • Methylchloroisothiazolinone, which is allergenic, found in 2 products. The substance is also problematic for the environment.
    • Cyclopentasiloxane, which is suspected of being endocrine disrupting and problematic for the environment, is found in 1 product.
    • Cyclohexasiloxane, which is problematic for the environment, is found in 1 product.
    • Methyl ethyl ketone (MEK), also known as butanone, which is suspected of being endocrine disrupting, is found in 2 products.
    • Benzophenone-4, which is suspected of being endocrine disrupting, is found in 1 product.
    • Sodium pyrithione, which is an allergenic substance, is found in 2 products. The substance is also problematic for the environment.

    MEK

    MEK is used to denature alcohol, making it undrinkable. MEK is on the authorities' list of substances suspected of being endocrine disruptors.

    365 Minirisk wool detergent from Coop contains MEK and, therefore, receives a C-rating in the test, even though it is Swan-labeled.

    Environmental labels generally do not allow suspected endocrine-disrupting substances in their products. However, the authorities' list of suspected endocrine-disrupting substances has not yet been fully incorporated into all Nordic Swan Ecolabel criteria, including those for detergents.

    Coop, the company behind 365 Minirisk, has informed The Danish Consumer Council THINK Chemicals that they are phasing out MEK, so there will be 365 Minirisk wool detergent without MEK in stores from the spring of 2024.

    Isothiazolinones

    Isothiazolinones – MI, MCI, and BIT – are controversial preservatives because they can cause allergies. Many people developed allergies to these substances after they were widely used in cosmetics and personal care products for several years.

    Isothiazolinones are now either completely banned or have concentration limits in cosmetics and personal care products, but not in detergents and cleaning products.

    Sodium pyrithione

    Sodium pyrithione is added as a preservative because it inhibits bacteria. However, the substance is classified as allergenic and problematic for the environment in the EU. The substance is not allowed in cosmetics and personal care products but can be used in detergents and cleaning products.

    Cyclic Siloxanes

    Cyclic siloxanes are problematic for the environment and can also be endocrine disruptors. Due to this, the use of these substances is on the way to being restricted in a range of consumer products, including detergents.

    Benzophenones

    Benzophenone-4 is a UV filter added to protect the product. The substance is suspected of being an endocrine disruptor, like many other benzophenones.

    These Chemicals Trigger the B-rating

    • Perfume or declarable perfuming ingredients that can cause allergies are found in 13 products. If you want to reduce your risk of developing allergies, you can advantageously choose products without perfume.
    • Benzyl alcohol, which can be a fragrance ingredient but can also be used as a preservative and can cause allergies, is found in 3 products.
    • Plant extracts that can cause allergies are found in 3 products.
    • LAS, which stands for linear alkylbenzene sulfonates, is found in 1 product in the form of Sodium c10-13 alkylbenzenesulfonate. LAS is a group of substances that can be problematic for the environment. The substances do not break down in oxygen-depleted conditions and can be harmful to fish and other aquatic organisms.
    • Tetrasodium EDTA, which is problematic for the environment, is found in 1 product.

    Missing Ingredient Information

    According to the detergents regulation, certain ingredients must be declared on label of the detergents. This applies, for example, to perfume and perfume ingredients, as well as preservatives.

    Furthermore, it is a legal requirement that a list of all ingredients in the product is available online to the public.

    However, not all tested wool detergents meet this last requirement, and in some cases, we have not been able to obtain sufficient information about the ingredients in the product, even after direct contact with the company. This is included as part of our assessment.

This is what the companies says

  • Coop, the company behind 365 Minirisk, informs the Consumer Council Think Chemicals that they are in the process of phasing out, so that from spring 2024, there will be 365 Minirisk wool detergent without MEK, which is a suspected endocrine-disrupting substance.