The Best, and Worst, Laundry Detergents with 1,4-dioxane Contamination
One of the major issues being tackled by consumer watchdog groups this year is the presence of 1,4-dioxane, a synthetic petrochemical carcinogen, in consumer products. Since hair care products, cleaning formulas and laundry detergents are all susceptible to containing this toxic chemical byproduct, which is not listed on product labels, David Steinman from the Green Patriot Working Group (GPWG) began a study in 2007 to see which consumer products are the worst offenders.
This year, his organization along with the Organic Consumers Association (OCA), released the results of a portion of the study conducted last year on laundry detergents.
When cleaning products and detergents are processed using ethoxylation, a cheap technique that lessens the severity of the harsher ingredients, 1,4-dioxane is created. Since it is considered a byproduct of ethylene oxide reacting with other ingredients, 1,4-dioxane is technically considered a contaminant and thus does not have to be included on product labeling. As a result, consumers are largely unaware of its presence in major household products.
For the study, Steinman evaluated 20 different laundry detergents from both conventional and “natural” brands. Evoxa, an independent, third-party laboratory that is highly respected for its rigorous methods and high standards, conducted all product testing. The results are as follows:
1. Tide (P&G) – 55 parts per million (ppm)
2. Ivory Snow Gentle (P&G) – 31 ppm
3. Tide Free (P&G) – 29 ppm
4. Purex (Dial Corp.) – 25 ppm
5. Gain 2X Ultra (P&G) – 21 ppm
6. Cheer BrightClean Detergent (P&G) – 20 ppm
7. Era 2X Ultra (P&G) – 14 ppm
8. Arm & Hammer (Church & Dwight Co.) – 5.0 ppm
9. Wisk 2X Ultra (Sun Products Corp.) – 3.9 ppm
10. Woolite Complete Detergent (Reckitt Benckiser) – 1.3 ppm
11. All laundry detergent (Unilever) – 0.6 ppm
12. Dreft powdered detergent (P&G) – non-detectable (ND)
13. Sun Burst (Sun Products Corp.) – ND
1. Planet Ultra Liquid laundry detergent – 6.1 ppm
2. Mrs. Meyers laundry detergent – 1.5 ppm
3. Clorox Green Works Natural laundry detergent – ND
4. Ecos laundry detergent (Earth Friendly Products) – ND
5. Life Tree Laundry Liquid – ND
6. Method Squeaky Green laundry detergent – ND
7. Seventh Generation Free & Clear laundry detergent – ND
Of the products detected, P&G products came up the highest in 1,4-dioxane levels, as did most of the conventional brands. Of the natural brands tested, only two were found to contain 1,4-dioxane, and in levels far below the average conventional brand. While not all available brands were tested, it is clear from the results that consumers need to be wary of most conventional brands. They also must perform due diligence in verifying that their “natural” brand of choice is truly free of 1,4-dioxane as well.
The 1,4-dioxane found in laundry detergent is particularly harmful in the fact that the chemical binds easily to water and remains there. Even after water containing the chemical has been purified and filtered, low levels have been detected, indicating that it is not easily removed from water. Numerous water supplies across the country have been found to be tainted with 1,4-dioxane.
Of the 80,000 known chemicals, only 200 are tested by the EPA; 1,4-dioxane is not one of the ones tested. Average aggregate exposure to 1,4-dioxane is unknown since it is found in numerous consumer care products. Because it is a known carcinogen that is implicated in causing cancer, liver disease and other serious problems (probably allergies,skin problems), it is important to avoid it whenever possible.
OCA has prepared a Personal Care and Cleaning Products Safety Guide outlining which consumer products are safe and free of 1,4-dioxane and which ones are not. Categories include dishwashing soap, hand soap, all-purpose soap, laundry detergents, household cleaners, body washes and shampoos, conditioners, facial cleansers, lotions, sunscreens and deodorants.