For years, conventional laundry detergent companies have proudly exclaimed that their products will keep your whites and colours their brightest. The ‘magical’ ingredient that makes it all possible are optical brighteners. The main goal of these chemicals is to make fabrics appear to be cleaner and brighter.
So how do these optical brighteners work and what are the ramifications of use for you, your family and the environment?
How do Optical Brighteners work?
These chemical enhancements utilise the UV light and transform it to enhance the blue light, and in doing so reduce the natural yellowing of your white fabrics over time. This then makes the fabric appear whiter, brighter and cleaner. If you were to look at your clothes and your sheets, towels etc under a black light they will appear to glow – this is the optical brighteners at work. Remember your laundry only appears to be cleaner – it’s not actually any cleaner.
Are Optical Brighteners Safe for My Family?
To accomplish this illusion, the chemical must remain on the fabric after washing. This means that you have a chemical coming into contact with your skin 24/7 and raises the possibility of skin sensitivities and rashes. Many times, a dye or fragrance is thought to be the source of an allergic reaction, but there is a good chance that the optical brightener is to blame.
According to the article “Key Characteristics of Laundry Detergents” by Design for the Environment (DFE), an EPA partnership program, optical brighteners may be potentially toxic to humans and “Aminotriazine- or stilbene-based whiteners…may cause developmental and reproductive effects.” More research is needed to fully understand the long-term effects of exposure to these types of chemicals. But needless to say, if you don’t need them in your detergent, why put yourself at risk for possible problems and complications?
What about Environmental Effects?
Optical Brighteners are not biodegradable, so when they enter our water system they pose a potential hazard to aquatic life. This pollution remains in wastewater for long periods of time, negatively affecting water quality and animal and plant life. Optical brighteners have also been shown to cause mutations in bacteria.
Unfortunately, Optical Brighteners are just one of the many potentially harmful ingredients in a number of laundry detergent brands. Among other considerations when choosing a laundry liquid or powder for your family is to find one that is free from: dyes, phosphates and enzymes.
- Is your detergent 100% and rapidly biodegradable?
- Does it work in soft and hard water?
- Is it naturally scented with organic essential oils?
- Does it contain fillers?
There’s plenty of ‘green’ laundry and household cleaning products out there, but there are many definitions of ‘green’.
Read your ingredients, a reputable company will list all ingredients on the bottle. A little research will go a long way in helping you make a truly safe and eco-friendly, skin-friendly choice for you, your family and our environment.
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