About Those Fragrance-Free Laundry Products

Some of us have gone to great lengths to encourage others to use fragrance-free products, especially for laundry, as many of the chemicals in fragrances cause such  disabling effects for us.

Not only that, but fragranced laundry products pollute entire neighbourhoods with hazardous chemicals when pumped out of dryer vents (which were designed to emit moisture, not toxic chemicals), meaning that we (and others with asthma, migraines, COPD, etc) can’t sit or work outside in our gardens, open our windows for fresh air, or go for walks safely when other people are doing laundry with regular commercial  products (and when are they not?), because we could be felled at any time from the emissions.

Much to our chagrin, many of us have discovered that some fragrance-free products can also make us dizzy, cause breathing difficulties like asthma, create cognitive confusion and memory problems, give us headaches, chemical hangovers, and more.

This has caused all kinds of difficulties, not just for us, but for the people who switched products only to discover that their efforts were not “good enough” for us.

“Can’t they EVER be happy?  Why are they still complaining?”

Anne Steinemann’s recently published research regarding VOCs emitted from regular personal care, cleaning, and laundry products, (the popular ones used by most people in the “developed” world) sheds some much needed light on the problems.

So what did she find?

What she found proves that those of us with MCS/ES aren’t crazy malingerers, and indeed, should compel everyone to demand laws that provide complete and meaningful info on labels, and that health protective laws and regulations be enacted for everyday products and materials.

While most of the hazardous VOCs she detected are due to fragrance chemicals, she also discovered that fragrance-free laundry products, even “green” ones, emit known,  hazardous air pollutants, including some known to cause cancer.

VOCs in Fragrance Free Laundry Products 2015


“Green” products are defined, for this study, as those that make a claim such as “green,” organic,” “non-toxic,” “environmentally friendly,” “essential oils,” or “natural” on their product label or MSDS. The analysis of green products included those with claims of “green certified” (e.g., Green Seal, 2014) or ingredients that are “certified organic.”


laundry products should not disable

Of the VOCs classified as toxic or hazardous, fewer than 6% were
disclosed on either the label or MSDS

The most prevalent VOCs in these 6 fragrance-free laundry products were ethanol, acetaldehyde, methanol, and undecane.

VOCs in FF Products Common Compounds 2015

Why are these hazardous pollutants even in fragrance-free laundry products???

When we use (any) laundry products, we breathe them in and have 24/7 contact with them against our skin, as they are not all washed out in the rinse cycle, and dryer sheet chemicals aren’t washed out at all. Shouldn’t these residues be harmless, not hazardous?

Info from The Good Scents Company:

undecane 1120-21-4

Safety Information
Most important hazard(s): Xn – Harmful.
R 36/37/38 – Irritating to eyes, respiratory system, and skin.
R 65 – Harmful: may cause lung damage if swallowed.
S 02 – Keep out of the reach of children.
S 20/21 – When using do not eat, drink or smoke.
S 24/25 – Avoid contact with skin and eyes.
S 26 – In case of contact with eyes, rinse immediately with plenty of water and seek medical advice.
S 37/39 – Wear suitable gloves and eye/face protection.
S 62 – If swallowed, do not induce vomiting: seek medical advice immediately and show this container or label.

acetone 67-64-1

Most important hazard(s) : Xi – Irritant
R 11 – Highly flammable.
R 36 – Irritating to eyes.
R 66 – Repeated exposure may cause skin dryness or cracking.
R 67 – Vapours may cause frowsiness and dizziness.
S 02 – Keep out of the reach of children.
S 09 – Keep container in a well-ventilated place.
S 16 – Keep away from sources of ignition – No Smoking.
S 26 – In case of contact with eyes, rinse immediately with plenty of water and seek medical advice.


Info from the CDC / NIOSH:

acetone 67-64-1

Exposure Routes:
inhalation, ingestion, skin and/or eye contact
irritation eyes, nose, throat; headache, dizziness, central nervous system depression; dermatitis
Target Organs:
Eyes, skin, respiratory system, central nervous system


ethanol 64-17-5

Exposure Routes:
inhalation, ingestion, skin and/or eye contact
irritation eyes, skin, nose; headache, drowsiness, lassitude (weakness, exhaustion), narcosis; cough; liver damage; anemia; reproductive, teratogenic effects
Target Organs:
Eyes, skin, respiratory system, central nervous system, liver, blood, reproductive system


methanol 67-56-1

Exposure Routes:
inhalation, skin absorption, ingestion, skin and/or eye contact
irritation eyes, skin, upper respiratory system; headache, drowsiness, dizziness, nausea, vomiting; visual disturbance, optic nerve damage (blindness); dermatitis
Target Organs:
Eyes, skin, respiratory system, central nervous system, gastrointestinal tract


acetaldehyde* 75-07-0

Exposure Routes:
inhalation, ingestion, skin and/or eye contact
irritation eyes, nose, throat; eye, skin burns; dermatitis; conjunctivitis; cough; central nervous system depression; delayed pulmonary edema; in animals: kidney, reproductive, teratogenic effects; [potential occupational carcinogen]
Target Organs:
Eyes, skin, respiratory system, kidneys, central nervous system, reproductive system
Cancer Site[in animals: nasal cancer]


2-methyl-2-propanol (t-butyl alcohol) 75-65-0

Exposure Routes:
inhalation, ingestion, skin and/or eye contact
irritation eyes, skin, nose, throat; drowsiness, narcosis
Target Organs:
Eyes, skin, respiratory system, central nervous system


laundry products should not disable

This goes to show something else about MCS:

It’s not the smell, it’s the chemicals!

“Consumer products are a primary source of human exposure to VOCs, including hazardous air pollutants. However, consumers lack information about actual and complete product ingredients and emissions, given that most ingredients (over
97% in this study) are not disclosed, and most potentially hazardous ingredients (over
94% in this study) are also not disclosed.”

Fragrance-Free Products (n=6): Compounds regulated as toxic or hazardous

VOCs in FF Products 1 2015

Should you wish to do further research regarding known (published) health effects from the substances above, please let me know so I can link to it here too.

Aside from the obvious, that toxic, health harming ingredients should not be found in everyday products and materials, these are other issues mentioned in the report:

-labels do not need to list all ingredients
-material safety data sheets do not need to list all ingredients.
-the disclosure of some chemicals, but not all chemicals, on product labels and MSDSs may lead consumers to presume that they are seeing all ingredients.
-products used indoors, such as laundry supplies, can affect outdoor air quality as well, such as through dryer vent emissions

However, each product appears to be in compliance with their respective laws for
disclosing (or not disclosing) ingredients

In other words, the current laws and regulations are not protecting our health.

Potential health risks, whether through voluntary or involuntary exposures to these
products, are not disclosed anywhere. When our health IS adversely impacted by these product ingredients, WE are the ones who have to pay the costs, while the polluters keep the profits.

There are environmental impacts too, as these chemicals impact not only our air, but go down the drain into our waterways, affecting wildlife and our drinking water. Municipalities don’t filter out many of the chemicals that go down our  drains, so unless we install expensive water filtration systems, we will be consuming many of these (and other) substances again, and again.

What do you think?

What do you use to clean your laundry?

Remember that 2 of the fragrance-free laundry products were regular and 4 were green.

Here are 2 examples of what was found, from one regular and one green product:

VOCs in FF regular laundry product #26

VOCs in FF regular laundry product #26

VOCs in FF "green" laundry product #30

VOCs in FF “green” laundry product #30

The full article is available, free of charge, on Professor Steinemann’s website (see Recent Publications, “Volatile Emissions from Common Consumer Products”): http://people.eng.unimelb.edu.au/asteinemann/

This study focused on VOCs, but other types of product emissions also need to be analyzed, such as semivolatile organic compounds and ultrafine particles.

In the full study, you can also find  “Comparisons of Fragranced and Fragrance-Free Versions of Regular Laundry Product Brands”, as well as all the other VOC info, some of which I shared here.

Please share your favorite non-toxic laundry methods in the comments below.

Our clothing and bedding should be safe to live in.

19 responses to “About Those Fragrance-Free Laundry Products

  1. I use Bob’s Red Mill Baking Soda with a little Seventh Gen laundry product for the wash cycle and sometimes add organic white vinegar for the rinse.

  2. I use baking soda and Seventh Generation Laundry soap in the wash and white vinegar in the rinse. Thanks for this article. I just commented on my blog about walking in the woods. The trail goes near an apartment building and the fragrance from laundry products being released from a dryer vent filled the woods for a significant area. I had to leave my nature walk because the chemicals in the air from laundry products was too toxic to stay.

  3. I started using “BioKleen” products recently. Now I have to check on it.

  4. Catherine House

    I Use seventh generation free and clear for the wash cycle and arm and hammer baking soda for the rinse cycle.

  5. I use Seventh Generation as well. But now I’m wondering if this was one of the “green” laundry products that was problematic. :/

  6. I would love to know which products she tested, but it’s unlikely that will be disclosed.

    I know I have had issues with several of the “green” ones over the years, but they were usually lesser issues than the brand names, although any symptoms are too many as far as I am concerned!.

    Tide Free for instance was and is just as disabling as any conventional fragranced product, as are the fragrance-free dryer sheets.

    This study compares some of the popular brands to their own fragrance-free brands and shows that the problems are still huge!

  7. I use
    – baking soda – it’s what I use regularly
    (fragrance and other contamination is still a big issue there, I have a post somewhere about that)
    – food grade hydrogen peroxide (occasionally)
    – soap nuts (occasionally)
    – borax (occasionally)

    Detox process refers to what I have to do to make new clothes safe to wear (see my post about laundry decontamination protocols)

    – organic while vinegar (in the detox process)
    – organic lemon (in the detox process)
    – vodka (in the detox process)

    I used to be able to use soap flakes and Marseilles or olive oil soap but I think commercial lye is chemically contaminated these days, as I don’t tolerate any soaps now, even those made with organic oils.

    If I had a machine, I think I would be able to use a liquid “green” f-f laundry product in the early detox process, but it would have to be thoroughly washed out.

    I can be around people who use some of the “green” liquid f-f products if they’ve been well washed out. (1 rinse does NOT wash out laundry products, even 2 rinses are not enough). The “green” powdered versions are still a big problem for me.

    I think I’ve had a post in the drafts for a couple of years about safer laundry washing, maybe I should find it and try to finish it? I saw so many other people posting recipes etc that I didn’t see the point in doing it then… Also, I am not a “product” user, so i can’t compare them, I just use a few ingredients… and my priorities have changed over the years…

    Another note of caution:

    Many DIY recipes suggest using FELS soap… Please don’t.

    It is just as problematic as any other commercial soap or detergent, and also contains fragrance chemicals… Please don’t waste your time. IVORY either, as it contains fragrance chemicals.

    READ labels, even though they don’t tell the whole story.

    Check websites.

    Greenwash and (mis)leading statements about safety being of utmost importance to them is rampant, actual ingredient details are extremely hard to find, and as mentioned above, many are not listed anywhere.

    Look for a natural soap, like Dr Bronners (if you tolerate it). I’m sure someone out there has compiled a list of the safer soaps

    Don’t believe anything without asking more questions. Many people believe they are making good soaps and detergents but they have never examined the life cycle of their ingredients, they just assume they are safe because they meet (nonexistent) regulations.

    Changing our products over to the safest possible can sometimes be a slow process, taking place over years. Getting away from the most toxic ones asap is key.

    If kids are involved, it’s a more urgent thing…

    Hopefully someday, if there’s enough public pressure on the manufacturers AND on the law makers, we won’t have to be choosing from the lesser of evils, but will have more options to choose from that are all good.

  8. Did u give up on getting washing machine?
    My kidneys are giving up on me, have u heard of MCS pl dying of renal failure? I know of one on the mcsbeacon of hope site. My liver is not happy either. I know its from the chemicals but my MD is aguing with me. He wants me to take more pills. Big surprise …..

    • The washing machine is in limbo – I don’t have anyone to detox new machines for me and I can’t have them delivered and detoxed here.

      I’m sorry about your kidneys, mine aren’t in the best of shape either, and I’ve had trouble with them since before the MCS became disabling. Only alt health practitioners picked up on it, long before I had any symptoms even, the regular medical practitioners were clueless when I went to them for help.

      I would seek out alternative health practitioners, with recommendations, if possible, otherwise interview them well… and do lots of research about anything… Sending out a few prayers for you to find someone perfect for your needs <3

  9. I use Shaklee free I was instructed it is out of corn and coconut I know there is more to it however it is the only one that I don’t end up in hives . all the ones mentioned above I cannot use I have severe mcs it was worth me paying the one time fee and not selling it to have it shipped to my door

    • I would ask them if the corn was GMO (and contributing to the poisoning of soil, water, air, and people)…

      If I remember correctly (if I am wrong, someone please correct me) Shaklee uses chemical fragrances and there were other concerns, possibly non-disclosure related, but it has been a while since I looked into it.

      Regarding GMOs and another commonly used laundry and cleaning product, HEINZ uses GMO corn to make their vinegar in the US.

  10. I can use Charlies Soap. It’s a liquid, expensive but worth being able to breathe.

  11. Pingback: Bubbled People | Seriously "Sensitive" to Pollution

  12. Pingback: Laundry Products Harm Humans! | Seriously "Sensitive" to Pollution

  13. If you use a dryer:

    Please rinse more than once to remove more laundry product residues.

    Wool dryer balls are a great option.

    If you have synthetic clothing, take them out just before they get totally dry to avoid static build-up.

    Adding harmful chemicals to our clothing and bedding, our water and the neighbourhood air, only benefits the chemical industry and their profits while adding to increasing health care costs and higher taxes for people (not industry, they get the tax breaks).

  14. I may have MCS or dermatitis. Some kind of skin condition that’s for sure.

    I have tried various detergents, fragrance free or not. I have thought about visiting an allergy doctor, but I would have to pay $500 up front before my insurance kicks in. Meanwhile, insurance claims that they don’t know where the $500 is coming up. Seeing a specialist should only cost $75. I now have to call the doctor back and see what’s up. Otherwise, I go to someone else.

    They want to apply patches to see what I am allergic to for one week. I can’t shower at all.

    • I personally haven’t done any patch testing, but some people have been helped a lot, others not so much, as it doesn’t necessarily identify the chemical compounds that are problematic.

      Changing our diet to whole foods and organic, doing elimination diets to see if there are foods contributing to the problems, avoiding processed foods, especially GMOs as those are heavily pesticided, using filtered water, choosing simple, natural, non-toxic products, (ie avoid things with more than a few ingredients and preservatives), watching what else we have in our air space, can all make a difference.

      Some people find using soap nuts for laundry makes a difference too.

  15. Here’s a more recent research article, which discusses the reduction f one chemical (which is a good thing) but in my mind, it doesn’t properly address the face that several other hazardous chemicals were still detected, and that people with MCS/ES are disabled by those too.

    Emissions from dryer vents during use of fragranced and fragrance-free laundry products

    …”This study investigates volatile emissions from six residential dryer vents, with a focus on d-limonene. It analyses and compares concentrations of d-limonene during use of fragranced and fragrance-free laundry products, as well as changes in switching from fragranced to fragrance-free products.”


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