Your Washing Powder: Harmful or Helpful


The washing product you use affects you 24/7, on your clothes, your bed linen, towels and even tea towels. When you put your face on your pillow at night will it help you or hinder you?

Washing Powder/Liquid

Our skin absorbs, our nose breathes in and our waterways end up with what we use. The ingredients in your washing product are important to your wellbeing, this is a maximum impact change opportunity.

There is good and bad news. The bad news is the manufacturers don’t have to list the ingredients on the label, in fact they are not even obliged to list them on their websites. You can request a MSDS, a Material Data Safety Sheet, but only known hazardous ingredients (as regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration – TGA) are required to be identified. This excerpt is from our Australian Consumer organisation Choice –

“About 40,000 individual chemicals are permitted for use in consumer products, and many are considered safe only because they’ve been used for a long time without known adverse effects. For now, you’ll just have to trust that chemicals classified as non-toxic won’t hurt you, and that chemicals classified as toxic are used in low enough concentrations to steer clear of your system.”

Alarm bells going off for you? Historically, factually, many chemicals have been identified as toxic well after their continued use. Even Johnson’s Baby Powder is in current mega legal battles because of ovarian cancer amongst it’s longterm users. A subject for a future blog.

The good news is that we have a choice in what we purchase and bring into our homes. Healthy 21st century life involves risk management and common sense. Taking the time to check things out, not being swept up in good marketing.


Getting familiar with label reading

Checking labels and knowing what to choose and what to avoid is key here. Let’s take a look at this everyday product. I went off to the supermarket to photograph current product labelling and found a large range of products had NO LISTED INGREDIENTS but did give their website for ingredients.

Giving the impression of being natural and fresh, another product had the words ‘Aromatherapy’, ‘Relaxation’ ‘Sandalwood and Gardenia’ in large letters over their packaging and a very generically worded ingredients list. One example… 'To remove odour and give long lasting freshness: Perfume'. 
Please. They did give a website for an ingredients list.

However, MORE GOOD NEWS, the number of less toxic products on the shelves is increasing.


Reading Labels — Avoid products with this on the label:

  • Phosphates, Nitrates and Chlorines
  • Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS), Sodium Laureth sulfate (SLES)
  • 1,4-Dioxane
  • NPE (Nonylphenol Ethoxylate)
  • Anionic surfactants – Linear alkyl sodium sulfonates (LAS)
  • Phenols
  • Optical Brighteners*
  • Bleach (Sodium hypochlorite)
  • Fragrance, perfume***
  • ‘Maybe Harmful or Fatal’ or other warnings, cautions and dangers
  • If the product is considered hazardous, corrosive or inflammable
1_washing powder labels_8.jpg

A typical label indicating a product to avoid.

  • ‘Ingredients include’ so what else is in the box?

  • Anionic surfectants, Optical Brighteners, Antifoam

  • Alkalis vary in strength.

Choose Products with Labels like this:

2_washing powder labels_4.jpg

Good companies will happily display their ingredients and WHAT IS NOT IN THEIR PRODUCT.

Look for

  • “Does not contain…”
  • Phosphate free
  • No bleach
  • Plant and animal-based ingredients (not petroleum-based).

I particularly love this label as it adds the more common name for the ingredient. I find that respectful and considerate to us, the consumer.


A word on pods…

As well as being highly toxic these pose an added risk to young children. This excerpt is from Product Safety Australia, a government body.

  • Never let your children handle or play with the pods. They dissolve quickly when in contact with water, wet hands or saliva.
  • Always put products away in a secure location after use, out of the reach of children and pets. Do not store products on top of the washer and dryer.
  • Clean up any spills and immediately wash your hands and any items you use to pour or measure products.
  • Read and follow all instructions on the product label. Know where the safety information is located on the label and what to do in case an injury occurs.
  • If your child does put one of these pods in their mouth, rinse as much of the detergent as possible from their mouth and seek immediate medical advice.
  • If the product comes into contact with your child’s eyes, immediately flush their eyes with water for at least 15 minutes and seek medical advice.

Call the Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26 for further advice if you suspect your child has swallowed any of the detergent.”


To summarise

  1. Check those labels especially if purchasing the laundry product from the supermarket.
  2. Build a connection to a local health shop (or online) and look into the options. I trialled some different products till I found one I was happy with – it has to do the job!
  3. Lightly soiled clothes do not need the full amount of product – wash these together. Experiment with your product to see whether you really need a full cap to get a wash you are happy with. The waterways will be much happier.
  4. Do your own research on ingredients, it is eye opening.


Want to read more

  • Send me a request for SASI clean PDF chemical guide.
  • A national industry body, Accord, launched “What’s in it?” in 2011 – a voluntary program that recommends companies list product ingredients on their websites, but not on the labels. Many of the household cleaning products you’ll find on the supermarket shelves are participating, but not all. They have produced a paper on the ingredients in washing products and their function. If that is of interest to you pop me an email. Their mission –

“What’s in it?’ provides consumers with ingredient information to aid choice and enhance confidence in household products.”

Having gone over the paper it does justify using the ingredients without much concern to toxicity.


Some info on Ingredients

*Optical Brighteners = synthetic chemicals added to laundry detergents to make clothing appear whiter and brighter. One concern here is that the OP stays on the clothes as they can resist heat and even other chemicals like bleach. An OP makes something that is yellowing more blue so it looks white! Like those old bluo things.

**Alkalis = Alkalis are soluble salts that are effective in cleaning fabrics and removing dirt without excessive rubbing. They vary in their strength. According to the website

Some alkaline substances are toxic, corrosive and some may irritate skin and eyes. The stronger alkalis can cause burns and if swallowed, internal injuries.On the basis of strength, alkalis can be –

  • Mild – An example of mild alkali is baking soda (sodium bicarbonate)
  • Moderate – Common examples include – household ammonia, borax and trisodium phosphate (TSP)
  • Very Strong – Washing soda (sodium carbonate) and caustic soda are most common.

Fragrance, perfume = Fragrance recipes are considered trade secrets so manufacturers are not required to disclose fragrance chemicals in the list of ingredients. David Suzuki CC OBC, a Canadian academic, science broadcaster and environmental activist states in his research, “Some fragrance ingredients can trigger allergies and asthma. Some linked to cancer and neurotoxicity. Some harmful to fish and other wildlife.”

Antifoam = a potent silicone-type anti-foam additive. 

Download a sample (extract) of a MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet)

This product was listed as non-hazardous in low exposure but when you consider we have exposure to these chemicals 24/7 low doses can accumulate. Stay safe.

Product Name ANTI-FOAM EMULSION       Company Name Milestone Chemicals Pty. Ltd. (2012)


Toxicological Information

  • No adverse health effects are expected, if the product is handled in accordance with this 
  • Material Safety Data Sheet and the product label. Symptoms and effects that may arise if 
  • the product is mishandled and overexposure occurs are:
  • Inhalation: May cause irritation to the nose, throat and respiratory system with effects including 
  • dizziness, headache and loss of co-ordination.
  • Ingestion: May cause irritation to mouth, throat and stomach with effects including mucous build up, 
  • irritation to the tongue and lips and pains in the stomach, which may lead to nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea.
  • Skin: May cause irritation to the skin, with effects including; Redness and itchiness.
  • Eye: May cause irritation to the eyes, with effects including: tearing, pain, stinging and blurred vision.
  • Chronic Effects: No data.


Ecological Information

  • Persistence/Degradability Inherently Biodegradable.
  • Mobility Pourable liquid which spreads with water.
  • Environmental Fate There is no ecological information available for this product, however, 
  • large quantities should not be discharged into drains, sewers or waterways.
  • Environment Protection Avoid contaminating waterways, drains, sewers, or ground.

All the best in opening your life to more of the good.