Baby-Safe Laundry Detergent: Why You Need it During Pregnancy

pregnant lady doing laundry
pregnant lady doing laundry

It’s time to redefine the “fresh and clean” smell.

Because you know what that typically is? Full of toxins. And you need to avoid that starting with pregnancy.

It’s a simple switch, can actually cost LESS, and extremely important for the health of you and baby.

IN THIS ARTICLE:
Why should I choose a safe laundry detergent?
Is my laundry detergent toxic?
Is Tide laundry detergent toxic?
What about Dreft baby laundry detergent?
How do I wash cloth diapers?
Liquid vs. powder detergent
So what detergent SHOULD I use?
Summary

SPOILER ALERT: Go with Molly’s Suds Laundry Powder for yourself and your entire family.

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Why should I choose a safe laundry detergent?

Who doesn’t want that fresh and clean smell? It signals your laundry is clean.

Sure, conventional detergents get your laundry clean, but they also add in a boatload of unnecessary things to give you that smell: the “assurance that your laundry is REALLY clean.”

And, don’t think they get completely rinsed out when your laundry is done. They’re being absorbed through your skin from your clothes, sheets and towels on a daily basis.

You need a non-toxic laundry detergent, especially with a little one on the way. Here’s why.

5 ingredients to avoid in laundry detergent 1,4-Dioxane, Formaldehyde, Artificial Colors, Surfactants, and Fragrance

Is my laundry detergent toxic?

Companies aren’t required to list all ingredients on cleaning products. But many of them are being more transparent online and with a little research, you can find them.

In Europe they reverse the burden of proof. Manufacturers have to show that chemicals are safe before they introduce them. In the U.S., chemicals are innocent until proven guilty.
— Arlene Blum, Biophysical Chemist1

1,4-Dioxane

1,4-dioxane is a toxic chemical. It’s listed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a probable human carcinogen.

Low level exposure includes eye and nose irritation. Very high levels may cause severe kidney and liver effects and possibly death.2

Now, we know you’re not going to be exposed to 1,4-Dioxane at “very high levels” in detergent. But even just a small amount, is this something you want in there?

In addition, it’s getting into our waters from household products. The drinking water on Long Island had serious contamination from 1,4-Dioxane and the Environmental Conservation Committee will hopefully take action.3

Since this is a byproduct and not an ingredient, ideally you need a detergent that states “this product is free of 1,4-Dioxane.”

Formaldehyde

Yes, the stuff used to preserve dead bodies might be in your laundry detergent. It’s a known human carcinogen and scores the highest-concerning rate of 10 by the Environmental Working Group (EWG).4

Artificial Colors

Seriously, who needs their laundry detergent to be a pretty color?

Look for FD&C or D&C followed by a color and/or number. These are artificial colors derived from petroleum or coal tar sources.5 They’re typically found in food (yuck) but also show up in your laundry care.

They’re completely unnecessary. They can “induce adverse behavioral effects in children.”6 Skip it.

Surfactants

Surfactants get an “F” rating on Environmental Working Group (EWG). There is some evidence of “suspicion to cause cancer, genetic defects, and female reproductive toxicity.7

It’s tricky because not ALL surfactants are terrible, but some of the worst will be in conventional laundry detergent.

Look for: PolysorbatesAlcohol Ethoxylate (AE), Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS)Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)Ammonium Laurel Sulfate (ALS)Linear Alkyl Benzene Sulfonates (LAS), and Lauramide DEA.

Surfactants also show high chronic toxicity to aquatic life. Since a LOT of detergent goes down our drains, they end up in our waters. Not good.

Fragrance

This is a big one. Since companies (in the U.S.) don’t have to disclose all of their ingredients, the term “fragrance” can contain hundreds of ingredients, including phthalates (listed below) and other chemicals linked to hormone disruption and cancer.8

Fragrance is considered a high health hazard by the Environmental Working Group and has “been associated with allergies, dermatitis, respiratory distress and potential effects on the reproductive system.”9

In reality, “clean” smells like nothing at all.

Is Tide laundry detergent toxic?

Tide, America’s #1 laundry detergent (based on sales), uses SmartLabel and it’s easy to find their ingredients.

Let’s take a look at Tide’s Free & Gentle Liquid Laundry Detergent:

Ingredients: Water, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, C14-15 Pareth, Diethylene Glycol, Ethanolamine Citrate, Fatty Acids, C12-18 And C18-Unsatd, Mea Salt, Sodium C10-16 Alkylbenzene Sulfonate, Propylene Glycol, Polyethlylene Imine Ethoxylate, Alcohol, Propoxylated Ethoxylated Amine, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Sodium Formate, Sodium Borate, Sodium Laurate, Sodium Citrate, Sodium Myristate, Pentasodium Pentetate, Sodium Palmitate, Sodium Oleate, Fluorescent Brightener, Sodium Stearate, Subtilisin, Calcium Formate, and Amylase Enzyme.

The second ingredient next to water is Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLS), which is one of the surfactants you should avoid. EWG states it may be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane.10

The most concerning ingredient is Ethanolamine Citrate, which has a list of potential issues with contact, including asthma and skin irritation. In fact, Tide’s Free & Gentle Liquid Laundry Detergent scores an “F” in the EWG guide.11 Let’s pass on this one.

What about Dreft baby laundry detergent?

Another Proctor & Gamble (P&G) gem. They have a clever product innovation with Dreft — offering two stages for your baby: newborn and crawling baby.

Let’s take a look at the Dreft Stage 1: Newborn Liquid Laundry Detergent, which should be less harsh.

Ingredients: Water, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, C14-15 Pareth, Diethylene Glycol, Ethanolamine Citrate, Fatty Acids, C12-18 And C18-Unsatd, Mea Salt, Sodium C10-16 Alkylbenzene Sulfonate, Propylene Glycol, Alcohol, Propoxylated Ethoxylated Amine, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Sodium Borate, Sodium Laurate, Fragrance, Sodium Citrate, Sodium Myristate, Pentasodium Pentetate, Sodium Palmitate, Sodium Oleate, Fluorescent Brightener, Sodium Stearate, Calcium Formate, Subtilisin, and Cellulase Enzyme.

Look familiar? The ingredients are quite similar to the Tide Free and Clear. This makes sense, given they’re both P&G companies.

What’s most disturbing is this one contains fragrance. We don’t need or want any type of fragrance for our newborns, yikes.

Don’t fall for the marketing and higher price tag, mamas. The Dreft Stage 1 Newborn Laundry Detergent also scores an “F” on EWG.12

newborn baby green yourself

“I’d like some breast milk with a side of toxins.”

— said no baby, ever.

Time to Green Yourself?
Take the FREE 7-day pregnancy challenge.

How do I wash cloth diapers?

We have over 4 years of experience with washing cloth diapers (phew).

Contrary to popular belief, you really don’t need a harsh liquid soap to get those diapers clean.

Here are a few tips:

  • Just starting? Get a few packs of the one-size-fits-all Bumgenius Freetime cloth diapers.
  • Get the poop off in the toilet with the Bumworks diaper sprayer kit.
  • Always wear poop protection. These silicone gloves are extra long (fabulous).
  • Use a half-scoop detergent with a cold rinse cycle (helps get the pee and remaining poo off).
  • Then use a full scoop of detergent with a full hot water cycle. TIP: watch your water level! You don’t need a full load of water with washing diapers. It dilutes the soap which makes it less effective.
  • Hang to dry, preferably in sunlight. Or stick them in the dryer on a low setting.

Also check out this Cloth Diaper Deep Dive for an impressive Q&A list.

Liquid vs. powder detergent

Most liquid detergents contain surfactants, which is one of the ingredients you should avoid.

No worries: powder detergent has been proven to be just as effective as liquid. Some powder detergents can have lots of fillers that prevent dissolving properly, but you won’t be buying that kind anyway.

Liquid detergents typically have the least eco-friendly packaging and they’re more expensive. Powder is definitely the way to go.

So what detergent SHOULD I use?

Make your life simpler: get the same detergent for the whole family. Your baby will be nuzzling up to you and your clothes anyway, so it just makes sense.

This is why you can stock up on this now and not be concerned when baby arrives.

Now that we’ve convinced you that powder detergent can be just as effective as liquid, it’s time to make the switch to:

Mollys Suds Unscented 120 loads non-toxic laundry detergent

Molly’s Suds mission began after a stillbirth. Their passionate core values are the best we’ve ever read (see them here). Support a company that’s doing the right thing.

Why you’ll love Molly’s Suds Laundry Powder

  • Made with just 4 earth & mineral-derived ingredients: Sodium carbonate sourced from the Green River Basin in Wyoming, sodium bicarbonate, magnesium sulfate (heptahydrate), and unrefined sea salt.
  • Ideal for all washing machines including HE.
  • No harsh chemicals, toxins, fillers, carcinogens, preservatives or GMO ingredients.
  • Gluten-free, Certified Vegan, and Certified Cruelty-Free by Leaping Bunny.
  • Fantastic customer service.

Here’s an average cost breakdown per load:

non-toxic laundry detergent cost comparison

Turns out you can be green AND lean. Make the switch today for a cheaper, better way to wash your clothes.

Summary

Washing clothes — Go with Molly’s Suds Laundry Powder for yourself and your entire family.
Drying clothes — If you don’t hang to dry, always dry on low heat and use these wool dryer balls to save up to 30% on drying time.

That’s all there is to it, mamas. Congrats on taking one more easy step toward living a safer greener life for you and baby.

See more about safe pregnancy body care here.

Any Qs or thoughts? Drop a comment below.

Sources

1 “10 Questions for . . . Arlene Blum, Biophysical Chemist.” Consumer Reports News, Consumer Reports, 09 February 2009, https://www.consumerreports.org/cro/news/2009/02/10-questions-for-arlene-blum-biophysical-chemist/index.htm
2 “Public Health Statement for 1,4 Dioxane.” ATSDR (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry), USAGov, April 2012, https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/phs/phs.asp?id=953&tid=199
3 “Bill Would Ban 1,4-Dioxane, ‘Probable Carcinogen,’ In New York.” Jill Ryan, WSHU Public Radio, 08 March 2019, https://www.wshu.org/post/bill-would-ban-14-dioxane-probable-carcinogen-new-york#stream/0
4 “Formaldehyde.” Skin Deep®, Environmental Working Group, https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/ingredient/702500/FORMALDEHYDE/
5 “Color Additives: FDA’s Regulatory Process and Historical Perspectives”, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 2003, https://www.fda.gov/ForIndustry/ColorAdditives/RegulatoryProcessHistoricalPerspectives/default.htm
6 “Synthetic Food Colors and Neurobehavioral Hazards: The View from Environmental Health Research” PMC, National Center for Biotechnology Information, January 2012, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3261946/
7 “Surfactants.” EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning, Environmental Working Group, https://www.ewg.org/guides/substance_groups/49-Surfactants
8 “Expert Panel Confirms that Fragrance Ingredient Can Cause Cancer.” Environmental Working Group, 7 August 2014, https://www.ewg.org/enviroblog/2014/08/expert-panel-confirms-fragrance-ingredient-can-cause-cancer
9 “Fragrance.” Skin Deep®, Environmental Working Group, https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/ingredient/702512/FRAGRANCE/#
10 “Sodium Laureth Sulfate.” Skin Deep®, Environmental Working Group, https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/ingredient/706089/SODIUM_LAURETH_SULFATE/
11 “Tide Free & Gentle Liquid Detergent.” EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning, Environmental Working Group, https://www.ewg.org/guides/cleaners/2435-TideFreeGentleLiquidDetergent
12 “Dreft Stage 1: Newborn Detergent.” EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning, Environmental Working Group, https://www.ewg.org/guides/cleaners/6112-DreftStage1NewbornDetergent


Jen Brady author crunchy mama illustration

About the author

Jen Brady: crunchy mama, coupon queen and all-in green. She was afraid to have kids because of all the STUFF she thought they needed. She's found a way to keep it lean, green and affordable, and wants to share that journey with you. Learn more here. Follow on Pinterest and YouTube.

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