When you throw in a load of laundry, you probably have a few reasonable expectations: fresh-smelling shirts, clean pants, soft towels and sheets... Has it ever crossed your mind that by simply seeking to remove the spots, stains and dirt from your clothes you could be putting yourself, your family, and the environment at risk? laundry, toxinsThe truth is, behind the flowery and fresh scents of most store-bought detergents lurks an arsenal of dangerous chemical carcinogens, toxins, and even xenoestrogens that can cause hormone imbalance.

For every dirt particle you remove from your clothes, you add hundreds of chemicals that linger long after your last load is done. Every time you put on a fresh, clean shirt, these dangerous chemicals are absorbed into your skin—your body's largest organ—and ultimately into your bloodstream. If you look at the labels of the most popular store-bought brands, you'll see a deceivingly vague list of ingredients that hide the truth about the chemical concoction you're bringing home.

So we're here to give you the low-down on the dangers that are really be lurking in your laundry:

Bleach

As evidenced by its strong, chlorine-like smell, bleach (sodium hypochlorite) is chemically one step away from chlorine, a highly-toxic cleaning agent known to irritate mucous membranes like the eyes, throat and nose. Bleach is corrosive, and can burn your skin if it's not diluted. As a potent chemical, bleach can also contribute to hormone imbalance and other health problems. Bleach is even more toxic when combined with other chemical ingredients, producing carcinogens like dioxin and chloroform. More potent than DDT, dioxin in particular is very hard to break down and continues to pollute the environment for years.

Fragrance

Unless you buy "fragrance-free," most commercial laundry detergents contain artificial chemical fragrances, which are often made from petroleum and are considered xenoestrogens, chemical compounds that mimic estrogen in the body and can contribute to hormone imbalance. The chemicals behind that fresh, clean scent are not only toxic to the environment and irritating to the eyes, nose and skin, but can even affect your central nervous system, leading to behavioral and mood disturbances. These artificial fragrances can also trigger asthma and allergies in sensitive individuals.

Optical Brighteners

Optical brighteners are chemicals that make clothing appear whiter than it really is by altering the way your eyes perceive the ultraviolet wavelengths and by reflecting more light. These chemicals stay on your clothes for many wash cycles and take a very long time to wear off. Optical brighteners have been shown to cause allergic skin reactions and eye irritation. In studies, these brighteners actually caused bacteria to mutate and were shown to be extremely toxic to fish and plants.

Phenols

Phenols, added to help mask bad odors, are one of the most toxic ingredients in commercial laundry detergents. They are officially considered toxic by the National Health Institute. Because phenols are readily absorbed into the skin, they are more likely to cause damage even at low levels. Phenols can poison the whole body, and are known to cause damage to the lungs, central nervous system, heart, kidneys and liver. Exposure to phenols can also cause shock, delirium and death.

Phosphates

Phosphates are added to laundry detergents to soften the water and strip clothes of the minerals that build up with hard water, allowing the detergent to better do its job. They also help prevent the dirt circulating in the wash water from re-absorbing into the clothes. Unfortunately, phosphates stay in your clothes long after your laundry is done, and these remnants can cause diarrhea, nausea and irritate your skin. Perhaps worse than the damage they can cause inside your body is the damage they cause to the environment. Because they remain even after waste-water treatment, they frequently end up in waterways, where they encourage the growth of toxin-releasing algae that starves plant and animal life of oxygen.

Surfactants

Surfactants are one of the components of detergents that work to clean our clothes, extracting oils so they can be washed away during the rinse cycle. There are both natural and chemical surfactants, and as you may guess, the chemical surfactants are the ones that are not necessarily safe for you, your family or the environment. Most commercial detergents contain chemical surfactants; you may see one of the most common, linear alkyl sodium sulfonates (LAS), listed on the label as "anionic surfactants." Chemical surfactants can damage your endocrine system, which governs hormone production, metabolism and reproduction, causing hormone imbalance. These surfactants are particularly dangerous to the environment, as it takes many years for them to break down.

So if you're concerned about your and your family's health and the environment, and especially if you or anyone in your family suffer from allergies, asthma or other chemical sensitivities, be sure to seek out one of the many natural options free of chlorine, artificial fragrances, chemical surfactants and other toxins.

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