Why be concerned?

Supplier progress

Potential impacts

Functional groups

Substance list

Legislation / REACH


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Wash with care

Environmental assessment of laundry detergents

The most common reasons for allergic reactions from detergents or fabric softeners are the perfumes commonly used in household products.

In industrial laundries, perfumes are rarely used, if they are, manufacturers are very careful not to use perfumes that have to be declared under the legislation due to their potential to provoke allergic reactions.

Read more in the ‘Other groups’ section.


Even though the rinsing of textiles is highly efficient, rinsing cannot guarantee 100% removal of the detergent. A few parts per million (ppm) will be left in the clean textiles. Detergent manufacturers are therefore very careful not to include substances with a potential for provoking skin irritations or allergic reactions.

Furthermore, detergent manufacturers commission dermatological testing of their products from independent institutions to certify that no effects from the remaining detergents can be detected.

Textile service companies normally neutralise the remaining detergents by adding a small amount of acetic acid or fabric softener in the final rinse.

Read more in the ‘Fabric softeners’ section.

The main substances in detergents are surfactants (for removing dirt), complexing agents (for conditioning the water to enhance the efficiency of the surfactants) and bleaching agents (for oxidising and removing coloured spots left in the fibres).

Depending on the intended use of the detergent, several other substances may also be found.

Read more in the ‘Functional groups’ section - and follow the links from there.

Frequently Asked Questions

A wash consists of two main phases.

The wash phase:

In the first phase, dirt is loosened from the textile’s surface and dissolved in water, partly as micelles’ (dirt surrounded by surfactants). The majority of the dirt is then removed by discharging the dirty water. Centrifuging further removes water and dirt.

The rinse phase:

In the second phase, dirt is further removed from the textiles during several rinses. This is done by adding clean water, then mixing and discharging the mixture. A final centrifuging reduces the moisture content before drying.

Depending on the type of textile and the type of soiling, many different methods have been developed to optimise washing in order to provide the efficient removal of dirt while treating textile fibres gently.

Read more about the optimisation of laundering in the ‘Supplier progress’ section.

What happens during washing?

What ingredients are in detergents?

Will any detergent to be left in textiles after washing?

Is there any guarantee that laundry chemicals will not cause allergic reactions?

Surfactants are toxic to aquatic organisms due to their chemical nature, the surface activity’. It is therefore crucial that these substances are ‘readily degradable’ to ensure that they degrade rapidly in wastewater treatment plants or in the water recipient body.

This has been a major concern for manufacturers of detergents for professional laundries for many years. The EU legislation on detergents was created to address this concern by requiring that surfactants in laundry detergents are readily degradable.

Are laundry detergents toxic to the environment?