- San Fernando Valley Sierra Club newsletter as The Dirt on Laundry Detergents, Nov 2008 & July 2009.
- Orange Coast Voice as Dirty Detergent: Your laundry may not be so clean, July 2008, page 11.
The Dirt on Laundry Detergents
by Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.
As your fluffy, sweet-smelling, spotless laundry comes tumbling out of the dryer, images of oil rigs and synthetic chemical fabric residues probably never cross your mind. But today’s mainstream laundry detergents are heavily laden with man-made petro-chemicals, some representing risks to aquatic life and human health.
Historically, soaps were made by simply heating plant or animal oils with wood ashes, a strong alkali. The result is a two-ended compound called a surfactant that can rout out greasy soils because the oil-loving (lipophylic) end is attracted to oily dirt, budging it out of the fabric, while the water-loving (hydrophilic) end is attracted to the water, keeping the lifted dirt in the wash water.
A scarcity of such oils in WWII fostered the birth of synthetic laundry detergents (LDs) based instead on cheaper, petroleum-based surfactants that now dominate the market. The most common ones today are LAS (linear alkylbenzene sulphonate) and AS (alkyl sulphates).