Although the manufacturing and marketing of fabrics uses a huge amount of chemical compounds (see section: Other sources of toxins), the same can be said for the washing of fabrics too.
In general, the main concern about the chemicals in detergents is about the effects that some of them (e.g. phosphates) can have on water and the species that live there. However, the reality is much more complex and they can also have possible effects on our health.
There are different types of chemicals that can be found in detergents, fabric softeners and other products used on clothing or bed linen.
Amongst these chemicals there are some common synthetic fragrances and phthalates, as well as composites such as optical brighteners which create the illusion that the clothes are brighter and cleaner. In terms of fabric softeners, they can contain toluene, xylene, styrene, timol and phenol. These are all chemicals that can, in some cases, cause irritation and even lead to the development of tumours.
One particular thing to take caution with is dry cleaning which can be a source of chemical emissions from the solvents used in the process. It is better to avoid dry cleaning your clothes or, if that is not possible, to leave the garments outside for a while in order to reduce the intensity of the chemicals’ emissions.
It is also advised to be careful with stain removers as many of them can contain dangerous chemicals such as methylene chlorine or perchloroethylene.