Transparency Beyond the Label: What's Really in Detergents?

By: The Cleancult Team

November 16, 2018

Simply put, laundry detergent as we know it is created or formulated specially to remove dirt from clothes and to get rid of smells and odors. It can be added to the washing machine, or used by hand and comes in different states/ways: powder laundry detergent, liquid laundry detergent, laundry detergent pods, and laundry detergent tablets. So, imagine having all of these different options available to you and not know what each of them contains. Well, that’s not too far from the true and the reality right now! Even though regulations have become stricter in the last year, detergent companies continue to hide some of their ingredients for fragrance and effectiveness behind a curtain of “trademark secrets.” But why? What are they trying to hide?

What is a “detergent”?

Let’s start with the basics. Detergent can be defined as anything that removes undesirable dirt or stains. Laundry detergent, then, is that detergent which is used to remove stains and dirt from clothes, towels, bedding, and other fabrics. The key difference between soap and detergent is that soap is much more easily washed away with water (and less effective at getting rid of stains and smells in clothes, floors, surfaces, bedding, walls, etc). For example, washing your clothes with a soap instead of with a detergent may result in an eruption of suds and foam (and a gross coating of soap on top of stains and gunk instead of getting rid of them).


The key ingredients in most detergents, and what makes them effective stain removers, are surfactants. So how do how do surfactants work in stain removers? A surfactant reduces the surface tension of the water and by lowering surface tension, they allow their cleaning components to penetrate the fabric and loosen dirt’s hold over your clothes. Easy peasy!

What's in them? Well, it is this important type of ingredient that does the most harm when penetrating your skin. Since laundry detergents are available in such highly concentrated forms, and since most laundry detergent manufacturers are so fixated on creating harsh fragrances, most laundry detergents stay on your clothes even after rinsing cycles. When wearing your freshly cleaned clothes and sweating through them, the chemicals in laundry detergent get transferred to your pores and skin. This is how allergic reactions to laundry detergents occur.

It’s no mystery why do laundry detergent manufacturers keep their fragrance ingredients and, to some extent, their surfactants a secret. Because some of these chemicals have proven to cause skin irritation, eye irritation, allergic reactions, and some have even been linked to cancer! Yikes!


So what’s the alternative? Well, while some companies hide their dangerous chemicals, others have turned to natural ingredients and fragrances! And even more important, some, like cleancult, have decided to make their ingredients readily available for a fully transparent experience for their customers.

Natural ingredients, green detergents, and non toxic cleaners are a great alternative to mainstream products. Not only do they usually fully disclose their ingredients, but they use safer ingredients that won’t harm sensitive skin or even the environment. So when buying a new detergent or making the change towards green cleaners, read the ingredient list. If you see something like “trade secret” or “part of our formulation” or if in some way you are aware that not all ingredients are listed, beware. Those detergents are usually filled with dangerous chemicals. Always choose transparency over mystery!