3 Dangers of Optical Brighteners in Laundry Detergent – and What You Can Do about It

clean clothes without optical brighteners

When you’re looking to develop your own line of personal care products, household cleaners, and laundry products, it’s critical to understand two things: whether your products are made using conventional or natural product formulations, and what the difference is.

There’s a whole laundry list of ingredients that product manufacturers aren’t required to list on their labels, so consumers usually don’t realize what they’re putting in their homes and on their bodies.

One of these chemicals that doesn’t have to be listed is optical brighteners, which are often included in conventional laundry detergents.

Optical brighteners are chemicals that conventional product manufacturers use in their detergent formulations to make laundry look whiter and brighter. They do this by absorbing UV rays from the sun and radiating them back to the human eye. They don’t actually remove discoloration or stains or help the cleaning process at all—they just cover them up by enhancing the whiteness of the laundry. Essentially, optical brighteners are creating an optical illusion.


The problems with optical brighteners

Optical brighteners pose a number of potential environmental and health problems, and the long-term effects of these chemicals are still unknown. These are the three biggest potential issues optical brighteners pose:

  1. They don’t biodegrade, which means that once they get into wastewater, they remain in it for a long time. They can bioaccumulate into aquatic life, posing a potential hazard over an extended period of time.
  2. They can potentially cause irritation in people with allergies and increase sun sensitivity. Many studies do not show direct results between optical brighteners and increased sensitivity, but one study showed that the presence of “abrasive action” or UV light—that is, natural sunlight—would increase sensitivity to these chemicals.
  3. The long-lasting effects of optical brighteners are still being studied and as of yet have no clear result. Optical brighteners undergo photodegradation, meaning they become altered by sunlight. This process produces metabolites, the effects of which are unclear.

(source: European Ecolabel Commission, “Revision of Ecolabel Criteria for Laundry Detergents”, 2011)


Reasons to avoid using optical brighteners in your detergent formulations

Natural product manufacturers are combatting this by using alternative ingredients. Like conventional detergents, these natural products clean your clothes—but unlike conventional detergents, they do it without using toxins or harmful chemicals. By manufacturing natural detergents, you’re doing three things:

  1. Preventing potentially harmful chemicals like optical brighteners from damaging the environment and the human population
  2. Entering the natural personal care products market and reaching new customers
  3. Showing that your organization cares about the environment and boosting your reputation among consumers

Alkuhme’s laundry detergents are made with all-natural, plant-based formulations that deliver the same cleaning strength as conventional detergents—but without toxins or other harmful substances. Private branding our detergent means you can offer consumers a safe yet powerful product that they can use with confidence.


Curious to know how Alkuhme can help you approach the natural personal care products market? Contact us today!

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