Could your detergents be hurting your health?

Could your detergents be hurting your health?

Written by Editorial Team |Published : January 19, 2015 5:30 PM IST

Detergent is a cleaning agent which is used for washing or cleaning purposes, in the form of bar, liquid or powder. Detergent has several uses in household and industrial purposes. They are primarily a mix of surfactants having cleansing properties. Even though they are known to be better cleansing agents, detergents also cause several health hazards to those who use it.

Detergent poisoning

Detergents contain strong acids, alkalis or phosphates. There are 2 types of detergents, namely cationic and anionic detergents. Cationic detergents are used as antiseptics in hospitals (cleansing material on surgeon s hands) and anionic detergents are used as disinfectants (for carpet cleaning since they contain phenol).

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When someone accidentally or unknowingly inhales or swallows these cationic or anionic detergents, poisoning occurs. Poisoning ingredients may include benzalkonium chloride acid.

Few symptoms of detergent poisoning are:

  • Skin irritation
  • Necrosis in the skin or tissue
  • Breathing problem
  • Throat swelling
  • Low blood pressure
  • Loss of vision
  • Burning sensation of eyes, nose, lips, ears, tongue
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Blood in stools

Effects of detergents on health

Affect reproduction organs and foetal development

Detergents contain a petrochemical called NonylphenolEthoxylate (NPE), mainly used as emulsifying and dispersing agent which enables removal of dirt from fabrics. It is an endocrine oxidant which is known to affect foetal development.

  • NPE imitates hormone oestrogen and disrupts endocrine functions leading to impairment of physical function of the body.
  • Hormones in the human body are responsible for many functions like reproduction. When NPE disturbs the hormonal balance, the reproductive system is disturbed and affects the growth of the foetal.
  • NPE causes decreased sperm count and testicle growth in men, thereby affecting the reproductory organs of men.

Usage of NPEs has been discouraged and completely banned by Canada and the European Union; the United States continues their use. (Read: 8 things in the environment that can harm your unborn child)

Skin irritation

Many detergents contain optical brighteners such as chlorine bleach or sodium hypochlorite which are used to convert UV light wavelengths to visible light; this will help making the clothes appear white.

  • It can cause allergic reaction when in contact with skin and is also an eye and lung irritant.

A study undertaken to understand the Indian consumer s knowledge of the harmful effects of detergents on the health showed that 77.6 per cent of respondents had experienced some kind of skin irritation due to the use of detergents. Of these, the majority were dhobis and rural women. (Read: 6 wonder home remedies for itchy skin)

Asthma& chronicheart problems

Detergents contain certain artificial fragrances made from petroleum products that provide a fragrance to clothes after washing.

  • These fragrances are allergic and highly irritating to lungs causing serious health hazards to the people with asthma or chronic heart problems.

Most Indian advertisements on detergents propagate the use of fragrance in their products, because the customers always stay in an illusion that their clothes are dirt free because their clothes smell good. (Read: 11 tips to live well with asthma)

Packaging issues & affects on children

Compared to conventional detergent powder and liquid detergent, new detergent packets and pods prove to be even more toxic.

  • Children who have accidentally bitten those pods have suffered severe nausea and vomiting, respiratory distress and metabolic abnormalities.
  • Because of their candy shape and shiny colours, children have been attracted to these pods and affected badly.

Laundry detergent pods sickened more than seven hundred U.S. kids and killed at least one in a recent two years, a new report reveals.

Cancercausing agents

Detergents are known to contain carcinogenic agents such as 1, 4-dioxane a synthetic petrochemical carcinogen. These carcinogens are not listed on the product label and most customers are unaware of it since it is a by-product of ethylene oxide. It is also known to cause liver damage.

  • Carcinogens cause severe damage to the DNA cells. This damage disturbs the biological process of the human body. The disturbance leads to formation of tumours and cancers.

Treatment options

Treatment methods include breathing support through ventilators, irritation of the skin (washing for every few hours), and fluids by intravenous route.

Advanced techniques such as Bronchoscopy and Endoscopy are used to see burns in airways, lungs and oesophagus, stomach respectively.

Can you choose a detergent free from chemicals?

Detergents can never be devoid of harmful substances. Customers should be well aware of natural detergents which contain no colouring agents, fragrance and brightening agents. You only need three basic ingredients to prepare a natural detergent, namely washing soda, borax and bar soap. The natural detergents ensure safety and good health.

The Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) has laid down several guidelines which suggest replacing phosphates in detergents with any other environment friendly substance. But till date, there is not even a single compliant product that had made its way to the end consumer.

Photo source: Getty images

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