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Am I allergic to my laundry detergent? Dealing with washing powder and fabric softener allergies

Think you have a washing powder allergy? Only certain ingredients will be to blame – find out more and get tips on using hypoallergenic detergents.


By Cleanipedia Team

am i allergic to my laundry detergent? dealing with washing powder and fabric softener allergies

Key points for sensitive laundry

  • Use the correct dosage – most modern laundry detergents are made up of concentrated formulas so you don’t need to use a lot. Always follow the dosing instructions on the product’s label. Excess laundry detergent could leave residue on your clothes, which may cause skin irritation or a reaction.
  • Select an extra rinse cycle – modern washing machines usually have the option to add an extra rinse cycle to your wash; this will ensure as much laundry detergent as possible is removed from clothing reducing the risk of skin irritation.
  • Use a suitable detergent – for example, a laundry liquid or powder that’s free from irritants like perfume and colour.

An allergy to washing powder or fabric softener allergy can be a common problem nowadays, but did you know you can’t actually be allergic to a detergent or fabric softener? It is actually only a specific ingredient, or combination of ingredients, that causes the allergic reaction. If you think you may be irritated by your washing powder or liquid, don’t worry. There is an array of hypoallergenic laundry detergents available on the market today that is designed to pose less of a risk to those with sensitive skin and allergies.

Here we discuss what the symptoms of irritation to washing powder can look like, and give you a few simple tips on caring for your skin and your laundry at the same time. If you previously thought you had a washing powder allergy or have sensitive skin, then read on to find out more about dealing with any irritation.

Skin that’s easily irritated by fragrance or colour in fabric softeners and washing detergents needs to be treated with special care. Choose gentle, unscented laundry detergents and fabric softeners to ensure your laundry products are kind to your delicate skin.

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Allergic reaction to washing powder? What to look for

As mentioned above, you can’t actually have an allergy to washing powder, detergents, or fabric softeners – only to certain ingredients they contain. When your skin becomes irritated by these ingredients, you’ll notice a few tell-tale symptoms. The most obvious is a red, itchy rash that usually occurs almost immediately after contact with a freshly washed item. You may find this rash disappears fairly quickly once the irritant is removed or you stop wearing the affected piece of clothing.

Sensitivity to the ingredients in washing powders can also cause allergic contact dermatitis which again appears as a red, itchy rash but not usually after immediate contact. It typically develops after 12 to 72 hours after exposure to the irritant. Sometimes the immune system takes a while to identify allergens so you may have been exposed to a substance multiple times before you have a reaction. Contrary to this, you could also have a reaction after just one exposure to the irritant.

Additional symptoms you may encounter include a sniffly nose, sneezing, and or itchy eyes. This is particularly common if the cause of your allergic reaction to washing powder is actually the fragrances used in the product.

Hypoallergenic laundry detergents

If you or a family member experience any of the above symptoms after contact with clothes that have been washed with laundry detergent, then you may want to consider switching your detergent to a hypoallergenic variant.

Hypoallergenic detergents are specially designed to reduce the likelihood of skin reactions. They aim to keep fibres smooth to help prevent the skin from becoming irritated and are usually dermatologically tested. They also generally do not contain irritants like fragrance or dyes that could cause skin irritation. These are key elements to look out for on a product’s label when choosing a suitable detergent for allergic skin. By selecting a laundry product that does not contain ingredients that are likely to cause irritation you can help to reduce the risk of an allergic reaction.

Enzymes are also a known allergen, so another type of detergent you could you try if you have sensitive or allergic skin is a non-biological detergent that doesn’t contain enzymes.

So which detergent can I switch to?

An option like Neutral 0% Liquid Laundry Detergent is a good choice as it contains zero perfumes or colours and has been specially developed to help reduce the risk of a skin allergic reaction. It's mild, unscented formula effectively cleans clothes and removes stains to leave fabrics soft against the skin. 

If you think you may be suffering from perceived fabric softener allergies as well as washing powder allergies, a gentle fabric conditioner, can be a good choice too.

When it comes to allergic reactions and laundry detergents, everyone’s different. It’s all about experimentation: if one hypoallergenic detergent doesn’t work for you, then try another. 

The ultimate goal is to eliminate the irritant that’s causing your skin to react and this can involve some trial and error. If you have no luck after trying multiple laundry detergents, it’s best to consult your doctor as they can identify if something else is triggering your allergic reaction.

Once you find the right detergent for you and your family’s skin, stick to this and wash all clothes and fabrics in your home with it. Anyone who is sensitive to the ingredients used in products such as detergent will come into contact with a variety of fabrics in your home, so it’s best to eradicate the original irritant altogether by washing everything in hypoallergenic washing powder. Allergy relief can also be obtained by speaking to your doctor or pharmacist but the most obvious piece of advice is to avoid using the source of the irritant as quickly as possible.

Originally published