Allergic Reaction To Laundry Detergent - What Should I Do?

by Kristin

I received this question from Kristin, who asked about an allergic reaction to laundry detergent that several people in her family have experienced:

Kristin asks:

I've been using Wisk for about a year on all my clothes, and so has my husband. But now he is having an allergic reaction to it.

I'm allergic to Tide, Sun, Purex, Xtra, All, Arm & Hammer, Cheer, Gain, Oxiclean, and Woolite.

I don't think I can win. LOL. Any ideas on what I could possibly use?

Taylor says:

Kristin, when you or a loved one has an allergic reaction to laundry detergent it can be very uncomfortable, and so I totally understand why you want to avoid any products like this.

First, let me start out by saying that I am not a doctor, and I do not claim to be. Therefore, please take everything I say with a grain of salt.

However, I get similar questions like yours all the time, or comments when I receive laundry detergent reviews from readers, all discussing that certain detergent types and brands can cause mild to severe allergic reactions to the detergent. Therefore, I know this is a common problem. You are not alone.

In fact, in my own home, one of my children suffers from laundry detergent allergies. This has significantly impacted what products I can use to wash our entire family's clothing and bedding.

Because allergic reactions to laundry detergent are so common when I got the chance to interview a dermatologist for this site, I took the time to ask her questions about this issue. Here is my article about laundry detergent allergies, which contains a video interview with the dermatologist.

Basically, what I learned is that you need to steer clear of dyes and perfumes, which are the two most common ingredients which can cause an allergic reaction to laundry detergent. Therefore, I have compiled a list of hypoallergenic laundry detergents, sharing which brands actually make products free of these dyes and perfumes for people like us that need them. It even has links to reviews from other readers, where available, sharing how the product worked for them. After all, there is no point in buying a product to keep you from having an allergic reaction, only to have it not actually wash your clothes well.

I've also learned that people are allergic to slightly different things, as you can see since your husband and you have different allergic responses to different detergents. You didn't say whether you had tried the dye and perfume free versions of these detergents above or not, but I am guessing you haven't. The reason being is that a couple of the detergent you listed don't actually even have a scent free version you could try, like Gain or Xtra, for example.

Therefore, my suggestion to you is to look at the list of available hypoallergenic laundry detergents, and then buy yourself a small bottle or box of it to try at home. The reason I suggest buying a small amount the first time is that I've found, from people sending me in reviews, that sometimes people are so sensitive that they still have an allergic response to some of these supposedly allergy free detergents. In addition, each has a different formula, and you want to feel confident it will also clean your clothes well before you buy a lot of it.

Then, once you've gone through some of your own trial and error, and find one that works well to clean your clothes, and that both you and your husband can tolerate, then buy a larger amount of it at a time, so each load will be cheaper.

In addition, make sure you are not accidentally sabotaging your own efforts when you use other laundry supplies, such as fabric softener or dryer sheets, with your clothes. These products cannot have any scent either, or they could be the culprits of your or your husband's allergies.

I hope this will help you find something that will keep your whole family from experiencing allergic reactions to laundry detergent. If you find something that works well for you, please share what you've found! I would love to hear back from you.

This post is part of my site, where I answer people's laundry questions. Do you have a question of your own? If so, please ask me your laundry questions here, or read other questions and answers that have already been published.

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How I Strip The Allergens Out Of Laundry

by Ashley

If you end up using a laundry product that causes an allergic reaction you've got to first off, stop using it. Obviously. But you've also got to get the allergens out of any clothes or other fabrics you washed with the product.

Here's how a reader, Ashley shared that she does it.

Ashley says:

Hi there! My oldest daughter around the age of two started breaking out so badly that we spent the next few years at the doctors office and the dermatologist office.

We finally found out she has extreme skin sensitivities. She has me to blame for that! :(

It was trial and error to figure out what ALL (believe me it seems like everything some days) was causing this.

I started making as many homemade products possible.

At this point she is five and has no breakouts but I make homemade laundry detergent, fabric softener, cleaning supplies, soap, shampoo and use coconut oil for lotion.

The best way I've found to remove allergens from linens is to wash it once in white vinegar (about a cup a load) then wash it a second time with baking soda (like you would use for cooking) again one cup. Then dry as usual.

Be careful about your fabric sheets as they might be making you itch also.

I felted yarn balls and just add a few drops of essential oils and forgo the chemicals in store bought.

My grandmother used this trick when her towels became saturated with detergent and softener to make them like new again. This really does work I promise!

Photo courtesy of Viewoftheworld

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My Son And I Both Broke Out From Rash With New Detergent: What Causes This?

by SR101 Reader

I received this laundry question from a reader, asking about some laundry detergent allergy issues her family has recently experienced.

SR101 reader asks:

I recently had to switch my son's laundry detergent because he broke out in a rash and developed eczema.

I decided this last weekend to wash my clothes with the same detergent. I broke out in a rash like a wild fire. Just where my clothes were in contact with my skin though.

I thought maybe there might be some sort of a bleach or chlorine additive, but I didn't see anything. I am incredibly allergic to bleach as well. Has anyone else experienced this?

Taylor says:

Thanks for your question. If you could tell me the exact type of detergent you used it could be helpful.

Typically, people break out from using scented detergents, or those which contain dyes, so many hypoallergenic laundry detergents are both scent and dye free.

However, some people are even allergic to some of these scent and dye free products, since each person is so different. Unfortunately, it is not at all uncommon to experience allergic reactions like this, and all you can do is seek medical attention for the symptoms, and then switch to a new detergent until you find one your family can tolerate.

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Reader's Thoughts Regarding Developing A Laundry Allergy To A Certain Detergent Over Time

by Heidi

Another reader posed the question, "Can you develop an allergy to a detergent after using it for years?," and another reader, Heidi provided this response.

Heidi says:

Actually you can develop an allergic reaction to a particular brand of laundry soap. Especially if the formula has been changed, which all of them have for just about all brands.

Best way to tell...wear a dress or skirt with no underwear. If, after a day or two you find relief, you know there's something afoot with the underwear.

I and my daughter both have a very sensitive personal area when it comes to detergents. I can use regular detergents on everything but our panties; to put it bluntly. It can be caused by one of three things: the laundry detergent ingredients, the pH (as most detergents are alkaline), or bacteria.

You have to rule each one out at a time, maybe even twice if you find you have to switch brands.

First, let's go with disinfection. Wash articles with chlorine bleach if that is an option (remember chlorine bleach works better in cold water), or an unscented Oxi bleach with the hottest water they can stand. Soak them if you have too. You can even hang them in the sunshine for disinfection. It actually works. ***Note from Taylor: Chlorine bleach actually works well in both water temperatures, but oxygen bleach works best in hot water :) ***

Second, use vinegar in the rinse. This serves two functions. One, it neutralizes the alkalinity. Two, it helps strip the detergent from the garment. (It can also kill some forms of bacteria as well.) If you can smell any vinegar at all by the time the load is done...rinse again.

Third, if disinfecting does not work and vinegar does not work, you will have to try a different brand. I would start with Purex Free and Clear first. Out of all the free and clear versions you find at the local store it seems to be the most gentle due to what is not in it, but it also doesn't clean as well as others so you will have to find a way to deal with stains.

If that does not work gradually keep trying other brands until you find one that works. You may even have to go with a natural brand. It's a pain in the butt..believe me, I understand.

Any detergent that you try that doesn't work out you can return to the store if they will accept it back, or you can donate them to an animal shelter. Most shelters accept it as they always have towels and blankets they need to wash for the animals they care for.

Also...and this is important..I would recommend using Dove unscented soap. It has no perfume, has moisturizers, and it is pH balanced.

For us, vinegar rinses, sun drying, and the Dove soap have worked for us, which makes it nice because I can usually use any unscented brand I want. I hope this helps.

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I'm Hoping All Free And Clear Detergent Relieves My Husband's Laundry Allergies

by SR101 Reader

An SR101 reader shared her hopes for All Free and Clear detergent to finally be the one her husband isn't allergic to.

SR101 Reader says:

My poor husband has been broken out for two weeks from laundry allergies.

This stuff is supposed to help. I'm so tired of washing his clothes.

And he only has a part time job, and college full time. I just can't keep buying bottles of new detergent.

Taylor says:

I sure hope you find a detergent that works for your husband's laundry allergies, because I know it can be frustrating trying to find something that works well.

When testing different detergents I suggest buying the smallest bottle you can find, just because if you can't use that one you don't have a big old jug left that is basically useless to you.

In addition, sometimes if someone has had a severe allergic reaction they may need to go to the doctor to get medicines to help calm it down. Only once the allergy symptoms have calmed back down can you really test detergents to see if they will work or not.

Good luck finding a detergent that works! It can be a difficult, frustrating and expensive process but worth it to keep family members comfortable while also keeping their clothes clean.

Related Pages You May Enjoy

Ask Me Your Laundry Questions

Stain Removal Help & FAQs

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Detergent Allergy Pictures: Find Out If You're Allergic To Laundry Detergent

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Comments for I'm Hoping All Free And Clear Detergent Relieves My Husband's Laundry Allergies

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Allergy from laundry job
by: Anonymous

I am working in laundry as a laundry worker. I am suffering with allergies, and my skin is itchy all the time. What can I do next?

response re allergies from job
by: Taylor

Dear Anonymous, I'm so sorry that your job is causing you to have health problems, because that is what these types of allergies are. I really don't have any great suggestions for you. If your employer is open to using hypoallergenic laundry supplies perhaps this will help. Otherwise, my only suggestion would be to find a new job. I know, much easier said than done, but perhaps you should put some time into looking for something else if at all possible because your health is so important. Good luck!

washing powder and water softener
by: Keith

I live in Sydney Australia. I am 75 years of age. For the last 3 or 4 years I have developed a rash in calves of legs, instep of one foot, and on my back above my waist line.

Due to present cold weather I am wearing a beanie and I notice that after about 10 minutes my head starts to itch and small red spots appear. The skin where the rash develops tends to dry out.

I now tend to believe this is caused by the washing machine powder and water softener my wife is using.

My question is which would be the best non allergenic washing powder to use and is a water softener necessary?

response to Keith
by: Taylor

Here's my list of hypoallergenic laundry detergents, which are recommended when there is an allergic reaction to scented products, or those which contain dye. In regard to water softener, the answer is more complicated. Basically, water softener can make it easier for your clothes to get clean if you've got hard water, but it isn't strictly necessary. Why not try it without it and see if the clothes still get clean, but you don't have skin issues?

vinegar in the rinse cycle
by: Anonymous

I've heard that vinegar in the rinse cycle helps counteract any detergent residue also. Right now my skin eruptions are so severe, itching, painful and often bleeding and now they are getting infected after 5 months of suffering. I am eager to handle this problem once and for all.

I Am Looking For Non Chlorine Bleaches Which Are Free of Dyes and Perfumes
by: Diane

Since I have noted that you use laundry products that are free of dyes and perfumes I was wondering which non chlorine bleaches you have found suitable for your needs. I have narrowed down the detergent side of the equation to All Free and Wisk Free, but when it comes to non chlorine (color safe) bleaches there does not seem to be much available. I really need a product that will help with removing stains and not cause skin irritations.

response to Diane re hypoallergenic color safe bleaches
by: Taylor

This is an excellent question, because you're right, you've got to not only use scent and dye free detergents, but everything else as well. There aren't that many around, but I've found lots of them. Here's my full list of scent and dye free laundry supplies ranging from fabric softeners, dryer sheets, stain pretreaters and bleaches of several varieties.

If you want to know my personal favorites though it would be Shout Free stain remover for a pretreater and Oxiclean Free for color-safe bleach.

Detergent allergy on my skin after washing the clothes
by: Anonymous

Every time I wash my clothes, right after my washing, my skin gets itchy right away. I have already changed the detergent three times but still I get the same reaction on my skin. Please help, what should I do?

something has been happening for a year
by: Colleen

OMG...I have had this for a year. I have an appointment tomorrow with my 4th dermatologist, but am almost sure now it is a detergent allergy (which I never had before). I am 50 years old and never had one.

It is either a new formulation of Woolite? OR it's the HE detergents, since I was forced to buy a new washing machine last year. And now I look back, I did Tide first and didn't notice anything. Then a friend gave me Arm and Hammer a few months in, and I think THAT'S when it started.

But then again during the summer I do a lot of hand washing with Woolite. So I have been tortured all year with back blisters, neck blisters, scratching, scabs. Uncomfortable at work and play, in hell, primary docs, everything.

And a few weeks ago a friend told me some are allergic to the new HE products. Right now I have no idea which thing is doing it to me. I am rinsing EVERYTHING I own in just hot water now. Forget cleaning them. I can't take it.

At first I thought it was the HE stuff, but now I wonder if it's the Woolite? Those tops bother me too now. All I know is I LIVE on Benadryls, my skin is raw, I look horrible, and I almost quit my job, but I can't afford to. Will see what the guy tomorrow says, but I'm in tears at this point. It just started this year. I too went to my OB who said it wasn't hormones, lol.

itch that feel like fiberglass is on the body
by: Laura

I recently washed my blankets at the laundrymat and I slept in them and I broke out itching all over my body. The itches feels like fiberglass itches.

I re-washed the blankets and I am still itching and my clothes are making me itch as well. Now my body is itching all the time. I take showers after showers and I am still itching. I went to the doctor and he gave me hydroxzine hcl 25mg to control the itching. I read the side effects and I am afraid to take them.

Maybe somebody out there has experienced a similair pattern as I have. People have told me to wash my blankets and clothing in coca cola and pine sol and I try them and the itch is still there.

The itches feel like fiberglass, but I don't see any fiberglass on my skin or on my blankets or my clothes. I have used one mixture of soap for the pass 15 years, a mixture of Head & Shoulders and hydrogen peroxide.

response to Laura
by: Taylor

Sorry to hear you're so miserable right now Laura. It is no fun. It sounds to me like you're having a laundry allergy, but I'm not a doctor so I would rely on what the doctor said instead of me. But doing your laundry at a laundromat can introduce you to supplies you are allergic to even if you don't, yourself, use them. That stinks, since there isn't a lot you can do about it, but sometimes there is detergent or fabric softener residue left in a machine from one person's use to the next. So even if your laundry soap didn't change, perhaps you used a machine that had something that bothered you. Or something might have changed in your formulation of soap without your knowledge. Often companies tout their formula changes as "new and improved," but not always so who really knows. I hope you feel better soon!

what to do after reaction?
by: Anonymous

I had a bad allergic reaction after hugging my fiancee. He had used a new detergent. He rewashed all of his clothes with the new detergent. Is that enough to remove residue of other soap?

what ingredient is causing me to break out?
by: Ciera

Hello ! I am 20 years old and have never been allergic to anything in my life, nor do I have sensitive skin! However every so often my mother goes off of our usual brand of laundry detergent (Gain) and buys some of the brands on sale. She had picked up the brand ALL and I broke in a terrible rash with hives all over my body! ALL is produced by the brand SUN and I am also allergic to that brand as we've put the pieces together after breaking out because of the SUN detergent also. I'm also allergic to Arm and Hammer but have yet to figure out that one! I'm just curious as to what ingredients may cause this that are different from Gain or Tide detergent (not allergic to these).

Response to Ciera
by: Taylor

Ciera, sorry you're having an allergic reaction. It's definitely no fun. I'm not really sure what ingredient it is, because everyone is so different, and formulations of these detergents happen often enough that when you isolate one thing, sometimes something else is added later. It makes it very difficult for those who suffer. I think the important thing is to impress upon your Mom that you are, in fact, allergic to certain brands so she will hopefully not buy those anymore. It can be difficult to get people to understand that these allergies are real, but show them pages like this where lots of people have had these experiences and hopefully it can help! Good luck!

Front load washers not rinsing thoroughly even with extra rinse?
by: Patty

Do you think front load washers could be the cause of my itching?

response to Patty re question about front load washers
by: Taylor

Front load washers, by definition, don't use as much water. In theory they can rinse just as clean as any other washer, but it is harder to do that when less water is used. Because of the less water issue you're also supposed to use less detergent though, to help compensate. And you're right, detergent residue left in the clothes can be a cause of allergies. I would suggest trying to use less detergent and perhaps doing a second rinse and seeing if those two actions don't help with the itching. Hope that helps!

College Student with an Allergy
by: Ashley

I am currently an on campus resident at my university and I am highly allergic to detergents. The only thing that has seemed to work with me is ALL Free & Clear. When I am home I have to wash my clothes separately. At school I get to wash my clothes and I wait until I am down to bare minimum of clothing. I usually have no problems. Now all of a sudden I have the most severe of hives/rashes. My entire body that touched clothing (it is snowing here is Northern New York) is swollen, red, blotchy, bumpy, and itchy. I also can not afford to run the washer empty before I shove my clothes in. I am at a loss because the school seems to be unable to help. S.O.S.

response to Ashley re college student sharing machines
by: Taylor

Ashley, I'm so sorry to hear you're having this trouble. It is a real problem when severe allergy sufferers have to share machines with those who use scented products. They just don't rinse completely away and it can leave a residue on the next person's clothing as well, unfortunately. I don't have any particularly good answers for you though, other then to try to find a laundromat perhaps that is more accommodating and understanding of your situation then the school seems to be. It isn't fair, and it will probably cause you a lot more hassle (and perhaps money too) but unfortunately, sometimes that is what needs to be done so you can actually feel good and functional.

Could it be the chemicals in the water?
by: Peggy

I have been reading all these posts about laundry detergents. Unfortunately there are not that many people who post that after changing detergent their problems clear up. It would be nice to hear some stories about what worked for some people. Now I am beginning to wonder if it is the additives in the water like chlorine or god knows what they put in municipal water. Just my thoughts.

My husband helped me by hiring a cleaning service
by: Nancy Joyal

My doctor has told me to avoid using detergents, carpets, stuffed toys, dishwashers as I am allergic, and I am an asthma patient too. So my husband has hired a professional cleaning maid here in Canada. It was the only remedy and way to keep our home neat and tidy :) Thanks to my husband :)

Laundry Detergents Ruinnig My Life
by: J.T.

Ok, so in a sense I'm so glad to see I'm not alone with this chemical intolerance, but the level mine has elevated to leaves no room for joy.

In 2010 my family relocated from FL to VA for career purposes. In FL all our clothing had always been dry cleaned and there was never an issue for 10+ years. But upon arriving and settling in we thought it would be easier to just start doing our laundry ourselves. BIG MISTAKE.

Within 2 weeks of being there I noticed something was happening to me. My body odor suddenly became unbearable and out of control. I began to experience insomnia and couldn't sleep for more than 3 hours a night before I woke up shaking and feeling panicky and had to pee like 10 times in the night. I also noticed that as soon as I laid down to sleep my eyes would start tearing so badly it was like I was crying. My stomach started aching continuously and I began to look very unhealthy. Finally my hair began to thin and I developed serious respiratory environmental sensitivities. But this was just the start.

My son began to complain about his skin getting dry and then about a red rash he developed. Looking at it we could see there was definitely something wrong. We thought it was our new house. But we had started using Tide and well, our clothes and bed linens smelled so fresh.

Well I continued to get sicker and sicker and our various problems progressed. I aged about 20 years in about 4 months. Numerous visits to the doctors yielded nothing except some cortisone cream for him and an inhaler for me.

Nothing got better. But one day doing the laundry I noticed that my palms began to sting, then to burn and itch. I washed them but it was too late. My hands had been severely burned by the detergent residue on the wet clothing. They were painful for about 2 weeks and peeled horrible after that.

The problem is that now, even 5 years later, I can't seem to use ANY detergent on my clothes. All of it provokes an allergic reaction, my body pumps out histamine which gives me headaches, the shakes, and severe stomach aches all the time. I live on Benadryl and Zyrtec to keep the reactions bearable. But I can't even stand near our closet without starting to feel sick.

I've had to buy new clothing and wash it in vinegar and lemon ONLY. And If I wash even a single piece of clothing from the old stuff with the new that's it for the new stuff. It becomes toxic to my system and the reactions begin again. No matter how long I go without an exposure to the old clothing it happens within days. Sore throat, painful stomach aches, dandruff, body acne, my hair begins to fall out all over my body, and I feel achy and arthritic. To me this all seems crazy.

Then last week I spoke to my niece whom I hadn't talked to in quite awhile. I asked how she'd been and all I heard was "Uncle John, I never feel good anymore. I feel sick all the time, dizzy, sour stomach, hair falling out, bumps all over my body, insomnia, eating lots of Benadryls. It was like a mirror. And I realized this allergy is genetic for us.

This has literally ruined my life in ways I can't go into here. But my lungs suffered serious damage and my body, well, I went from being healthy and in shape to being the exact opposite. I went to Italy for a 10 day vacation and still felt sick but realized it was only when I was wearing my own clothes. So I bought 3 new outfits and Voila! no reaction. But whenever I went near my suitcase there it was. Burning lips and eyes, sore throat, urgency to pee etc. I packed all my clothes up and shipped them home to America. And had no more reactions the entire trip. It was glorious.

But returning home within 3 days I was completely sick again.


I have a great wardrobe I can't go anywhere near. It's all in tubs. If I put it in the closet I react to it from across the room! I'm living with minimal clothing to wear and it's become very difficult. I've tried those detergent strippers, washing them in tons of vinegar and baking soda. But it barely does anything. Any suggestions???

How to remove leftover detergent/allergies
by: Jen

I recently started a new detergent and after a few times I started breaking out in hives. I switched back to my detergent that is hypoallergenic but it's not removing all the old detergent from my clothes. How can I remove them so I'm not continuously breaking out?

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