Is It Skin Irritation or Allergy to Detergent and Laundry Soap?

Nowadays, people have become so wary of a skin irritation known as Allergic Contact Dermatitis (ACD). Clinically speaking, the Mayo Clinic defines contact dermatitis as a condition wherein there is skin inflammation which manifests as rashes. These rashes result when your skin comes in contact with substances that cause either skin irritation or allergic reaction.

Since contact dermatitis is closely associated with an adverse reaction to strong ingredients and chemicals, it’s also often mistaken to be one and the same with an allergy to detergent and laundry soap. This is a common misconception which needs to be corrected, though. In fact, there are a variety of artificial ingredients and chemical substances which could possibly cause a skin irritation (eczema) very similar but different from that of a true allergy.

Perfumes and dyes

Let’s take a closer look at those treatments which give fabric its scent and color. In the form of perfumes and dyes, they tend to stick to clothes that have been washed and they linger on the material long after it’s been rinsed.

For people whose skin gets easily irritated, they’d simply develop a minor skin irritation like a rash. But for those who just can’t tolerate anything beyond the mildest substances, they’d experience a more severe allergic reaction.

To diagnose an allergy properly, the visible symptoms of this reaction include a reddening and swelling of the skin called hives. Because they’re extremely itchy, hives tend to form welts and wounds the more intensely you scratch them.

Bubbles and suds

The thing about regular, all-purpose detergents is that they’re created to lather well. Bubbling with fragrance, they give you the impression that you’ve just obtained the best cleaning results in your washing chores.

These days, however, most high-efficiency washers are designed for low sudsing properties. With the same wash load, you’re able to use less soap and water. At the same time, your skin is spared from being soaked any longer in the liquids and chemicals it detests.

Dirt and residue

Aside from dirt, another thing which your skin hates would be residue. These are remnants of detergent and soap left on personal items such as clothing, bedding, underwear, and towels. Since these fabrics are applied close to your body, they can be just as irritating to skin.

What happens here is that, where skin comes in contact with residue, there would develop patches of itchy, irritated skin. These areas would experience a burning, even stinging sensation. And because the body interprets this as a possible attack by germs or bacteria, it initiates an immune response. Thus, you end up with an allergic reaction.

Again, here’s where proper diagnosis comes in handy. With the help of a skin specialist, you should be able to detect whether the irritation’s due to an actual allergy to laundry detergent or if it’s caused by rough, abrasive fabric.

To keep your clothes and beddings residue-free, it helps to implement an extra rinse cycle. If you’re not happy with one or two rinses, add a third one just to make sure.

Cleaning chemicals

As household agents, both detergent and laundry soap contain chemical substances which clean, deodorize, and disinfect. An example of these chemicals is sodium carbonate, and another is sodium perborate. Depending on the brand and its composition, the concentration of these chemicals varies from mild, to moderate, to harsh. Yet in an overly-sensitive person, even the slightest contact with them through clothes and beddings would trigger an allergic reaction.

With new technology, companies have manufactured liquid detergents and laundry soaps which are allergy-free. Mild and hypoallergenic, they’re designed for baby skin. Instead of harsh bleaches, they make use of oxygen bleach and neutral pH. Over the counter, they’re labeled as gentle care products.

Other than these commercial products endorsed by dermatologists and pediatricians, people have also learned to make their own homemade soap. Made from lye, water, baking soda, and plant-based oils, they achieve the purpose of cleaning without harming your skin.

Going a step further, allergy-free detergents and laundry soaps have also been developed for people with Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS). MCS recognizes the fact that there are people prone to a combination of different allergies which affect both their skin and respiratory passageways. These asthmatic conditions are best addressed by products which are non-caustic, non petroleum-based, and of course, allergy-free.

To wrap it all up, allergy to detergent and laundry soap is detectable and curable. It can be treated using oral antihistamines and topical creams or ointments. Aside from being treated through medication, it can also be avoided through prevention. Preventive measures are as simple as using mild detergents and natural soaps which are perfume-free, dye-free, and residue-free.


  1. I have used a popular Free and Clear laundry detergent for many years, then last year, I developed a terrible atopic dermatitis rash. It took me many months of misery to figure out that it was my so-called safe laundry detergent. Then I found out that a lot of other people were having the same problems with the formerly ‘safe’ laundry product. We suspect we were reacting to the ‘optical brighteners’ that can’t be removed with double or triple rinses. We switched to a natural laundry soap, and our rashes cleared up, though some of us were left with scars. The company got numerous complaints, and hopefully they can solve the problem, so other people won’t suffer like we did.

  2. I’ve developed 2 persistent rashes and began reading up on ingredients in soaps, shampoos, laundry detergent etc. In some people Methylisothiazolinone is a culprit. I also have been using Free and Clear and noticed they list this ingredient and so do most shampoos and body washes. I began washing my clothes with no soap because I cant find detergent without it, and now using natural body wash and shampoo. So far 1 rash spot is completely gone and the other diminished in size. It can take months for these things to go away I’ve read. Is this ingredient the culprit? IDK After reading your post I had to look up the “brightener” ingredient to cover all the bases for this annoying itch.

  3. I needed to know what to use for all this terrible itching ive encounted from weed eating my yard.Ive tried vinegar but it only stops the itching for small amount of time.ive tried baking soda.Is there anything else that you know of that i could try? Thank You sincerly Glenda

  4. Many years ago(the 60s)Bold sent samples of its detergent. The whole family broke out in itchy rash. We never used brightners again.

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