Many people with eczema (also called atopic dermatitis) have sensitivities to different ingredients in laundry detergents. These sensitivities can range from mild irritation to severe eczema symptom flares. This article provides tips on what to avoid in your laundry products as well as detergents recommended by members of MyEczemaTeam.
The skin comes into contact with laundry soaps and detergents more often than we realize. Aside from handling laundry detergent while washing clothes, skin can also be exposed to laundry products if their residues are left on garments after a rinse cycle. For many people with eczema, these products act as triggers that lead to itchy dermatitis. The products may irritate the skin, causing eczema symptoms to flare (worsen). Laundry soaps may also lead to allergic contact dermatitis — a type of allergic reaction and skin irritation caused by contact with foreign substances.
Many MyEczemaTeam members report having sensitivities to laundry soaps. As one member wrote, “I cannot find a laundry soap that does not break my skin out into hives.” Another shared that they didn’t even realize their detergent was contributing to their symptoms: “I’ve always wondered why I would be itching after washing my clothes.”
Itching is one of the eczema symptoms commonly aggravated by laundry detergent. “My body was on fire and itchy,” recalled one member. “I work in a launderette, so I’m wondering if the detergent is making me worse.” Some members may even have a negative reaction to laundry detergent on someone else’s clothing: “I work at a thrift store,” one member shared. “Handling clothes all day makes my eczema flare up on my hands.”
The irritants found in laundry detergents can contribute to eczema symptoms, causing red, itchy rashes. Soaps and detergents that contain certain chemicals, including dyes, can irritate the skin and activate the immune system. This irritation can trigger the symptoms of eczema.
One of the biggest culprits in irritation is fragrance. People with eczema should consider avoiding laundry products, including detergents and soaps, dryer sheets, and fabric softeners, that contain fragrances. It is important to look for products labeled “fragrance-free” rather than “unscented,” as fragrance-free products can still contain fragrances to mask the smell of the product’s ingredients.
To avoid irritation, MyEczemaTeam members generally choose fragrance-free and dye-free laundry detergents and skip fabric softeners and dryer sheets. The following are some of their recommendations for avoiding irritation of eczema-prone skin:
Many members recommend All Free Clear Pure Laundry Detergent. Free from fragrances and dyes, this detergent is safe for sensitive skin. As one member shared, “I use All Free Clear and Bounce Free & Gentle Dryer Sheets.”
“I have always used scent-free laundry soap,” one member wrote. “Currently, I have been using Purex Free and Clear.” Purex’s hypoallergenic liquid detergent is formulated for sensitive skin.
“I use Seventh Generation Free and Clear made for sensitive skin,” wrote a member, adding that this liquid detergent has “been a lifesaver for my family.”
One member recommended Arm & Hammer Sensitive Skin Free & Clear Detergent. “They have two options, with and without a fragrance, that is safe for sensitive skin,” the member wrote. “I started with the ‘safe scent’ about six months ago just because I do like when my clothes smell good, and so far, my family and I are good with that brand. Hope it helps.”
Some members prefer to use detergent powders rather than liquid laundry detergents. One shared that they use “sensitive skin washing powder,” while another wrote, “I use Fairy Non Biological Stain Powder.”
Some members make their own laundry soaps with baking soda or borax. One member shared their recipe: “If you have to give up fabric conditioner, you can use one-half cup distilled white vinegar instead. It works, and your towels and clothes don’t smell of vinegar.”
Aside from picking the right laundry detergent, there are ways you can adjust your laundry routine to help prevent your eczema symptoms from becoming worse.
Liquid laundry detergents dissolve in the wash better than powder formulas, meaning they will leave less residue behind on your clothes. Because they are so concentrated, you can also use less liquid detergent than powdered soaps.
Fabric softeners and dryer sheets are best avoided because they are formulated with synthetic fragrances that frequently irritate eczema-prone skin. As one member advised, “Eliminate dryer sheets and fragranced laundry detergents.” Similarly, starch sprays — which help stiffen garments — can contain harsh chemicals that may trigger eczema symptoms. If you do use a dryer sheet, look for dye-free and fragrance-free brands.
If you clean your clothes at a dry cleaner, ask them about the chemicals they use if you notice a rash from your clothes.
If laundry detergent triggers your eczema, make sure to clean your washing machine thoroughly to remove any remaining detergent residue. You may also need to wash your clothing and bedding multiple times to completely remove lingering detergent residue. The Eczema Foundation recommends using only the suggested amount of detergent (or a little less than recommended) to prevent the buildup of residue on clothing.
New garments may contain residues or chemicals that can irritate the skin. Washing new clothing before wear can help prevent irritation from these residues.
Some members of MyEczemaTeam find that even handling laundry soaps or detergents triggers their eczema symptoms. Wearing gloves while doing the laundry can help prevent irritating chemicals from coming into contact with your skin.
The Eczema Foundation advises against line-drying clothing outdoors, as allergens in the air may be deposited on your clothes, especially in the spring and fall when pollen counts and other allergens are at their highest.
On MyEczemaTeam, the social network for people with eczema, more than 41,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their experiences with others who understand life with eczema.
What laundry products do you recommend for eczema-prone skin? Share your favorites in the comments below or by posting on MyEczemaTeam.