Are Fragranced Washing Products Harmful? — Chromatography Investigates
Feb 04 2018
When you’re doing your laundry — ideally, you want it to come out smelling clean and fresh. But what exactly does that mean? For decades, manufacturers have been putting precisely constructed smells into our washing powder and fabric conditioners. And it doesn’t go unnoticed. We’re all guilty of taking off the lid to have a smell before we buy washing products.
There are even awards for the best smelling laundry detergent, and countless online blogs listing their favourites. Clearly, the marketing is working, and aroma has a big impact on the success of the product. But what is it that the manufacturers putting in? And are the ingredients safe if we’re exposed to them daily — not just from our clothes, but those of our work colleagues too?
Consumers put fragrance at the top of the list when buying washing products. However, there’s also concern that some of the compounds could be harmful, contributing to respiratory difficulties or triggering allergies, for instance. To assess this, manufacturers must monitor the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOCs) that go into their products and contribute to the fragrance.
The chosen method to analyse these VOCs and SVOCs is gas chromatography, as discussed in the article ‘Rapid Screening of Volatile and Semi-Volatile Organic Components in Cocoa Beans and Chocolate Products Using a Portable GC/MS System’. This was recently used in a study analysing VOCs and SVOCs in liquid washing detergent and washing powder.
Finding the best method
While this study wasn’t extensive, it did demonstrate the competency of chromatography as a means of testing different products. It showed, for example, that the washing detergent tested had higher levels of VOCs and SVOCs, resulting in the heavier fragrance consumers will notice – and even look for.
In both samples, they found substantial levels of n-hexyl acetate, dihydromyrcenol, linalool and β-citronellol. These are all considered safe, and commonly used in scented products. Oxidised linalool has been found to cause some skin problems, however its extracted oil has been found to be completely safe.
Looking at the broader picture
This research isn’t just useful for washing products. There are all sorts of fragranced products which have been known to irritate skin or even breathing. Scented candles, air fresheners and body sprays are just a few examples of products which could potentially harm users. These are all things we use regularly, so it’s crucial to ensure they’re made from the right stuff. Going into the future, it looks like chromatography is giving us the best chance of doing exactly that.
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