A person in blue jeans and a white shirts transfers clothes from the washer to the dryer

What's in My Laundry Detergent?

All day long, your clothing comes in contact with impurities from the environment and bacteria and sweat from your skin. On top of that, everything from spilled food to grass can leave behind stains on your clothing. Towels and bedding also accumulate germs and debris and can become discolored from regular use.

Because the fabrics in your life go through a lot, washing them regularly is important. Unfortunately, plain water isn’t usually effective at removing impurities on its own. That’s why laundry detergent is commonly added. Laundry detergent ingredients boost the cleaning power of your washing machine, and each product contains a unique formula. So what does laundry detergent contain? Read on to learn more about common ingredients and laundry detergent safety.

Main Ingredients in Laundry Detergents

No two laundry detergents have the exact same ingredients. Some of the general kinds of substances found in laundry detergent include:

  • Surfactants: Composed of long chains of molecules, surfactants have an end that is attracted to water and another end that repels water. Because of this, surfactants have the ability to tug on impurities and allow them to be washed away.
  • Anti-redeposition agents and dispersion agents: These ingredients keep the impurities removed by surfactants from re-settling on clothing during the rinse cycle.
  • Builders: Ingredients that increase the effectiveness of surfactants to maximize a detergent’s cleaning power.
  • pH adjustors: To keep detergent from becoming overly acidic or alkaline, manufacturers add these ingredients. They play an important role in laundry detergent safety.
  • Enzymes: These organic compounds trigger reactions that lift away certain types of impurities, such as protein, starch or fat. They increase the effectiveness of water.
  • Chelators: By drawing away metal ions, chelators keep mineral deposits and impurities found in water from disrupting the work of surfactants.
  • Preservatives: These ingredients fight the growth of bacteria and slow the natural breakdown of detergent so that it remains effective once the bottle or box is open.
  • Stabilizers: Stabilizers also help extend the life of detergent by keeping it from separating inside of its packaging.
  • Optical Brighteners/Fluorescent Whitening Agents (FWA): These chemicals increase fabric’s ability to reflect blue light, creating the illusion that whites are brighter and colors are more vibrant.
  • Dyes: These colored chemicals enhance the appearance of laundry detergent to make it more appealing.
  • Fragrances: Also called perfumes, fragrance ingredients give clothing a more pleasing scent.

How Do Laundry Detergent Ingredients Clean Your Clothes? 

Surfactants drive laundry detergent’s cleaning power. As described above, these laundry detergent ingredients lift away impurities that water can’t remove on its own. However, more goes into washing your clothes than just the surfactants found in detergent.

Temperature also impacts the cleaning process. At higher temperatures, water is more effective at removing soiling and stains from clothes. However, washing with hot water can cause clothing to shrink and also increases the amount of energy required to clean a load of clothing. Garment care tags often stipulate a maximum washing temperature, so you can consult them for guidance when setting your washer.

The movements of the washing machine also affect the cleaning process. By tumbling and shaking soiled clothing, the washing machine encourages impurities to separate from fabrics and helps to distribute water and detergent throughout a load of clothing.

What Types of Laundry Detergent Are There?

There are many forms of laundry detergent available on the market, including:

  • Powder: An economical option, powder forms often contains ingredients to brighten and whiten clothes.
  • Liquid: Available in different formulations for colors, whites and darks, liquids are unlikely to leave behind residue and work in all water temperatures.
  • Pods: Conveniently pre-measured to drop into the washing machine, pods are generally the most expensive detergent option because they are highly concentrated.
  • Tablets: Less common than the other types of laundry detergent, tablets are premeasured and made from powdered detergent. They tend to work best in warm to hot water.

Some specialty laundry detergent products are also available, such as:

  • Eco-friendly detergents: These products contain more plant-based and mineral-based ingredients than conventional detergents. Many people believe them to be a safe laundry detergent for people with respiratory problems, and they are often biodegradable to protect the planet.
  • Hypoallergenic detergents: These products are designed to be safe for those with skin allergies and sensitive skin. They are usually free of fragrances, chemical preservatives and other substances known to cause hypersensitivity reactions.
  • Biological detergents: These products contain enzymes to maximize cleaning power. They are typically very powerful and generally not recommended for baby clothing or people with sensitive skin.

What Happens if My Clothes Still Smell?

One of the drawbacks to using chemical-free laundry detergent is that odors can sometimes linger after washing. This is because chemical and phthalate-free laundry detergents are usually free of fragrance, meaning there is nothing to cover up any unpleasant scents that remain.

If this is a familiar problem, Fresh Wave Laundry Booster can help you. Fresh Wave isn’t a laundry detergent. You’ll still need to use a chemical-free laundry detergent or another type of detergent to remove impurities from your clothes. The laundry booster’s job is to improve the scent of clothing.

Fresh Wave Laundry Booster is compatible with safe laundry detergent products because it is free of harmful chemicals. Its formula features natural ingredients that include:

  • Anise oil
  • Cedarwood oil
  • Clove oil
  • Lime oil
  • Pine Needle oil
  • Sorbitan Oleate, a vegetable-derived emulsifier that helps to mix oil and water
  • Tocopherol Alpha (a form of vitamin E)
  • Gentle preservatives

Instead of masking odors, Fresh Wave Laundry Booster neutralizes the molecules that cause them. The booster is biodegradable and free of harsh chemicals, alcohol, synthetic fragrances and phthalates. As a result, it’s gentle on the skin and friendly to kids, pets and the planet. To use with your favorite conventional or chemical-free laundry detergent, add two to three capfuls during the wash or rinse cycle.