Down the Drain

Water pollution caused by cosmetic chemicals, cleaning supplies and plastics

July 12, 2007

Down the Drain: » in Laundries

By washing clothes with products that do not contain hormone-disrupting chemicals, you protect your own health and the health of your family, and you reduce the amount of pollution entering San Francisco Bay.

•We tested 2 industrial laundries, 1 diaper service, and 1 coin-operated laundromat.
•We detected 5 of 5 phthalates.
•We detected bisphenol A.
•We detected triclosan.

Hormone-disrupting contaminants were detected in Laundry Wastewater (parts per billion)


  Industrial Laundry 1 Industrial Laundry 2 Coin-Op Laundry Diaper Service
DBP ND 86 ND 12
BBzP ND 95 ND 0.2
DEHP 30 2700 66 0.63
DOP 1.5 ND 13 ND
Bisphenol A 21.5 ND ND ND
Triclosan 9.24 ND 24.7 ND

Estimated Value


More Information:


Phthalates in laundries

Phthalates are found in many detergents, laundry products, and washable items. We detected phthalates in wastewater from 4 of 4 laundries. Studies show phthalates are common contaminants of people as well as streams and rivers (Kolpin 2002; CDC 2005; Wolff 2007).

  • Phthalates are used as ingredients in liquid soaps, detergents, and other cleansing products. Diethyl phthalate (DEP) is a component of fragrance in detergents – in this case, you won't see the phthalate listed as an ingredient, only the word "fragrance" will appear on the ingredient list.
  • Phthalates are widely used to make plastics, especially PVC or vinyl plastic. Many washable plastic products can contain phthalates, including plastic or plastic-coated linens and clothing.

To reduce exposures to phthalates in laundries:

  • Use detergents, cleansers, and other products that do not contain phthalates or "fragrance" in the ingredient list – "fragrance" commonly includes the phthalate DEP.
  • Do not use plastic or plastic-coated linens or clothing.

Bisphenol A in laundries

Bisphenol A (BPA) is not a typical component of laundry products. However, we did detect BPA in wastewater from 1 industrial laundry. Bisphenol A is commonly detected in people, and in streams and rivers (Kolpin 2002; Calafat 2005; Wolff 2007).

Sources of bisphenol A in the wastewater from this industrial laundry might include polycarbonate components of washing machines, polycarbonate water pipes, epoxy-phenolic resins in surface coatings of drinking water storage tanks, or BPA-based polymers used in coatings, adhesives, and putties used in construction (CERHR 2006). Both heat and detergents accelerate the leaching of BPA into water.

Triclosan in laundries

Triclosan may be found in many "antibacterial" detergents, and in plastic or foam items labeled "antibacterial," such as plastic bath mats and foam shoe insoles. We detected triclosan in wastewater from 1 industrial laundry and 1 coin-operated laundromat. Triclosan is commonly detected in people, and streams and rivers (Adolfsson-Erici 2002; Kolpin 2002; TNO 2005; Wolff 2007).

To reduce exposures to triclosan in laundries:

  • Avoid unnecessary use of "antibacterial" products (read the list of ingredients). The American Medical Association recommends against using products with antibacterial ingredients in the home (Tan 2002). Studies indicate that households that use these products are no healthier than those that use soap and water and other typical cleansing products (Larson 2003; FDA 2005).