The Laundry Detergent Controversy

March 15, 2016

The Wall Street Journal published a column on their investigative report on The Honest Co.'s use of SLS as an ingredient. Honest has promoted their detergent (which was their first product) was free from SLS.

Over the past week or so there have been many news headlines, TV reports and bloggers who have all weighed in on The Wall Street Journal’s investigative report and how The Honest Co. is refuting their findings, on an ingredient called SLS that is being used in so-called ‘natural’ brands including Honest, Earth Friendly and J&J’s Natural Baby Shampoo.

Members of our SupermarketGuru Consumer Panel and even supermarkets across the country have asked us what they can do to avoid this chemical.

Back in August of 2000, I worked with Fit Fruit & Vegetable Wash as the brand’s media spokesperson, enjoy our relationship to this day, and have watched the brand grow to include a wide range of USDA certified organic household cleaning products which includes the ONLY SLS free laundry detergent. The organic certification mandates by law that SLS (and SCS, which contains SLS) cannot be used as an ingredient.

The truth is that with all the cleaning products on our supermarket shelves it is hard to decipher their claims.  Many brands’ labels will act like they’re different with claims such as ‘uses plant-based ingredients’ but just about every brand uses plant based chemicals these days. This doesn’t mean they are more ‘natural’ than a brand such as Tide for example, which also uses plant-based ingredients, which also contains SLS. The word ‘natural’ has no legal standards to be held against – almost any product can be called natural. This industry is not regulated.

If you don’t want SLS in your products, or on your supermarket shelves, there are 5 things to remember:

1.       Read the ingredient label – many so-called “natural” products contain known compounds that are potentially harmful to children and allergen-producing. For example, a preservative called phenoxyethanol is found in many common cleaners.  This chemical has been labeled harmful in Europe and the FDA has warned that the chemical can depress the central nervous system in infants.

2.       Beware of ‘greenwashing’ when it comes to chemical names – many companies will hide ingredients. For example, almost all detergents contain SLS (which stands for Sodium Lauryl Sulfate), a known skin irritant, but brands will disguise the ingredient by calling it “Sodium Coco Sulfate” or “made from coconut oil” so it sounds much more “natural” but in fact is SLS.

3.       Beware of claims that sound impressive but really aren’t –The word ‘natural’ has no legal standards to be held against – almost any product can be called natural. Other examples: selling “Gluten Free” apples, or trying to call out on a label a cleaning product contains “organic lavender” when it is really just very low levels of perfume but tries to imply USDA organic certification (which simply is not true).

4.       Don’t pay a premium for marketing spin – If you don’t care that a cleaning product contains harsh chemicals like SLS or phenoxyethanol go ahead and buy it, but you may as well buy Tide when it’s on sale and pay a lot lower price.  Method, Earth Friendly, Honest, Seventh Generation – all of these more expensive “natural” brands use harsh chemicals just like the traditional, market-leading brands do. 

5.       If you want to buy something truly natural, buy Organic – There are now cleaning products that have obtained the USDA Certified Organic seal of approval, such as Fit Organic. Unlike unregulated ‘natural’ claims, any product that has a USDA certified organic label can be trusted. This certification means that all of the ingredients and the manufacturing facility itself have to undergo a rigid inspection and approval process. By federal law, these organic cleaning products can never use chemicals such as SLS or phenoxyethanol.  Fit Organic provides outstanding cleaning performance while being USDA Certified Organic – the best of both worlds….  And the ONLY product to date that is.