Allergic reactions to detergent

Updated February 21, 2017

Many detergents contain perfumes and dyes that linger on clothes even after the rinse cycle. Unfortunately, these perfumes and dyes can cause reactions in sensitive people. Although most affected people experience only minor skin irritation, some experience severe allergic reactions of hives, swelling and wheezing. Minor reactions can be treated with oral antihistamines or topical anti-itch medications. After addressing these initial allergy symptoms, using dye-free, perfume-free detergents may prevent another allergic reaction.


Perfumes and dyes in laundry detergents sometimes cause skin rashes in allergic individuals. Look for red, itchy skin or hives where skin has contacted clothing washed in the detergent (contact dermatitis). Some people also have respiratory reactions, such as congestion, runny nose, wheezing,or even an asthma attack. These can happen in conjunction with a rash or as standalone symptoms.


If you know you have sensitive skin or have had previous episodes of dermatitis, use only perfume- and dye-free, hypoallergenic detergents. Brands include Seventh Generation, Planet and Method Baby washing powder, but most common brands, available at supermarkets, also now sell dye- and perfume-free versions of their products. For extra safety, try sending laundry through an extra rinse cycle to get rid of residual detergent, even when using hypoallergenic detergents.


If the rash is localised, ta opical antihistamine such as diphenhydramine, or a steroid like hydrocortisone should help ease symptoms. A non-prescription antihistamine might help as well. However, if your allergic reaction is severe, get help immediately. You can request allergy testing to find out which substances you are allergic to. This test is usually a so-called scratch test, where very small samples of potential allergens are placed on small scratches on your skin. If you are allergic, you will usually form a bump or rash on the site.


Fumes from scented washing powder may bring on a very serious allergic reactions in sensitive people. If you experience difficulty breathing or swallowing, or experience severe hives or swelling, get help immediately.


If possible, pinpoint the exact dye, perfume or other chemical you are allergic to in the detergent. This way you can avoid it in other substances, such as soaps, dishwashing liquids and hair care products. Young children have extra-sensitive skin. To be on the safe side, use only gentle, hypoallergenic detergents to wash their clothing and bedding.

Cite this Article A tool to create a citation to reference this article Cite this Article

About the Author