Poison in your Washing Machine: Allergic Contact Dermatitis from Laundry Detergents, Softeners, Conditioners and Whiteners

This article is a little different to my usual reports on consumer related problems because the victim whose suffering I am describing here is me. I have never suffered before from allergic skin reactions but a couple of months ago I was ‘poisoned‘ by something I had used in my washing machine. The effects were so bad they prevented me working for about 6 weeks and affected my whole body except for my face, the palms of my hands and my feet. At an early stage in the illness I decided to keep a photographic record to share with others who might have similar problems and hopefully provide some encouragement that the problem can be eliminated if you can identify the exact cause.

The problem I an referring to is Allergic Contact Dermatitis. This is a reaction to some chemical – or biochemical – in your environment that you have come into contact with and developed an allergic reaction to. Let me first share with you some photographs of myself shortly after I realised I have a problem (these were taken approximately two weeks after I first came into contact with the product that caused the reaction). If you want to inspect more detail in any of my photographs simply click on them and you will see a high resolution version.

Day 15 after initial irritation - My right chest

Day 15 after initial irritation – My right chest

Day 15 after initial irritation - My right arm

Day 15 after initial irritation – My right arm

Day 15 after initial irritation - My left chest close-up

Day 15 after initial irritation – My left chest close-up

Day 15 after initial irritation - My left chest

Day 15 after initial irritation – My left chest

Day 15 after initial irritation - My left arm

Day 15 after initial irritation – My left arm

As you can see from these photographs I developed a rash and spots over large parts of my body. In addition to my chest and arms shown in the photos my legs and genital area were also affected. Because my face and the palms of my hands were not affected I suspected the problem may have been related to my clothing and tried to identify what changes I had made recently. I identified a number of suspects: new clothing (chemicals like formaldehyde are used to process these), recent changes to washing detergents (‘Persil colour capsules‘ from Unilever), softeners (Procter and Gamble‘s ‘Lenor‘) and my first use of a clothing whitener (‘White’n’Bright‘ from Dylon).

As I had recently only worn new clothes that had been thoroughly washed I eliminated these as a possible cause of my problem. However if you would like to find out more about formaldehyde related contact allergies and where this chemical is found try the link here. I was able to find examples on the internet of other people developing allergic reactions to Lenor and Persil Colour Capsules and the packaging for White’n’Bright by Dylon stated that it could cause an allergic reaction. To help you identify precisely which products I had been using here are some photographs of the packaging.

Suspect 1: Dylon White n Bright 1 Front of packet

Suspect 1: Dylon White n Bright 1 Front of packet

Suspect 1: Dylon White n Bright 2 Side of Packet

Suspect 1: Dylon White n Bright 2 Side of Packet

Suspect 1: Dylon White n Bright 3 Packet hazard warning and contents

Suspect 1: Dylon White n Bright 3 Packet hazard warning and contents

Suspect 1: Dylon White n Bright 4 rear of packet

Suspect 1: Dylon White n Bright 4 rear of packet

Suspect 1: Dylon White n Bright 5 Usage instructions

Suspect 1: Dylon White n Bright 5 Usage instructions

Suspect 2: Procter & Gamble Lenor 1 Front of bottle

Suspect 2: Procter & Gamble Lenor 1 Front of bottle

Suspect 2: Procter & Gamble Lenor 2 Side of bottle with warning

Suspect 2: Procter & Gamble Lenor 2 Side of bottle with warning

Suspect 2: Procter & Gamble Lenor 3 Side of bottle with contents

Suspect 2: Procter & Gamble Lenor 3 Side of bottle with contents

In my internet search for others with allergic reactions to Procter and Gamble’s Lenor I checked the Allergy UK site (the link is here). The Netmums forum also had some correspondence about Lenor (link here).

Suspect 3: Unilever Persil Colour Capsules 1 Front of box

Suspect 3: Unilever Persil Colour Capsules 1 Front of box

Suspect 3: Unilever Persil Colour Capsules 2 Top of box

Suspect 3: Unilever Persil Colour Capsules 2 Top of box

Suspect 3: Unilever Persil Colour Capsules 3 Back of box

Suspect 3: Unilever Persil Colour Capsules 3 Back of box

Suspect 3: Unilever Persil Colour Capsules 4 Contents

Suspect 3: Unilever Persil Colour Capsules 4 Contents

When researching whether others had similar allergy problems with Persil from Unilever I found the forum at Allergy UK again to be quite useful (the link is here) and also the forum at mumsnet (link is here). It should be noted that Persil is manufactured by Henkel (not Unilever) when purchased in Germany and therefore this should be considered to be a different product when determining what may be causing an allergy. Research papers have also been written about the incidence rates of allergic contact dermatitis (ACD) from detergents – for example a paper examining allergy rates from patch tests using Procter & Gamble’s liquid and powder detergents can be found here. In their tests 0.7% of the population (5 out of 738 people who volunteered) were found to be allergic to the detergents tested.

As a result of my research and the localisation of my allergic reaction I was pretty certain it was probably caused by one of these three suspect products. Until I could identify which one it was I decided to stop using all three immediately. However this was sadly not enough. The thing causing the allergic reaction (the allergen) was already in my clothes and even though I tried not to use any of the clothes which had recently been washed my condition worsened considerably around day 20. Just prior to this I had been itching so severely that I decided to try and ease the irritation using a small hand towel soaked in cold water (a serious mistake). Take a look at the results….

Day 26 after initial irritation - Swelling of my left right arm

Day 26 after initial irritation – Swelling of my left right arm

Day 26 after initial irritation - Swelling of my right arm

Day 26 after initial irritation – Swelling of my right arm

This was a mistake because the towel had been washed in the whitener ‘White’n’Bright’ sold by Dylon. Until this time my suspicions had been focused on my softener or detergent as the most likely cause – however I don’t use softener when washing towels. Before using the soaked towel I had been scratching the irritated area and I suspect the damaged skin made it easier for the allergen to enter into my body – possibly helped by the water. The two photographs above showed the swelling in my arms a few days after using the cool wet towel.

At about the same time I had a much needed siesta and slept for about an hour wearing a white t-shirt that had been washed thoroughly at least once following an earlier wash with the whitener. This lead to a burning sensation on my skin and swelling around my chest which was similar to that shown on my arms (above). My weight increased by over 3 kilos and my sister suggested that my expanded body made me look like the ‘Michelin Man‘.

Michelin Man posing at the Taipei Cycle Day (courtesy of Rico Shen)

Michelin Man posing at the Taipei Cycle Day (courtesy of Rico Shen)

More worrying to me (and fortunately not seen by my sister!) my scrotal sack increased to the size of a grapefruit – yes I had washed my undies in the whitener. Let me put your mind to rest – I do not intend to publish any photos of this part of my anatomy. Needless to say my genitals felt like they were on fire (sadly for the wrong reasons).

At this point I decided more radical action was necessary. I could try and wash all the clothes in which I had used the whitener but I was not sure how many times I would need to wash them. I did not want to take the risk of the reaction occurring again so I simply disposed of any white clothes which may have been ‘contaminated’ with the whitener made by Dylon. I had used the product (supplied in sachets) in 3 full washing machines and because I had not segregated the most recently washed clothes I could not be sure which items in my white wardrobe were contaminated and which were ‘OK’. So anything with the slightest risk of containing the allergen went in the garbage (over 8 dustbin bags full – including towels and bed linen).

Day 30 Scars on swollen left arm

Day 30 Scars on swollen left arm

Day 30 Scars on swollen right arm

Day 30 Scars on swollen right arm

A few days later things started to improve – the swelling gradually reduced. I continued to have spots, scars and the red skin rash which all lasted for another 2-3 weeks until the skin started to fall off. The scars on my wrists were particularly painful and prevented me using a keyboard (both the computer sort and my assorted musical instruments). The skin shedding may sound dramatic but it is similar to what happens a couple of weeks after you return from a holiday in which you have managed to acquire a nice brown sun tan. My home looked as if it had a constant sprinkling of snow as skin fell off for a couple of weeks (my vacuum cleaner went through a very active period – often being used twice per day). I actually felt better that the skin was falling off because I believed it was taking the allergen with it – my body appeared to be trying to cleanse itself of the ‘bad’ skin.

In the blog I prepared when this allergic reaction first appeared (link is here) I included a list of the kind of things that might cause allergic contact dermatitis. In case you have a similar reaction and are trying to identify the cause here is the list:

The most common items containing allergic stimulants (allergens) tend to be:

  • laundry washing detergents,
  • fabric conditioners/softeners,
  • perfumes,
  • perfumed soaps, colognes, make-up/cosmetic products,
  • rubber clothing items like gloves,
  • smoke
  • certain kinds of plants (like poison ivy, poison sumac and poison oak),
  • dyes and
  • items containing precious metals like nickel and gold.

Sometimes an everyday item may contain an unexpected allergen, for example nickel may be in bra stays, hairpins, eyelash curlers, frames of glassesnecklace clasps, zips, thimbles, watch straps, jewellery and insecticides. These are just some common causes – for a more comprehensive list you should consult your allergy specialist.

By day 36 things had improved considerably although I still itched in all the areas that had been in contact with the allergen – the itching appeared to be my body’s way of encouraging me to get rid of the unwanted skin layers:

Day 36 Right wrist - swelling reduced

Day 36 Right wrist – swelling reduced

Day 36 left wrist swelling reduced

Day 36 left wrist swelling reduced

When you are trying to identify what it is that is causing an outbreak of allergic contact dermatitis it can be helpful to consider the exact location of the skin response. Here is a list which might help you with your investigations:

  • a reaction around the ear-lobes may indicate nickel in an ear ring as the cause.
  • a reaction near the eyes may be due to cosmetics, finger nail products or something that is airborne (pollen, sprays, plant products).
  • Allergens in toothpaste, lip-balm or mouthwash may cause reactions in or around the mouth.
  • If your feet are involved perhaps something in or associated with your shoes is the cause (leather tanning agents, socksgluesinserts, buckles) or a foot powder.
  • The neck region could indicate an allergen contained in cosmetics, aftershave, cologne or perfume. These can often be made worse by sunlight.
  • Antiperspirants and deodorants usually affect the underarm area as do certain textiles, in particular wool.
  • Detergents may be the cause of problems around the hands.

Also consider whether the area affected has been in contact with tarsfibreglass, rubbers (e.g. latex gloves), clothing dyes, chemicals or items treated with chemicals, adhesives (like tapes), soapsdetergents, bleaches, cleaning agents, vinegar, antiseptic or salts of metals.

Between days 30 and 40 I was unable to sleep very much at night – often managing only a couple of hours because of the constant irritation. As a result it was necessary to grab one or two sleeping sessions during the day. This lack of sleep, in addition to the general pain caused by the many scars and the constant itching, made it impossible to continue with my normal daily routine. In total I lost about 6 weeks of work during this allergic response period. After day 40 I was able to return to normal work activities (mainly writing and music production – both of which had been impossible due to the painful scars on my wrists).

By day 44 I had made an almost fairly full recovery (OK there were still a few small spots and my skin continued to itch a bit but hopefully this will clear with time). To give hope to any fellow sufferers who are trying to erradicate themselves of their contact allergens here are some pictures taken on day 44. I continue to marvel at the body’s ability to recover from the poisons we inadvertently throw at it. It would be good if manufacturers of products which are known allergens actually provide some more detailed (and graphic) information on the packaging about just what can actually happen when you get an allergic response. In addition to photos they should advise people how long the illness can take to clear up (e.g. a month) and approximately what the rate of sensitivity in the population is (e.g. are 1 in 200 people affected or is it 1 in a 100,000?).

Day 44 Right wrist (front) almost back to normal

Day 44 Right wrist (front) almost back to normal

Day 44 Right wrist (back) almost back to normal

Day 44 Right wrist (back) almost back to normal

Day 44 Front of chest almost back to normal

Day 44 Front of chest almost back to normal

….and to conclude I have included below some before (day 15) and after (day 44) eradication of the allergen photos:

Day 15 after initial irritation - My right chest

Day 15 after initial irritation – My right chest

Day 44 Right side of chest almost back to normal

Day 44 Right side of chest almost back to normal

During the whole of this incident I did not blame my body once for it’s response. If this were a killer virus or a carcinogen I would be very grateful that my body mobilised its best storm-troopers to kill the invader (storm-troopers here are killer white blood cells or T-lymphocytes)

If you are a fellow sufferer – good luck with your efforts.

Comments gratefully received via the comments box below. If you know anyone who may benefit from the information here please do not hesitate to share this article.

Chris Duggleby

PS Allergy Sufferers may also find the following articles of interest:

My T-shirt Made Me Sick – Textile Allergies – Sinusitis From Your Underwear

Torture In The Shower – Face and Body Soap Allergies – Main Suspect: Pears Transparent Soap

If you found this article interesting please consider taking a look at some of my other recent reports on similar subjects.

Just click on the titles below:

12th June 2016 Hospital Serial Killer – Super Bugs Created With Jumping Genes During Bacterial Sex

21st May 2016 Skin Cancer and Cataracts From Your Car – Poor UV Side Protection – Windows Tested From 15 Vehicle Makers

3rd March 2016 Using Gene Drives To Change Mosquito Sex In Fight Against Zika, Dengue and Malaria

3rd Feb 2016 Zika Infection Spread By Sex In Dallas – Earlier Sexual Transmission In Colorado – Detailed Symptoms 

31st Jan 2016  Bed Bugs – Insecticide Resistance – Arbovirus Transmission – Zika and Microcephy

13th Jan 2016 Kill Head Lice In A Day With The Newly Developed Plasma Nitcomb From The German Fraunhofer Institute

29th December 2012: Spreading diarrhea and vomit through the washing machine– The Norovirus propagator in our kitchen

8th March 2017: Nano Chip Cock Ring Detects STIs – Size, Thrust, and Speed – From Penis via Smartphone to Facebook

28th Feb 2017: Vaccinations Cause Children to Masturbate, as well as Dyslexia, Autism, Sleep Disorders and Brain Tumours

25th Nov 2016: Jaw Pain After Dental Work – Snoring – Breathing Stops When Sleeping – TMD and Sleep Apnea

23rd Oct 2016: How to Prevent Smelly Trumps (Flatulence) – Scientific Breakthrough in Australia – Good Carbs Mean Good Farts

7th Dec 2016:  Contamination of Earth by Extraterrestrial Plague – Space Pox Video

21st Nov 2016: The German Shit Exchange – A Green Economy Innovation

17th October 2015: Health Risk: Vitamin and antioxidant supplements help cancer cells become malignant – latest research from Texas

You can also find some of my more humorous reports in the Alpine Press section of this site using the link here.

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18 thoughts on “Poison in your Washing Machine: Allergic Contact Dermatitis from Laundry Detergents, Softeners, Conditioners and Whiteners

  1. I’m suffering from something like this now on my belly, belly button and all over my genitalia 😦 Don’t know what caused my reaction. I don’t really have allergies that I know of. According to the doctor it’s allergic contact dermatitis. One thing that has helped me a lot is applying pure coconut oil on my rashes…

    • Hi Ajar,
      It’s great to hear that the coconut oil is having a soothing effect. If you can find and eliminate the source of the reaction you should be able to get the problem to clear up after about 4-6 weeks. Have you purchased any new items of clothing for the affected area (sometimes new clothes are pre-treated with chemicals to make them appear better), or perhaps you have changed your detergent recently? Another source maybe a soap or deo you use in or near the area (could be new or perhaps a recently changed formulation). I had a genitalia reaction that I discovered was due to a changed formulation of Pear’s soap (also caused a similar effect under my arms – seamed to be made worse by sweating). Good luck!
      All the best, Chris.
      PS. I once had a rather nasty allergic reaction after I fell asleep lying in front of the TV (after a couple of beers) and the cat decided to sleep on my tummy. When we both awoke there was a large allergic reaction under the cat around my tummy button (red area with swollen patch in the middle). This confirmed beyond doubt that I had a pussy allergy

      • Hello Chris, thank you so much for your article on The killer in my washing m/c. I have the same thing -caused by Persils new ‘recipe’ sachets. It took me a while to track the culprit. It was amazing when I went to stay with my Dad in New Zealand for 3 months this year and was itch free within about 2 weeks being there and stayed that way the whole time.. Once I came back here, within a week the itching started and is now severe. I was interested that you say the chemicals cannot be washed out. That explains a lot- I have not used powder for 3 washes but still itching. I think part of the problem is front loading washing m/cs use so little water the chemicals just build up – mine is especially low. i did get some relief after rinsing a load of clothes in a bath full of water.My Dads m/c is a top loader and uses gallons of water – it’s great! Thank you again.
        regards
        Elisabeth

        • Fantastic news Elisabeth,
          I particularly like the bit about taking a 3 month ‘antigen isolation’ stint in NZ to get to the bottom of the problem (the 2nd best solution is to buy a whole new wardrobe! Sadly both ‘cures’ are a bit expensive). Clearly the antigen needs to be cleaned out of both the washing machine and the clothes. I have been washing now for a few years with just water (but I do have a water softener) – I do have to get a bit physical in the hand wash if I get stubborn stains. If nothing else it has taught me to be more careful (=less messy) when I eat!
          I hope all goes well – and you stay itch free,
          All the best,
          Chris

  2. Thank you so much for posting this. I suspect I may be having a reaction to my laundry detergent and I’m currently going through the process of stripping my laundry machine of residue and washing all of my clothes, towels, and sheets in natural detergent with no known irritants.

    My days are spent slathered in Vaseline and I can’t stand it. I’m itchy and goopy and uncomfortable. I’ve spent hundreds on dermatologist visits with no luck, but your post has given me hope!

    It’s the best example I could find of what my rash looks like and you provide a light at the end of an itchy, annoying tunnel.

    • Thanks UHP,
      It’s great that you found the article. Good luck with the detox – I have been washing everything (including me and my hair) in just water for the last couple of years and feel much better for it (and yes I ‘appear’ very clean!). I tend to wash clothes and laundry at a slightly higher temp (60C – the lice don’t like that) and have a water softener (generally washing detergents contain chemical softeners – my device just replaces the calcium ions in the water with sodium from natural salt). Hope all works out well (I was itching and had to endure sleepless nights for about 6 weeks after I vanished the cause from my household).
      All the best,
      Chris.

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