Here's the Dirt on Some Common Laundry Detergents

03/30/2012 05:52 pm ET Updated May 30, 2012

Few people would intentionally wash their clothes in detergent that contains cancer-causing chemicals.

But if you use some of the most popular laundry brands in the market, that's exactly what you could be doing.

Women's Voices for the Earth (WVE), a nonprofit organization whose scientists review the ingredients lists for cleaning products, has just issued a report that identifies toxic chemicals used by five top companies: Clorox, Procter & Gamble, Reckitt Benckiser, SC Johnson and Son and Sunshine Makers (Simple Green). WVE examined 20 different cleaning products -- and found toxic substances in all of them. If not for this study, titled "Dirty Secrets: What's Hiding in Your Cleaning Products?" you'd never be the wiser, because none of the noxious chemicals were listed on the product label.

WVE believes consumers deserve to know what chemicals they are being exposed to so they can easily avoid products that may make them or their kids sick. They're urging Congress to pass new federal legislation called the Cleaning Product Right to Know Act, which will require cleaning product manufacturers to disclose all the ingredients they use in their products directly on the product label.

WVE has also launched a petition drive to persuade one of the offending companies, Tide, to remove the cancer-causing chemical 1,4-dioxane from its Tide Free & Gentle® detergent. 1,4-dioxane is a known cancer-causing chemical, and has been linked in animal studies to increased risk of breast cancer. Nevertheless, Tide Free & Gentle® is being marketed to moms as a healthier choice for their kids' laundry, even though infants and children are particularly vulnerable to chemical exposures because their immune, neurological, and hormone systems are still developing.

WVE is targeting Procter & Gamble (makers of Tide®) because P&G has taken 1,4 dioxane out of some of its other products, such as its Herbal Essences® shampoo. More than 75,000 people have signed the petition asking the company to do the same for Tide and the rest of its products. Ironically, the Tide website says: Safety: The Most Important Ingredient in Tide®. If that's true, then 1,4-dioxane should never have been in the product in the first place.

Consumers who sign the petition or contact Procter & Gamble can do one more thing to make a difference: use their big green purse or pocketbook. Buying safe detergents free of toxic chemicals sends a clear message to all manufacturers that they need to produce the safest, healthiest products possible -- or we'll shop somewhere else!