Itchy Rash? Stop Blaming Your Laundry Detergent

One of the first things that patients do when they develop an itchy rash is to change their laundry detergents to hypoallergenic or fragrance free. For some reason, it is widely believed that laundry detergent is a common cause of skin allergy. It’s not true.

An excellent study done several years ago published the the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology showed that although 10-15% of people with dermatitis (an itchy skin rash) blame laundry detergent, less than 1% of patients who were tested actually had an allergy to detergent.

Most people who have an itchy rash don’t really have an allergy at all; there are many causes of itching, including dry skin, medications, bug infestations, etc. Therefore, the percentage of people with an itchy rash who are actually allergic to their laundry detergent is probably much less than 1%.

Of course, there are some people who do have an allergy to some component in their detergent such as the fragrance or bleaching agent, but this is rare.


So, before you chuck all your laundry detergents and change to a fragrance free or an “all natural” product to stop your itching, remember that this is unlikely the cause of your rash.

Instead, invest in a good moisturizer and apply copiously and often. If the problem persists, see your physician.

53 thoughts on “Itchy Rash? Stop Blaming Your Laundry Detergent”

  1. Great tip! I can’t tell you how many people have said that they’re allergic to detergents, hospital sheets, etc. I bet most of them have dry wintery skin. đŸ™‚

  2. Dr. B,
    My husband actually is allergic to the laundry detergent I used to use. I was using just the usual powder detergent and he broke out. It started out small on his chest and arms b/c of the shirts I was washing. I told him it was just dry skin cuz he hardly ever puts any lotion so we started putting it on him. A week went by and it wasn’t getting any better. Then when we got married he of course started sleeping in the bed with me and he broke out all over his body. The doctor didn’t say it was from the detergent, just to think of anything we had done differently. So he came up with the laundry detergent. I didn’t believe him at first. And of course I had a box full of detergent and I didn’t want to buy anymore. Come to find out, his mom has always used a free and clear liquid detergent with no color and additives (His dad apparently had sensitivity to it too).I switched to a liquid and with that and the help of the salve the doc came him, he cleared right up.
    We went on our honeymoon a couple weeks ago and he started breaking out again. The hotel uses powder detergent. That night we went to the grocery, picked up some liquid, washed the sheets and towels and he was fine. Luckily we brought the medicated salve with us, otherwise it would’nt have been a pleasant trip.
    But I do believe that is people’s first conclusion, “i broke out so it must be my detergent.” You’re right, it’s not always the case. I guess my hubby is in that 1%.

  3. Dear Dr Benqbio, After I had my last child I developed many sensitivities to my usual bar soap, hair shampoo, and laundry detergent & fabric softener sheet with a itchy redness upon contact with my skin, so I switched to fragrance free products and now I always rewash my laundry using baking soda to remove all the soap from the laundry.

  4. Good article. but there are lots of hypoallergic ones too
    Types: hypoallergic, natural, homemade, coupon, coupons, history, substitute, research, tablets, low suds, low sudising, liquid, organic, wholesale, cheap, ingredients, how to make laundry detergents.

  5. Or you could wash your clothes without detergent – try the BioWashball. No detergent, no residue, ecologically friendly, and 1 ball costs around $34 and lasts for 3 years or 1000 washes. Can you imagine cleaning clothes for 3 years for only $35????

    Just pop it in the washing machine with the dirty clothes. Clothes come out clean, soft and smelling clean, AND the planet and your skin are not exposed to detergents AND you save money. Check it out!

  6. My child reacts with-in a few minuets to things washed in detergents, we use all soap products. I agree it’s not an ‘allergic’ reaction – but it’s certainly a sensitivity.
    Only yesterday I put an only bib of his sisters on him (washed last in detergent) He had it on for 20mins while he ate – 4hrs later he still had an angry rash on his neck till I washed it with soap and moisturised it, skin then settled within 20mins.
    I’m sensitive to laundry products too; the wrong powder can have me scratching like a loon.
    1% is still one in every 100 and when you think about the amount of people with itchy skin that’s a lot of people.

  7. Mark King says:

    I have read this article that only 1% actually suffer from laundry detergent allergy’s and rash. I am a redhead with a very fair complexion and well I am here to say that I unconditionally do have another rash because my wife bought liquid laundry that was on sale and 2 days later I developed yet another rash. I have suffered from rashes my whole life and is always after we use a product that is not free and clear. My question is what the heck can I use to sooth it and get rid of it. I have been itching for 4 days now and its not getting any better.

  8. Roland Keys says:

    Most people who stumble upon this are probably in that “1%” for the most part. I personaly have allergic reactions to certain soaps and scenteed laundry detergents. When using unscented I have no outbreak issues at all…but surely enough when someone else washes my laundry in scented detergent I break out quickly. I have mnay other problems with sensitive skin, such as having reactions to pool water. It could be various chemicals in the pool water, most likely the chlorine. Most people who have 1 sensitive skin problem, have many.

  9. I must be in that 1%. I still have to believe it’s more people than that. I have had this problem since I was a child (Frest Start was the detergent) and know a few others who do also. I use Melaleuca (internet or telephone order) and no longer have problems. I just got home from vacation, thought I would chance it using the cottage’s detergent, a Purex (believe it or not), and here I am itching my arms and planning to check another garment (pants) and see if my legs itch afterwards.

  10. If laundry detergents do not cause allergies then please explain to me why i am up at 4 am with only about 30 minutes of sleep because i was up all night itching? This happens to me every time I use Sun laundry detergent. I was unaware of the fact that someone washed my sheets with it and now I’m doomed because i have to go to work with no sleep. I don’t believe that I’m not allergic to this product.

  11. Dawn Wolf says:

    I have a VERY itch skin, primarily under arms, under boobs, groin, head hair. It is absolutely unbearable. Have switched laundry detergent many times to no avail. I have used many many creams and gone to many many doctors. No one can help me. My brother said I have inverse psoriasis but I have no rash. It’s occurs only in the summer when I sweat. The itch is just in areas that I sweat. HELP

  12. @Dawn Wolf
    Dawn – I have the EXACT same problem! Did you ever find out what the cause to your rash was? Help!

  13. PUREX 3 IN 1 SHEETS. DO NOT USE. Severe allergic reactions

  14. notmyname says:

    I’m wondering if random people were tested for sensitivity to detergent in this test. Is this 1% of random people or 1% of people who claim sensitivity? Who gets tested for that anyway? I haven’t read the article but the only allergy tests that I know of that doctors give regularly are for animal, dust, grass, and maybe food allergy. Lotion might help but I think that some lotions or soaps dry out skin excessively. My mother and I have both had reacions to some scented soaps on inner elbows/knees, a sign of eczema apparently. I can’t say that it’s an allergy but eczema is an allergic reaction. I also react to scented candles. Maybe I am not allergic because no one is testing for it.

  15. Detergent DOES cause dry and itchy skin. There’s no doubt about it. Fragrances and dyes are poisonous. Why do you think nobody uses those weird color toilet paper rolls anymore? It’s because of the rashes and infections that it causes in women. No man made fragrance is safe. If you’re using perfumed or dyed products it’s just a matter of time before it becomes toxic to you. It’s okay to poison yourself, but, please don’t use these products on children.

  16. henry bruce says:

    a test re wash a load of laundry after you have dried it do not add any soap or detergent i believe you will be amased at the results . suggestion use detergent only when necessary ” grime ” probably once every 4or 5 loads. taking a shower? only wash where you sweat/ learn the song grandma” lye SOAP it aint detergent|| so use soap if you can find it what do they say TRY IT YOU”L LIKE IT

  17. 1% out of what 5 people
    If you change your detergent and it go’s away
    It is let time and money then the docker
    So Blaming Your Laundry Detergent and fix the problem and save money people and get your deterrent in commonsense

  18. I started using Tide just after I got out of the hospital for a minor surgery; needless to say in three months and after 3 hospital visits, two dermatologist and several GP appointments, after I finally ran out of Tide my rash left. I was told everything from stress, to bed bugs when I set my alarm for 2 and 5 with a flashlight handy, to scabies when I ran out purchasing all the necesary lotions and potions and washing every piece of clothing I own to dry skin, and these were licences specialists giving me these diagnosis. I drove my poor husband crazy! Makes you wonder what the doctors do really learn in university. I was black and blue from itching, small scabs all over my body, I couldn’t make my drive home without pulling over to scratch my ankles into a frenzy, a serious frenzy until I bled. My husband woke up one morning to see a fork in bed with us, I used it to itch the bottom of my feet and my back. My sheets were full of blood, my scalp had scabs and I was up all night scratching thinking I caught something from the hospital or even worse, I was allergic to wine. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate is an ingredient that will drive you nuts and not in all laundry soap, so why do they have to include it in the mix. Thanks TIDE

  19. this site is full of it….i have never had rashes like i have today…my entire family has developed the same kind of rashes, all occuring since we purchased the new front loader he washer…and if you do the research on it. you will see that your wrong in saying the he detergant doesnt cause rashes….something is wrong with the new soap to give this many people rashes… do the research…this many people arent all wrong…something needs to be done about the new soap and the rashes it is causing

  20. @Mike
    the cause is he soap….google it ….lots of people with the same problem…me and my entire family has rashes also…they didnt start until we purchased the new front loading he washer….research it..

  21. @Andrea
    its the he soap…it all started with my family when we started useing the he soap..not a single rash until.

  22. ady quartermain says:

    Got this itch,over 6 months now i have done every thing to sort this problem so fed up taken over my life . fine dust on clothes after wash like fibre glass !, i think its from cotton t shirts etc which has contaminated the rest of my washing caused by the bash the water out cycle on new so called eco washing machines and with the oxy based washing powder ,i have found washing powder to be very strong now ,you know when it gets on your hands and arms getting out wet washing,it burns!.
    Some thing is not right and this is with alot of the washing powders and liquids i have used . Then you add the fabric softener with perfume which does not help, or the hot washes!!. so try this test on a dry t shirt , give it a lick does it prick ? if so try 40 ml surcare sensitive washing liquid with 30ml washing soda then extra 30 min rinse cycle and use 35 ml surecare sensitive fabric conditioner this may take a few washes to get washing so you can wear the clothes again with out the itch up to a 4 kg load.
    dont use short washes!!!

  23. Thanks for sharing, it’s nice to have other sources for my readers. I agree with the toxicologist on the podcast. However, he points out the toxicity of fragrance (solvents, preservatives) but says nothing about the risk of developing an allergic contact dermatitis from laundry detergent. Mine is not an opinion post, it is based on published data.

    There are many reasons to avoid fragrance and perhaps we would all be healthier if there were fewer fragrances and antibiotics, but for most people who are suffering with a rash, laundry detergent is unlikely the cause.

  24. Allison Powers says:

    I just bought some of that and have a load in the washer right now. Was it Pure and clear?

  25. I only wish that I caught on to the fact that it was, in fact, the laundry detergent that caused strange itchy bumps to appear, first on my legs, then torso and finally my arms. Instead I searched the internet for similar rashes and symptoms. What I found was mostly very alarming – apparently rashes are one of those things that neither allopathic nor holistic doctors are very good at diagnosing – could be an immune system problem, heredity, a strange phenomenon with no explanation or an eruption from a venereal disease…aye aye aye! It was Target’s Up & Up laundry detergent with all natural surfactants and enzymes. I’m back to ALL Free & Clear. As soon as I switched detergent the bumps started going away, the existing rashes itched less and $400.00 later in medical expenses I’m virtually rash free. I’d say if you’re suffering from a mysterious rash eliminate the simplest things first…you could save A LOT of money!!!

  26. I kinda don’t agree to what this article says. If it’s true then I’ll be that 1%!! Because I do allergic to Tide detergent. I’m allergic to all Tide detergent!! Whenever I contact to the clothes or bed sheet anything washed by Tide detergent, my body will start iching and it may causes rash… And it takes long to recover!! I’ve spent tons of $$ just to get rid of these itching rash over my body, from buying lotions to medicate cream and going to see a specialist… Days after days, rashes just don’t go away but it gets more and more all over my body. Until I made the last move – changing my Tide detergent to other brand. Surprisingly, my rash was half gone on the very first day. The second day I got better of course. Now I can have a good night sleep without waking up from those itching rash (it’s very painful can’t have a good sleep!!!)

  27. Is this not a question of semantics? Are all rashes technically a symptom of allergy? No! I think this article is incrediably misleading. Yes, perhaps laundry detergents are not the cause of “allergy” related dermatitis. But can you say that it in not related to “irritant” contact dermatitis? People reading this article will continue to use their detergents thinking it is not the cause of their rashes and itchiness. My child had chronic rashes for 5 years before I removed detergents only to find out it was the cause of all her problems. Sadly, the focus of all the professionals was “allergy” related so she was put on so many restrict diets and immunosupressants, steriods, antiobiotics, allergy medications etc. Please dont say that detergents dont cause itchy rashes, because they do. It was well documented in the literature. My daughter isnt allergic to detergent, but does that mean her skin rashes were not caused by detergents??

  28. Br. Emmanuel Taylor, OP says:

    This discussion follow up was helpful. I am new in Kenya and have been suffering from itchy skin breaking out in rashes. It has caused me concern. I checked with a dermatologist and another doctor to see if it is some kind of bug bites. They thought not.

    So I am continuing with the itchy skin. I have had some relief by rinsing my clothes with just hot water–no soap. I was beginning to think it might be the soap. I was almost persuaded to ignore the soap as an “allergy” by Dr. Benabio’s post. Now however, after reading the comments that people do suffering itching and rashes I will not rule it out. Rather I will be scientific and test it and see if it is the soap. Thanks for Sarah and her comment that point out the logical in the idea that something can cause itching without being an allergy.

  29. Kip Leitner says:

    Hey Dr. Benabio ! I read the study abstract and think it is poorly designed.

    In plain language, there is only one thing definitively proven that people who itch because of chemicals in laundry detergents truly care about: the contents of a single **Procter and Gamble** laundry detergent, whose composition is not given, could not be definitively shown to cause allergenic contact dermatitis (ACD).

    Well, that’s a silly test to do if the goal is to see if stuff in detergents *generally* makes people itchy (as compared with giving them full blown ACD). You don’t have to have ACD to be very itchy and uncomfortable from laundry detergent.

    People who itch from their laundry detergents want to know which detergents to avoid, not whether some unknown detergent has no effect. If the unknown detergent has so low an instance of allergenic response, give us the name brand so we can go out and buy it !

    The proper test is to get a couple dozen different detergents on the market, of known composition, swab them on people, see what happens, and cross correlate the results in order to isolate the detergents most like to cause reactions in people that make them itch.

    A close reading of study conclusion shows the proper conclusion that **for the single detergent used, people with allergenic ACD tended to overestimate the cause as being the detergent**. Well, the wording they use is stated in a way which begs the reader to make the false conclusion that this somehow means “people don’t itch from their detergents.” It only means people don’t itch **from this detergent** (whatever it is.)

    This is basically a P&G test to see if some detergent of theirs bothers people — apparently it doesn’t, but since we don’t know if it’s even a commercially available product, we don’t know even if we can buy it.

    Personally, I use the “Anti-allergen solution” from The Ecology Works. It has something in it that neutralizes dust mite feces, to which I’m allergic. That’s all.

    Kip Leitner

  30. I find this to be a rather interest premise. If 1% of all people react with a skin disorder like a rash or hives to laundry detergent we are overreacting when we choose to purchase a sensitive skin product.

    Okay. I can see that argument. But then logically as the American national average of AIDS patients is only slightly great than 0.01% of the population are we overreacting to treat this ailment?

    I have just watch my partner scratch her skin raw for the past two months while she assume it was caused by a bedbug infestation. The problem was we did not have a bedbug infestation but she felt it couldn’t be all the cleaning products we use that might be causing the skin rash.

    It really doesn’t matter if it is 0.001% of the population are stricken with an allergic reaction to laundry detergent, it is still a serious problem for that group. And I have always questioned why do we need perfumes and dyes in detergents to begin with. I’d rather hang my clothes outside to smell fresh than use a concoction of perfumes.

  31. look up Cholinergic Urticaria and see if that helps. It’s basically a skin rash/hives that are brought on by a hypersensitive reaction to body heat.

  32. Or maybe how about your washer is malfunctioning. I just discovered that after a two week long loosing battle with an ever intensifying rash around my mid section and moving around my neck, arms, and legs, that it was caused by a bad solenoid in the water fill on the washer. It worked fine at the start and the wash got going but then by the time it got to the rinse etc it would not open long enough to fill with proper water, and somehow the machine would finish it’s cycle with low water thereby not rinsing the soap (tide) sufficiently from the clothing, sheets, towels, etc. Thought I was gonna die from some weird disease or something and all I had was a bad solenoid.

  33. @david: Well, I’m not throwing out all that Tide I just bought (ok, only one medium size bottle). I’ll use it with my outer clothes, which don’t really touch my skin in the winter, because I always wear long johns when it’s cold, esp. since I keep the heat in my house low to save money.

    Fortunately, I still have a quarter of a bottle of Arm and Hammer left, so I can try washing my underwear and long johns in that and see if it goes away.

    Maybe the doc here is right and it’s rarely the detergent, but changing detergents is a pretty cheap and easy method to try. If it doesn’t work, no harm, then you can spring for a doctor’s visit.

  34. Todd Nolan says:

    Never had an allergy to detergent per se, but even a trace of bleach in my clothing causes pruritic rash. I can add bleach at 1/2 the directed amount and then run the load a second cycle with no bleach and STILL I get moderate contact dermatitis. It takes 2-3 bleach-free cycles before I’m good.

  35. ady quartermain says:

    JUST FOUND OUT ! my water company changed the supply of water to my home at the time my problem started in 2009 , nothing to do with the
    washing products . water leaves a deposit on skin dust/fine sand when
    you wash yourself and rinse off ,so this dust /fine sand is in the
    washing machine from start to finish and stops on your clothes even
    after tumble dry . I LIVE IN OXFORDSHIRE UK, do any of you have the same problem ?

  36. rob jantti says:

    I recently used my dad’s laundry detergent for a load of laundry last week, just the other day I finally wore one of the shirts from that load of laundry I had done and now I have broke out in a rash all over my chest and back (no where else at all). This has to be from the detergent right? This was the first time I had used a different detergent other than Tide in 5 years due to my ex being allergic to other dteregents and we were living together.

  37. Most interesting discussion. Must say — studies come and studies go, and some prove out to be accurate – others false. Not going to take the time to read the study because of the following.

    My husband DOES develop itchy skin every time I use a detergent that is not FRAGRANCE AND DYE Free! He even breaks out in little bumps all over his back — if I mistakenly use the wrong detergent to wash his T-shirts for example. I might think this is psychosomatic except he doesn’t know when these mistakes of mine occur except for his reaction. Happens with sheets, T-Shirts, etc.

    So — so much for percentages extrapolated to the larger population. Certainly hope that study included at least 10,000 patients!

  38. I agree with several of the other people who posted here- allergies and sensitivities to laundry soap (Tide!) are totally real and a huge drag. I think that the doctor here missed the compassion and awareness boat. There are many people, myself included, who are painfully allergic to such conventional products. Research and statistics may show that only a small amount of people are this sensitive but please consider that the ingredients are horribly toxic and known to cause grief- don’t discount real people in summing up this idea please.
    Thank you.

  39. I must be in that 1% then. I had used powdered Tide in the past with no problems. Since getting my front loading washer I was using liquid Tide with no problems. I started having spots show up on my shirts so I switched to powdered HE Tide. After washing my sheets and pajamas in the powdered HE Tide, I woke up at 2AM itching like crazy. I could feel that my skin was not dry. I had red blotches around my waist, neck and shoulders. I showered and changed the sheets. The itching went away. The next morning this reaction had kicked off the histamines in my body and I spent the whole day sneezing. No more powdered HE Tide for me! I have a few family members who also cannot tolerate the powdered Tide.

  40. B upkus! As soon as I have perfumed laundry detergent, I itch all over and get bumpy rashes where I itch. Take away the perfumed laundry detergent and it’s gone. I see many other commenters saying the same thing.

  41. Adam,
    Well over 100,000 people have read this post. If 1% are allergic to their laundry detergent, that’s well over 1,000 readers of this post who are actually allergic to fragrance in their detergent. Sounds like you’re one of them.

    I hope you are, and stay, well. Thanks for contributing.

  42. Dear Laundry Detergent Allergy Sufferers,

    I appreciate that many of you are allergic to your detergent — based on the number of people who have landed on this post, thousands of you would actually have this allergy (1% of 100,000 = 1,000). If you believe you are allergic to your detergent, then I’m sure you are. The point I’m trying to make is that laundry detergent is commonly blamed for causing an itchy rash when in fact it is rarely the cause (this is from published data, not my opinion see: Belsito, D. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology; “”Allergic contact dermatitis to detergents: A multicenter study to assess prevalence.” February 2002).

    It is wonderful to hear about your experiences of having your rash improve when you changed to a fragrance-free detergent. This post is to inform people that if you have an itchy rash, then there are many things that you can do to get better. Changing your laundry detergent is one of them, but it’s not the most important. (by the way, I have no interest in any laundry detergent, regular, hypo-allergenic, or otherwise).

    Thanks again for all your comments. Keep them coming!

    J Benabio

  43. Another cause of itching to rule out is morgellons disease. It’s a bit like having mites, nits etc but unresolved after medical treatment. Worth checking symptoms out on this one symptoms continue on…

  44. I agree, it’s so much easier to eliminate the easy things first before spending money on doctors who so frequently are ill informed. I have detergent sensitivities. I know this because whenever I try a different detergent, new soap, or they change the formula to one I use I break out it itchy hives everywhere. Tide is the worst. I don’t know what it is in Tide but it kills me, even the fragrance free stuff. All free and clear seems to be ok so far, unlucky for me my grocery store stopped carrying it and I’m stuck suffering until I can find a detergent that doesn’t cause me trouble. 1% is still 1 in 100 and that is A LOT of people doc.

  45. bought purex liquid and have been itching for three days so i have to have allergy

  46. Great it’s all in my head… my husband changed detergents on me this weekend without consulting me and now I’m in itchy hell. I guess Irish Spring rashes are a phantom of my imagination, as well. Thanks.

  47. Dear Dr Benabio,
    Thanks for your thoughts, Itchy rashes on the neck may develop due to several reasons. They may be caused by an allergic reaction to food or hair dye, an insect bite, sunburn, or even acne. However, it may also be a symptom of skin disorders such as psoriasis or eczema. Millions of people in the United States suffer from these two conditions, which both cause an itchy and uncomfortable rash that does not seem to go away.
    Keep up the good work

  48. Both my son and I broke out in a red, bumpy rash within a few months of my buying a front-loading washing machine and using Tide HE detergent. My face was so swollen I could hardly talk. I immediately switched to a detergent with no dyes and fragrance and the rash that both of us experienced went away within days and has never returned. I don’t think it’s a coincidence.

  49. Thanks for your comment, Laura. I’m glad you found relief.

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