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Archive for the ‘Fluorescent Whitening Agents’ Category

Are Optical Brighteners in Baby’s Clothing Safe?

May 25, 2011 Leave a comment

Cloth diaper, hand mitts and handkerchiefs glowing due to FWAs under black light.

There has been an increasing boom for the use of cloth diapers for our babies.  The main reasons behind this movement is due to environmental reasons, for the health of our babies and for some economic reasons.  The average baby may use up to 3000 to 4000 disposable diapers in their first two years of life.   Converting this to money at a price of 25 cents per diaper leads to about 750~ 1000 dollars.  There are some arguments on both sides whether cloth diapering is truly economical considering that cloth diapering requires a little more dedication in washing the cloth diapers which in turn require the mother’s/father’s time; expenses for detergents, water, electricity/gas for the washing machine etc.  A few also have arguments in the carbon footprints section but we will leave that up to the other pundits and focus on safety. Read more…

FWAs – a Gateway to other Clothing Chemicals

May 13, 2011 Leave a comment

Fluorescent Whitening Agents (FWAs) also known as “optical brighteners” are gateways to other clothing chemicals as cigarette smoking a gateway to illegal drug use.  FWAs are not biodegradable and relatively non-toxic compared to other more harmful chemicals that are used prior to the processing of fabrics and clothes.

This post will be dedicated to help consumers identify clothes which contain flourescent whitening agents (FWAs).  Identifying FWAs are the easiest method for consumers to determine whether the clothes you buy are truly organic or not.  Secondly, there is high probability that if FWAs are used, then other chemicals have been used in making your clothes.  Consumers cannot determine from just the outside appearance whether clothes have been treated with other chemicals such as formaldehyde, perfluorooctace sulfonate (PFOS), perfluorooctanoate (PFOA), bromines, other chemical processes and finishes.  Determination of those chemicals require a much more expensive and sophisticated machinery. Read more…

Organic Clothing vs. Optical Brighteners and other Chemicals

May 11, 2011 Leave a comment

Advances in the textile industry ranges from the types of fibers used, types of weave, all the way to the advances in color dyes and chemicals used to enhance the product.  Thanks to the consumers, many large manufacturers have pursued the “buy the book by its cover” mentality and continued to put forth great products on the market.  But are you aware of the “wolf in sheep’s clothing”? Read more…

Not all detergents are created equal!

May 4, 2011 1 comment

There are many laundry detergents on the market.  Some brands we are all familiar with are Tide, Cheer, All, Arm & Hammer and so on.  But do they all clean cleanly?  Definition of clean from Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “clean” (used as an adjective) as free from dirt or pollution.  “Clean” (used as a verb) means to rid of dirt, impurities, or extraneous matter.

Basically there are 4 main areas of concern where the definition of  “clean” is in conflict with detergents:

  1. Fragrances  – are chemicals added to the clothe fibers to emit a scent.
  2. Dyes – adds a slight color to clothes enhancing the brightness.  According to the EPA, “Studies indicate that certain colorants may cause cancer or other adverse health effects in humans.”
  3. Enzymes – aids in the digestion of organic matter thus speeding up the cleaning process. However it may cause irritation of the skin, especially in the baby, when the enzyme have not completely washed off the clothes.
  4. Brighteners – FWAs acts almost as a “permanent” dye on the clothes.  It works by binding to the fibers of the cloths and reflects the blue portion of the light spectrum.  It is evident with the use of a UV lamp (black light) thus the flourescent blue glow.  This reflection of the blue light creates a masking effect ultimately making whites whiter and colors brighter. Read more…

Which detergent should I use for organic clothing?

May 3, 2011 Leave a comment

What detergents are you using for your organic clothing?  Lately, many people are buying things organic. From food to clothes. We all have our reasons but just to name a few – it’s green, great for the environment, it’s for our future, it’s healthy, it’s safe for our kids, it’s hip, go LOHAS (Lifestyle of Health and Sustainability)!

Is it a fad? An emphatic no – it is a multibillion dollar industry that has grown with each consecutive year.

Today, let’s focus on organic clothing. What does it mean? To put it in simple terms, it is “chemical free” fabric against your skin. The definition for natural and organic textiles is very clear cut. For example, organic wool is taken from sheep that is grown freely on the range and organically raised. While organic cotton is derived from plants that are grown, harvested and processed without pesticides and other man-made chemicals. There are controversies about the extent of what organic means due to the dyes used in clothing, processing of the fibers etc. but we will not focus on this matter.

Have you ever owned any organic clothes? Have you washed it with any of these brands? Tide (even Tide “Clear and Free”), All, Cheer, Era, Gain, Ivory, Fab, Dynamo, Ajax, Arm & Hammer, Wick, Surf, Yes, Purex and last but not least DREFT – the #1 detergent recommended for babies by pediatricians?

Your organic clothes you have invested has now been (pardon my French) “de-virginized” – in other words, your once organic clothes are now like any other clothes – “foreverly” not organic. Read more…

Fluorescent Whitening Agents a.k.a. Optical Brighteners

May 2, 2011 Leave a comment

Fluorescent Whitening Agents (FWAs) or Optical Brighteners (OB) have been used by the textile industry for quite some time.  They are also included in many laundry detergents – just to name a few brands, all versions of  Tide including “Clear and Free”, Surf, Arm & Hammer, and to our widely used baby detergent Dreft.  These chemicals are probably new to most people but I am sure that you have heard of the catch phrases whiter whites and brighter colors.  FWAs or OBs work by absorbing invisible ultraviolet light and re-emitting the blue region of visible light.  Evidence of FWAs can be seen by using black (UV) light against the detergent in question.  Further discussions on detergents can be read at  Not all detergents are created equal!

OBs in Detergents

Flourescent Whiteners (Optical Brighteners) in Detergents

Fluorescent Whitening Agents (FWAs) or Optical Brighteners (OB) are very persistent in the environment.  So much so, it is stable enough to become a marker for industrial waste in the U.S.  There are many studies using optical brighteners as indicators for water pollution.  FWAs are water-soluble and considered in a category of organic salts.  They have particularly an affinity for cellulose substance ie. cotton and wool.   They are used extensively from paper products to the textile industry.   Some studies have shown low toxicity of FWAs but there are others that may indicate FWAs as a cause for contact dermatitis and GI problems when ingested.   Fluorescent Whitening Agents (Optical Brighteners) have surprisingly been under the radar despite increasing calls for making our environment more safe and our products more green.