Bridge over a River

1,4-Dioxane

Fast Facts

  • 1,4-dioxane is a by-product of the manufacturing process for many consumer products, especially liquid laundry detergent. 

 

  • Since 1,4-dioxane is a by-product and not an added ingredient, you won't find it on any label. 

 

  • 1,4-dioxane is a major water contaminant, and exposure is linked to an increased incidence of cancer. 

1, 4-dioxane is a synthetic chemical used as a solvent and a chlorinated solvent stabilizer for industrial chemicals, and is a by-product in many commonly used products such as paint strippers, dyes, adhesives, greases and antifreeze.

 

1,4-dioxane is also created during a manufacturing process called ethoxylation, which makes harsh detergents and other petroleum-based chemicals milder for consumer products intended for skin and hair use.  Examples include liquid laundry detergents, dishwashing liquids, shampoos, body wash, deodorants and other personal care products. 

 

Like many chemicals in wastewater, 1,4-dioxane is often detected in public water supplies. Studies show that exposure to 1,4-dioxane, either in high concentrations or as chronic low-level exposures, has the potential to cause cancer in humans. However, there is currently no federal water maximum contaminant level (MCL) for 1,4-dioxane.

Some types of chemical treatment are highly effective in removing 1,4-dioxane from public water supplies. Advanced oxidation processes, which use peroxide and Ultraviolet light (UV) or ozone, have been shown to destroy 1,4-dioxane. Chlorination has also been found to be effective for the removal of 1,4-dioxane.

Since the chemical is technically a by-product and not an actual ingredient in many consumer products, manufacturers don't have to list it on their labels, so it's hard for consumers to know which products contain this chemical.

So let’s look at the worst offenders: liquid laundry detergent leads the list, with some of the highest levels being traced to Tide products. (A lot of people use liquid laundry detergent because it works well in cold or lukewarm water. Just beware: it has a cost beyond the price you pay at the cash register!)

 

A study by the Organic Consumers Association found traces of 1,4-dioxane in many products, including Johnson and Johnson Baby Shampoo and even “natural” products from Kiss My Face, Nutribiotic, Jason, Ecover, Citrus Magic, Whole Foods 365, Alba, Lifetree, Giovanni, Seventh Generation, Method, Earth Friendly Products and Sea-Chi Organics.

Things you can do:

Switch to unscented powdered laundry detergent if you can, and use hot water to get your clothes really clean. Look for products that don't contain chemicals with names that end in “eth,” such as sodium laureth sulfate, ceteareth and oleth. You can lather and wash without any worry by simply using castile soap without any fragrance. Also look for USDA Organic certified, which doesn’t allow ethoxylation processes, and thus avoids the formation of 1,4-dioxane.

 

Those with septic systems or cesspools that receive wastewater from our homes should be cognizant of homeowners contribution to drinking water contamination. Wastewater systems leach into the ground and eventually find their way into underground drinking water aquifers.  Our choice of the products we use can make a huge difference. 

1,4 - Dioxane Resources
Web Resources 
  • Health Advisory from the National Center for Biotechnology Information, a division of the National Institutes of Health. 
     

  • The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics has a good webpage and shareable graphic about 1,4-dioxane in cosmetic products.

  • Centers for Disease Control has a consumer-friendly fact sheet.

Related Pages 

Related Podcasts from Green Street
1-4, Dioxane with Adrienne Esposito