Skin reactions to laundry detergent are quite common. Irritants or allergens in laundry detergent contact the skin through the large amount of surface area covered by clothing. Rashes may appear quickly after an article of clothing is put on or after repeated exposure to clothing washed with a laundry detergent that is irritating.
Rashes caused by laundry detergent can be grouped into two categories: allergic rashes and irritation rashes. (See Reference 1) An allergic reaction can develop in response to any of the chemicals, fragrances or other ingredients in laundry detergent, including phosphates and enzymes added to dissolve dirt and stains, dyes and color brighteners. Even products that claim to be hypo-allergenic and for use with sensitive skin, can cause skin rashes.
Chemicals in laundry detergent that aid in cleaning the clothes are often either acidic or alkaline pH. Residual detergent in clothing at either of these two pH extremes can irritate the skin over time and cause a rash.
A laundry detergent rash may show up as red or irritated spots or patches that can be itchy and painful. Hives or oozing blisters may develop, especially in allergic rashes. (See Reference 2) Often these reactions can be resolved by treating the rash with corticosteroid ointment and switching laundry detergent. Testing can be performed to determine if a particular component or fragrance is causing an allergic reaction. Persistent rashes should be brought to the attention of a physician.