Formation of organochlorine by-products in bleached laundry

Chemosphere. 2013 Feb;90(6):2041-9. doi: 10.1016/j.chemosphere.2012.10.088. Epub 2012 Dec 20.


Laundering fabrics with chlorine bleach plays a role in health and hygiene as well as aesthetics. However, laundry bleaching may create chlorinated by-products with potentially adverse human health effects. Studies have shown that toxic chlorinated gases are produced in the headspace of washing machines when hypochlorite-containing bleach is used. Laundry bleaching has also been implicated in contributing dissolved organochlorine to municipal wastewater. However, there have been no reports of organochlorines produced and retained in fabric as a result of laundry bleaching. We have used a chlorine-specific X-ray spectroscopic analysis to demonstrate the formation of organochlorine by-products in cotton fabrics laundered with chlorine bleach under typical household conditions. Organochlorine formation increases at higher wash temperature. At least two pools of organochlorine are produced in bleached fabric: a labile fraction that diminishes over several months of storage time as well as a more stable fraction that persists after more than 1 year. Our results also suggest that residual hypochlorite remains in fabric after laundering with bleach, presenting the possibility of direct and sustained dermal contact with reactive chlorine. This study provides a first step toward identifying a new risk factor for elevated organochlorine body burdens in humans.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Bleaching Agents / analysis*
  • Clothing*
  • Detergents / analysis*
  • Hydrocarbons, Chlorinated / analysis*
  • Hypochlorous Acid / analysis*
  • Models, Chemical
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / analysis*


  • Bleaching Agents
  • Detergents
  • Hydrocarbons, Chlorinated
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • Hypochlorous Acid