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Clothes will naturally tend to yellow over time. Since most big brand laundry detergents are fighting to provide you with the “brightest and whitest” clothes, they’ve had to devise ways to counteract this natural occurrence. What’s their solution? Optical brighteners.

These optical brighteners are designed to trick your eyes into thinking that your clothes are less yellow than they actually are. They do this because they are actually dyes that alter the way clothes reflect light. If you remember your science lessons, light is made up of a color spectrum. The optical brighteners absorb the ultraviolet light and give off light in the blue region of the light spectrum. The blue light negates the yellow tinge to the clothing and tricks your eye into thinking that the fabric looks whiter. It also makes the clothes look brighter because it gives off more visible light.

In the “old days” people used to use “bluing” (a blue dye) for the same effect. The blue color somewhat canceled out the yellow tinge and made the clothes appear white.

Optical brighteners may be known by other names such as brightening agents, fluorescent bleaches, optical whiteners, fluorescent brighteners, or fluorescent whiteners. Regardless of what they are called, they are made up of different chemical compounds. Laundry detergents do not list what chemicals they use and in fact, may not include the fact that they use optical brighteners on their ingredient list at all.

The problem with using these chemicals as optical brighteners, is that they’re designed to bind to the clothing and remain. If you were able to rinse them off, they wouldn’t be doing their job. Because they remain on your clothing and sheets, they come into regular contact with your skin. This is not healthy for your skin and can cause rashes, irritations, and sensitivities. Also, since they are not readily biodegradable, they can be harmful to fish and other animals and plants.

Not only can they be harmful to your skin, they can also cause your clothes to feel stiff unless fluffed in the dryer or washed with a fabric softener. Laundry washed without optical brighteners will feel much softer even if line dried.

Another interesting fact is that if you wash clothes with detergents using optical brighteners, you can put them under a black light and they will actually glow. For this reason, we’ve been told that military personnel are not supposed to wash their uniforms with any detergents using optical brighteners because it makes their uniforms highly visible with night vision goggles.

Washing your clothes with detergents using optical brighteners makes the fabric stiffer, can be irritating to your skin, bad for the environment, and does not even make your clothes any cleaner. Your eyes may think your clothes are cleaner, but it’s just an optical illusion.

Instead, Goat Milk Stuff makes a goat milk laundry soap that is a healthier and safer way to clean your clothes without using harsh chemicals such as optical brighteners.

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