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Can Laundry Soap Cause Hives and How Can You Avoid?

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  • Post last modified:November 6, 2023

Hives can be worrisome and if you’ve had laundry sessions recently, you might be wondering if you could be affected.

Hives, also known as urticaria, are a common skin condition characterized by red, itchy welts or bumps that can appear suddenly and resolve within hours or days.

While hives can be triggered by various factors, including allergies, infections, medications, and stress, one often-overlooked culprit is laundry soap which is why some people leave special instructions when outsourcing their laundry needs online.

Hives and Laundry Soap

Understanding Hives

Laundry Soap and Hives

Hives are a skin reaction that occurs when mast cells release histamine and other chemicals, causing blood vessels to leak.

This results in localized swelling and redness on the skin’s surface. The itching and discomfort associated with hives can vary in intensity, making them a bothersome condition for those affected.

While various triggers can set off hives, the focus here is on the potential link between laundry soap and this skin condition.

The Chemical Components of Laundry Soap

To understand the relationship between laundry soap and hives, it is essential to examine the chemical components of these products.

Traditional laundry detergents contain a combination of surfactants, enzymes, fragrances, and other additives, all designed to remove dirt and stains from clothing effectively.

These chemicals can have different effects on the skin, potentially leading to hives in sensitive individuals.

  • Surfactants: Surfactants are the primary cleaning agents in laundry detergents. Common examples include sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulfate (SLES). Surfactants can break down oils and grease, but they can also strip the skin’s natural oils, leading to dryness and irritation.
  • Enzymes: Enzymes are added to detergents to break down protein-based stains, such as blood and grass. Some individuals may be sensitive to these enzymes, experiencing skin reactions when exposed to residues on their clothing.
  • Fragrances: Many laundry detergents contain fragrances to give the washed clothing a pleasant scent. These fragrances can be synthetic or natural. Synthetic fragrances, in particular, are known to be a common allergen and may contribute to skin irritation and hives.
  • Other Additives: Laundry detergents may also contain optical brighteners, dyes, and preservatives, all of which can potentially trigger skin reactions in sensitive individuals.

Allergic Reactions to Laundry Soap

Allergic reactions to laundry soap can manifest in various ways, including contact dermatitis, eczema, and, in some cases, hives.

Allergic contact dermatitis is a skin condition that occurs when the immune system reacts to a specific allergen present in the laundry detergent. Symptoms may include redness, itching, and the development of small, fluid-filled blisters.

Hives triggered by laundry detergent are often a result of an allergic response to one or more of the chemical components mentioned above.

When an individual comes into contact with an allergenic substance in the detergent, their immune system may recognize it as harmful and release histamine, causing hives to develop.

Irritant Contact Dermatitis

In addition to allergic reactions, laundry detergents can also cause irritant contact dermatitis, which is characterized by skin irritation and inflammation.

Irritant contact dermatitis is not an allergic reaction but rather a response to the irritating properties of certain chemicals found in detergents. The surfactants, enzymes, and fragrances in laundry soap can all contribute to this condition.

While irritant contact dermatitis typically does not lead to hives, it can make the skin more susceptible to other irritants and allergens, potentially increasing the risk of hives in individuals with preexisting sensitivity.

Identifying Laundry Soap-Induced Hives

Recognizing the connection between laundry soap and hives can be challenging because hives can have various triggers, and their appearance is not always immediate.

To identify laundry soap-induced hives, consider the following factors:

  • Onset of Symptoms: Hives triggered by laundry detergent typically appear within hours to a few days after exposure. If you notice a correlation between doing laundry and developing hives, this may be a clue.
  • Location of Hives: Pay attention to the distribution of hives. If they primarily affect areas covered by clothing, it could be a sign of laundry detergent as the trigger.
  • Persistent Symptoms: If hives persist or recur, especially after wearing freshly laundered clothing, suspect laundry detergent as the cause.
  • Patch Testing: Consult with a dermatologist or allergist for patch testing if you suspect laundry detergent is the culprit. This involves applying small amounts of the detergent to the skin to assess the skin’s reaction.

Preventing Laundry Soap-Induced Hives

Preventing laundry soap-induced hives requires identifying the specific detergent components that trigger the reaction and taking steps to avoid them.

Here are some strategies to consider:

  • Choose Hypoallergenic Detergents: Hypoallergenic laundry detergents are formulated to minimize allergenic and irritating ingredients. They are often free of fragrances, dyes, and enzymes. Selecting these detergents can help reduce the risk of hives.
  • Rinse Thoroughly: Ensure that your washing machine rinses clothing thoroughly. Residues of detergent on clothing can increase the risk of skin reactions.
  • Double Rinse: Consider using the double rinse setting on your washing machine to further reduce detergent residues.
  • Avoid Fabric Softeners: Fabric softeners, while not detergents, can also contain irritants and allergens. Avoid using them if you suspect a laundry detergent allergy.
  • Use an Extra Rinse Cycle: Some washing machines have an extra rinse cycle option that can help remove more detergent residues from clothing.
  • Reconsider Fragrance-Free Products: Even if you are not sensitive to fragrances, choosing fragrance-free laundry detergents can minimize your exposure to potential allergens.
  • Patch Testing: If you suspect laundry detergent is the cause of your hives, consult with a healthcare professional for patch testing to identify the specific allergen.
  • Choose a Laundry Provider that Supports Special Request: when using online laundry service providers, ensure to let them know of your choice of soaps and detergent to be used for handling the treatment of your items.

Managing Laundry Soap-Induced Hives

If you have already experienced laundry soap-induced hives, managing the condition becomes essential. Here are some steps to take:

  • Stop Using the Offending Detergent: Discontinue using the laundry detergent that you suspect is causing hives. Switch to a hypoallergenic or fragrance-free alternative.
  • Wash Clothing Thoroughly: Wash all your clothing, bedding, and linens with the new detergent to remove any traces of the old ones.
  • Over-the-counter Antihistamines: Over-the-counter antihistamines can help relieve itching and discomfort associated with hives. Consult a healthcare professional for appropriate recommendations.
  • Topical Treatments: Applying calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream to the affected areas can help alleviate itching and inflammation.
  • Avoid Scratching: While it can be difficult, avoid scratching the hives to prevent further skin irritation and potential infection.
  • Seek Medical Advice: If the hives persist or worsen, consult a healthcare professional for a more comprehensive assessment and potential prescription medications.


Laundry soap can indeed cause hives in individuals with sensitivity to certain components in these products.

While hives triggered by laundry detergent are typically allergic reactions, they can also result from irritant contact dermatitis.

Recognizing the connection between laundry detergent and hives can be challenging, but with careful observation and the adoption of preventive measures, individuals can minimize their risk of developing hives.

Choosing hypoallergenic detergents, thorough rinsing, and avoiding fabric softeners are some of the strategies to consider.

If hives do occur, managing the condition involves discontinuing the use of the offending detergent and seeking appropriate medical advice when necessary.

By being aware of the potential link between laundry soap and hives, individuals can take steps to protect their skin and overall well-being.

Research sources

This laundry guide was made through thorough research from various sources online, including:

1. NemoursTeensHealth: Hives(Urticaria)
2. WebMD: Am I Allergic to My Clothes?
3. American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology: Skin Allergies
4. Wikipedia: Laundry detergent

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