Most traditional laundry detergents employ synthetic chemicals called UV brighteners that mask yellow and brown tones and make laundry appear whiter than it actually is. This may sound harmless, or even desirable (who wants discolored or stained clothes?), but the optical illusion created by these whitening agents is dangerous if you’re wearing a military uniform.
How the Illusion Works — and Why It Matters
When you do your wash using a detergent containing UV brighteners, the fluorescent materials are deposited onto your clothes. These materials then absorb UV light and reflect blue light, giving your clothes a brighter appearance. Because night vision devices used in combat situations can detect this light, wearing a uniform coated in optical brighteners can make a servicemember easier to spot and potentially be harmed.
This brightening effect isn’t only an issue if you’re in the military. Hunters should also be wary of using detergents that contain such whitening chemicals, as they will give you away to animals with keen vision — kind of defeats the purpose of wearing camouflage. Many products that use UV brighteners also contain fragrances, which can be similarly detected by other species.
Detergents with synthetic brighteners may also irritate those who have sensitive skin, including babies and small children. Because brighteners work their magic by covering the surface of clothes, another undesirable outcome is the residue they leave on fabrics, which may cause them to stiffen when air-dried.
How to Avoid UV Brighteners
To spot these deceiving chemicals on detergent bottles, you need to be able to recognize their variety of titles. Check the ingredients list for optical brightening agents (OBAs), fluorescent whitening agents (FWAs), organic fluorescent dyes, and similar-sounding combinations of these words. Some companies also have trade names for their synthetic brighteners. A few to look out for: Blankophor, Uvitex, Tinopal, and Calcofluor.
All Dropps laundry detergents (with the exception of Stain & Odor Laundry Detergent Pacs, which are specifically designed for whitening) are free of optical brighteners. They also contain no added dyes and are manufactured in the USA. If you’re washing military uniforms or hunting gear, the Sensitive Skin Unscented Laundry Detergent Pods are a safe bet because they’re UV-free and EPA Safer Choice Certified for their safe chemistry. That makes them a smarter choice for your lifestyle, as well as the environment.