We do not recommend laundry sanitiser products that contain benzalkonium chloride (BAC). Regular sanitisation is unnecessary with a good wash routine. Laundry needs to be clean, it does not need to be sterile.
BAC is found in products such as Canesten Hygiene Laundry Rinse, Dettol Laundry Sanitiser and Persil Antibacterial Laundry Sanitiser. These products are expensive and unnecessary the vast majority of the time.
BAC and its derivatives are a common cause of skin irritations.1, 2 In some cases they can cause severe reactions.
BAC is a problem for the environment because it does not break down readily or quickly.3, 4 It is often found in high concentrations in waste water sludge. When this biomass is dried out and distributed as organic compost, it contaminates existing soil. When BAC makes its way into water, it kills aquatic life.
It can also contribute to bacterial resistance because of its lack of biodegradability.
Additionally, BAC is unsuitable for use if you have a septic tank as it kills the good bacteria in the tank.
Alternative products and methods
If you do need to sanitise laundry, using heat or chlorine bleach is cheaper, more effective, septic tank safe and better for the environment. If you have a front loading washing machine, you can sanitise laundry using a 90/95°C wash cycle.
The only application which BAC is still suitable for is sanitising wool.
- Wentworth, Ashley B. MD, Yiannias, James A. MD; Davis, Mark D.P. MD, Killian, Jill M. BS, Benzalkonium Chloride A Known Irritant and Novel Allergen (January 31, 2022) <https://journals.lww.com/dermatitis/Abstract/2016/01000/Benzalkonium_Chloride__A_Known_Irritant_and_Novel.5.aspx>.
- Aaron J Robinson, Rachael S Foster, Anne R Halbert, Emma King, David Orchard, Granular parakeratosis induced by benzalkonium chloride exposure from laundry rinse aids (January 31, 2022) <https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/ajd.12551>.
- Paul H Mc Cay, Alain A Ocampo-Sosa, Gerard T A Fleming, Effect of subinhibitory concentrations of benzalkonium chloride on the competitiveness of Pseudomonas aeruginosa grown in continuous culture (January 31, 2022) <https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19815578/>.
- Adnan Hossain Khan, The University of Western Ontario, Fate of Benzalkonium Chlorides in Natural Environment and Treatment Processes (January 31, 2022) <https://ir.lib.uwo.ca/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=5977&context=etd>.