Benzalkonium chloride laundry products

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.

Skin irritant

BAC and its derivatives are a common cause of skin irritations.1, 2 In some cases they can cause severe reactions.

Granular parakeratosis (GP) is a benign skin condition first described by Northcutt et al in 1991 as pruritic, red or brown, hyperkeratotic papules and plaques confined to one or both axillae of four patients. . . 
In recent years, there has been a greater recognition of the association between GP and chemical irritants found in antiseptics, especially laundry rinse aids and detergents containing benzalkonium chloride (BAC).

Catherine JL Tian, Diana Purvis, Harriet S Cheng3

Environmental aspects

BAC is a problem for the environment because it does not break down readily or quickly.4, 5 It is often found in high concentrations in wastewater 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.

We used to recommend BAC for sanitising wool. This is no longer necessary as we have developed a stovetop sanitise method for sanitising wool.

References and further reading

  1. 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) <>.
  2. 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) <>.
  3. Catherine JL Tian, Diana Purvis, Harriet S Cheng, Granular parakeratosis secondary to benzalkonium chloride exposure from common household laundry rinse aids (February 22, 2023) <>.
  4. 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) <>.
  5. Adnan Hossain Khan, The University of Western Ontario, Fate of Benzalkonium Chlorides in Natural Environment and Treatment Processes (January 31, 2022) <>.