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Laundry detergents disrupt epithelial barrier in the airways

Published online: November 27, 2018

The popularizing of synthetic detergents for laundry, dishwashing, household and industry coincided with the uprising of allergic diseases over the past six decades. Detergents are produced in large quantities and used in various daily life and industrial activities. There is growing evidence demonstrating that individuals repeatedly and highly exposed to cleaning agents both in the workplace and at home have been at high risk of developing allergen sensitization and asthma.

In a recent study published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (JACI), Wang and colleagues investigated the influence of laundry detergents on human bronchial epithelial cells from healthy control subjects, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease patients. Commercial laundry detergents and detergent rinse residue collected from normal laundry were used in this study. The researchers explored the cytotoxicity, epithelial barrier function and  transcriptome, methylome and ATAC sequencing in human bronchial epithelial cells exposed to laundry detergents and detergent rinse residue.

The authors found that laundry detergents directly killed the epithelial cells in 1:10,000 dilutions and damaged the epithelial barrier in 1:50,000 dilutions without killing the cells. Detergent rinse residue remaining in clothing was highly toxic to cells and disrupted the epithelial barrier integrity. These data also indicated that very low concentration of laundry detergents, that were not rinsed away by standard washing procedures, caused disruption of the epithelial barrier. Transcriptomic analysis found that even low dilutions of detergents upregulated epithelial derived allergic inflammation-inducing molecules, such as IL-33 and thymic stromal lymphopoietin (TSLP), genes of lipid metabolism, and genes of cell death, and down-regulated cell adhesion-related genes.

Laundry detergents, including the residue remaining in clothing after rinsing, is abundant in the human living environment and could have a high likelihood of being inhaled into the airways and reaching the upper and lower respiratory mucosa. These findings provide a possible mechanism for increased prevalence of asthma and allergic diseases.

The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (JACI) is an official scientific journal of the AAAAI, and is the most-cited journal in the field of allergy and clinical immunology.

Graphical Abstract