TikTok-Famous Laundress’s products contained infection-causing bacteria

  • A lawsuit alleges that luxury cleaning brand The Laundress sold products containing toxic bacteria.
  • One woman said she believed the products had caused her family’s hives, rashes and respiratory infections.
  • Days before the complaint was filed, The Laundress told customers to stop using its products due to the risk of contamination.

The Laundress, a company selling all-natural laundry detergents, has gained something of a cult following on TikTok, thanks to advertising partnerships and a growing demand for natural products.

But one customer, a woman named Margaret Murphy, said the products had caused her family to develop rashes and hives and respiratory infections. She filed a complaint against the brand.

The class action lawsuit, filed on Thanksgiving Day, says The Laundress’s “non-toxic” products contain the bacteria Pseudomonas, which can cause serious infections in people with weakened immune systems.

Murphy, the plaintiff in the lawsuit, said her family fell ill after using The Laundress’s products. The suit features screenshots of Reddit posts in which users say the products gave them red bumps and styes.

On November 17, The Laundress told customers to stop using all of its products because they could be contaminated with bacteria. The company issued a safety advisory days later for dozens of products, including fabric softeners and baby clothes detergents, sold between January 2021 and November 2022.

The Laundress, launched in 2004 by two Cornell University graduates and now owned by Unilever, sells laundry products made with plant-based materials. Luxury detergents cost between $20 and $25 a liter.

The company had advertising partnerships with many TikTok cleaning influencers, but users recently said on the social platform that they suspected The Laundress products were to blame for their breakouts and rashes.

“I broke out all over my body, just hives, even my face,” said Phoebelemcke, a TikTok creator. “Everywhere itches, even down to my hair. I think it’s spreading.” She said she purchased the product from Amazon.

The laundress and Unilever did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Natural alternatives to synthetic chemicals can irritate the skin

Although “natural” cleansers and cosmetics free of lab-made chemicals have grown in popularity over the past decade, chemists told Insider that lab-made preservatives tend to work better than natural alternatives, which which can cause bacteria to grow.

Natural ingredients can also be irritating: Reuters reported that dermatologists have seen an increase in itching, bumps and other allergic reactions linked to botanical or natural ingredients in beauty products.

Michelle Wong, cosmetic chemist and science communicator at the Muffin Beauty Science Lab, told Insider that many plant extracts used in natural products have higher potential for irritation and allergy than their synthetic counterparts. Natural alternatives to parabens — preservatives that are a scapegoat among many “clean” brands — can be irritating, less effective, more allergenic and less studied, Wong said.

“‘Clean beauty’ has demonized many preservatives that have a long track record of safety and effectiveness, such as parabens,” Wong said. “For this reason, many brands have switched to less well-tested and less robust alternative preservatives. This has led to many safety issues with clean beauty products and recalls.”

Do you have any advice? If you have any information about The Laundress to share, email Insider reporter Allana Akhtar at [email protected]

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