Optical Brighteners: The Dangers of Bluing

| 12/14/2012 12:42:00 PM

Tags: optical brighteners, bluing, chemicals, Kate Hunter,

Optical brighteners?

Yeah, this sounds pretty fishy to me too, but this chemical agent has elusively slipped into your home starting with its history as “bluing.” Bluing served to diminish yellow light, giving the illusion that the yellow tinge of your clothes, caused by dirt buildup, has been cleaned away. Optical brighteners are fluorescent dyes added to your laundry detergent, paper, cosmetics, plastics, carpet, paints, fabrics (including cotton, linen, hemp, and silk), toothbrushes, sails, shoes, buttons, appliances, cereal boxes and other food packaging, and even golf balls with the sole intention of tricking your eyes into believing your clothes and such are cleaner and brighter than they actually are by reflecting light, more specifically by reflecting blue light. Here are some branded names for these chemicals so you can avoid them:

  • Blankophar R
  • Calcofluor
  • Uvitex
  • Bluton
  • CBS
  • DMS E=416
  • Kolorcron 2B

laundry detergent and fresh towels
Photo By Sinisa Botas/Fotolia

What are optical brighteners supposed to do?

Ciba, one of the largest distributors and producers of optical brighteners, claims the benefits of what they call FWAs, or fluorescent whitening agents, include:

  • Brilliant, bluish whitening effects
  • Good light fastness
  • Excellent resistance to heat
  • Improved initial color
  • Increased brilliancy of colored and black pigments

They claim these substances improve performance of products and are chemically stable, have low volatility, are readily soluble in organic solvents, and compatible with most substrates; however, by nature this is not true. Just as the term optical brightener itself is telltale as to what these substances really are—an optical illusion—there is always more to every illusion.

What chemicals are in optical brighteners?

Optical brighteners consist of anything from benzene to disulfonic acid (both of which are considered extremely toxic). They are synthesized from various chemicals, approximately 400 different types, so it is very difficult to confirm what an optical brightener actually contains. However, here are the most common types of optical brighteners that everyone should be aware of (don't worry, I can't pronounce these either):


8/4/2013 12:52:20 AM

Hi Kate,


Thank you for your infomration. However, Do you have any idea or source of information of danderous of OBA to human body. For example, what it can happens if person drinks water from paper cup cone that has OBA on paper?

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