Detergent in My Toothpaste? Sodium Lauryl Sulfate

sodium lauryl sulfateWhat is sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS)? It sounds unbelievable, but it is detergent.

I once wrote an article on the chemical difference between soap and detergent.

That article explains the preparation chemistry and categorization differences between the two types of compounds. But the end uses of the two are obviously similar.


What is really curious is those end uses are a bit strange, at least on first consideration. For instance, did you know it is unusual not to find detergent among the most prevalent ingredients in your toothpaste?

The most common of these is sodium lauryl sulfate (a.k.a. sodium dodecyl sulfate). This anionic surfactant is what gives the foaming effect in the mouth. It helps emulsify the product, though of course it assists in cleansing as well.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate – There’s Moresodium lauryl sulfate

It’s not what it does so much as just the idea that we purposely put detergent in our mouths one or more times a day. Let’s add to the effect by reflecting briefly on the chemicals that are or can be used in the manufacture of SLS:

Lauryl alcohol [from coconut or palm kernel oil followed by hydrogenation]

Sulfur trioxide gas [used to make sulfuric acid]

Sodium hydroxide [lye] or sodium carbonate [washing soda]

Other uses for sodium lauryl sulfate are as shaving cream and engine degreasers. One use less than pleasant to consider is the use of SLS to kill blackbirds. Nevertheless, for typical human use, the chemical is declared acceptable by the FDA.

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