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ToxicFree Foundation / Ingredient Database / Ethoxylates
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    What is it?

    Ethoxylates (aka Alcohol ethoxylates or AEs) are a major class of non-ionic surfactants which are widely used in laundry detergents and to a lesser extent in household cleaners, institutional and industrial cleaners, cosmetics, agriculture, and in textile, paper, oil and other process industries. Ethoxylated surfactants are widely used in cosmetics as foaming agents, emulsifiers and humectants. As part of the manufacturing process the toxic chemical 1,4-dioxane ( a potent carcinogen is generated, as well as PEGs (

    Key Information

    • On labels, the above surfacants are identified by the prefix "PEG", "polyethylene", "polyethylene glycol", "polyoxyethylene", "-eth-", or "-oxynol-".

    More Information

    Ethoxylates are nonionic surfactants composed of a hydrophobic alkyl chain (fatty alcohol) which is combined with a number of ethoxylate, or ethylene oxide, units via an ether linkage. Alcohol alkoxylates (AA) normally contain both ethylene oxide (EO) and propylene oxide (PO) in their hydrophilic moiety, whereas butylene oxide (BO) is less frequently used. The abbreviation AA has been used to designate nonionic surfactants with a hydrophilic part containing PO (or BO), frequently in combination with EO. AE are used in many types of consumer and industrial products like, e.g., laundry detergents, all-purpose cleaning agents, dishwashing agents, emulsifiers, and wetting agents. AA are used as weakly foaming and foam-mitigating surfactants in household cleaning agents, dishwashing agents and cleaning agents designed for the food industry (Bertleff et al. 1997). Other applications of AA include textile lubricants, agricultural chemicals, and rinse aid formulations.


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