The Laundress, a New York-based luxury detergent and fabric care brand that made a name for itself online thanks to non-toxic, cruelty-free and biodegradable products, issued a safety notice Thursday warning that some of them may contain “elevated levels of bacteria.”
The company shared the message in an Instagram post and on their website, though not on their Twitter account, which has been dormant since June. It asks customers to “immediately stop using all The Laundress products in your possession” due to the safety concern raised by potential contamination by bacteria. While the notice did not specify which products could be affected, it promised a forthcoming update with more specifics and information on securing reimbursement or replacement.
“Based on our investigation to date, we are not aware of any adverse health impacts related to this issue,” the brand assured its users.
Currently, many of The Laundress’ specialized detergents, conditioners and washes are listed as “out of stock” on the site. They remain available for sale on Amazon, however.
Across social media, customers registered their frustration at the vagueness of the warning. The top comment on the Instagram post, from brand strategist and fashion influencer Nicolette Mason, reads, “This really requires more info and clarity, batch numbers, specifics.” Another person joked, “And this is why you don’t pay $50 for laundry detergent.” Beauty blogger Kristina Mikulic called it a “little story about scary and dangerous ‘No Preservatives’ brands can be.”
In an email to Rolling Stone, The Laundress team emphasized that as of Friday, they had updated their website with an FAQ section addressing the news and are working with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission on the issue. They decided in the meantime, however, that “it would be best to issue a stop-sale notice to our retailers and wholesalers and a safety notice to our consumers.”
The FAQs reveal that the pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa may be present in some products. “People with a healthy immune system are usually not affected by these bacteria,” The Laundress explained, but people with weakened immune systems or external medical devices could suffer serious infection from it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that it “can cause infections in the blood, lungs (pneumonia), or other parts of the body after surgery.” Hospital patients are some of the most at risk, including those on ventilators or using catheters.
Some customers who contacted The Laundress with further questions received a form email stating that “a high volume of inquiries” prevented them from responding in detail right away. “If you have questions about your health, please contact your doctor,” it advised anyone who might be emailing about the safety notice.
New York State Sen. Alessandra Biaggi was unsatisfied with the brand’s initial announcement on Thursday. “Your message is understandably your legal counsel’s attempt to [cover your ass],” she tweeted, “but its ambiguity achieves the opposite. Be clear. Be transparent.”
When asked for a response to Biaggi’s criticism, The Laundress did not acknowledge the tweet.
The company, founded in 2004 when fashion executives Gwen Whiting and Lindsey Boyd “set out to revolutionize laundry,” is the latest internet-favorite business to run into health concerns this year — and face a backlash for their handling of the situation.
In June, hundreds fell ill (some even having their gallbladders removed) after eating “Lentil & Leek Crumbles” from the vegan meal kit company Daily Harvest. The symptoms were later connected to the ingredient tara flour, and the company now faces multiple lawsuits. Later that summer, a TikTok-famous chef’s viral condiment “Pink Sauce,” which she sold through the mail from her home in Miami, was revealed to be non-compliant with FDA packaging standards and bottled without preservatives. It also contained milk but was shipped at room temperature and bore no instructions to refrigerate. Both cases turned into major online dramas as customers shared their horror stories. The vendors faced heavy criticism for failing to take responsibility and ensure that all were informed of the dangers of eating the product in question.
“Thank god I happened to stumble on this info,” tweeted one customer of The Laundress’ safety notice, sounding a similar note. “I got mine from a third party seller and received no email, no nothing.”
So far, The Laundress has people panicked that their high-end, eco-friendly detergents and soaps may be unsafe, but no sickness has yet been attributed to them. If their communications are the worst of this, they should be able to weather public opinion — but any additional damage could make this mess very hard to clean up.