Military Uniforms & Optical Brighteners

Optical brighteners may not be scary to the average person, but for our military, avoiding them can save lives.

What are optical brighteners? Found in most traditional detergents, these brighteners are added to make sure your clothes stay bright and white. While this may sound great, they work by coating clothes with fluorescent particles that convert ultraviolet light to visible light – without making the clothes any more clean than they would be without them. When the light is reflected outward, clothes appear cleaner than they really are.

In military combat situations, using detergent that contains optical brighteners can be dangerous. Night vision lenses can pick up the ultraviolet light on the uniforms, making military uniforms an easily seen target. To help keep them protected at home and overseas, our military uses only military-approved laundry detergents detergents free of optical brighteners, like Seventh Generation. 

We don’t use artificial brighteners for other reasons, too. A real clean shouldn’t be an optical illusion. Designed to intentionally remain behind on our clothes and linens, these brighteners rub off on skin and wash down our drains, often surviving wastewater treatment before they enter the environment. Get the full scoop on optical brighteners and why we don’t use them from Cara B, Manager of Research and Development.