The Safest Laundry Detergents You Can Use
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Warning: Toxic chemicals may be lurking in your laundry detergent. Here’s what you need to know to stay safe and get your clothes truly clean.
Sure, you can toss any old pod or liquid detergent into your laundry routine, but that isn’t necessarily the best idea. Have you ever stopped to consider what goes into the products that are cleaning your clothing and then coming into contact with your skin? Not only can detergents be packed with artificial fragrances that are strong enough to bother your neighbors, but most are also filled with chemicals that can lead to skin irritation, trigger allergic reactions, and even harm the environment. That’s why it’s so important to find a laundry detergent that’s as safe as it is effective.
But with so much to sort through on product labels, it can be hard to separate the good from the bad. One quick trick that will get you on the right path? Look for a detergent that’s fragrance-free, especially if you have sensitive skin, recommends dermatologist Kristin Baird, MD, the founder and medical director of Green Goo. “Fragrances in laundry detergent can lead to skin irritation, which can cause rashes, eczema, and itching,” she explains. You can always add ingredients to your laundry to cater to your scent preferences. But that’s just the first step. Read on to learn what else you need to know and to find some of the safest laundry detergents on the market, beloved by both experts and ordinary people.
Beware of hidden chemicals
Before we get to our specific recommendations, it’s important to understand how to read labels. The issue? Many brands have found ways to get around listing potentially harmful ingredients that are not safe for your skin. “Fragrance is considered to be a trade secret, so brand formulas are proprietary and the individual ingredients are not required to be listed on the label,” explains Tonya Harris, an award-winning environmental toxin expert and the creator of the Slightly Greener Method. “Fragrances in detergent can be made up of dozens of ingredients, of which some may be allergenic [and] toxic to the brain and nervous or respiratory system.” Instead, opt for a fragrance-free formula and add essential oils to your dryer balls for an extra scent boost at the end.
You should also stay away from phosphates and petrochemicals. Phosphates are chemicals that are not biodegradable, and they contribute to pollution in natural bodies of water. In 2014, Procter & Gamble, the manufacturer behind Tide and Gain, set out to eliminate phosphates from its detergents. Today, adding phosphates to detergent is banned in the United States, so you won’t encounter them often in your laundry products, but you still want to watch out for them, just in case. Petrochemicals, on the other hand, are a more common detergent ingredient that can have adverse effects on both your skin and the environment. They’re derived from petroleum and other fossil fuels, and they’re a common ingredient in detergent fragrances.
The bottom line: Look for detergents that contain biodegradable ingredients and are free of dyes and fragrances. Unfortunately, many well-known detergents don’t excel at these standards, so the safest detergents might be ones whose names you may not have heard of before. Don’t worry: In a world where everyone is marketing their products as “clean,” we did the research for you. Simply scroll below to see which option is right for you.
Best all-around safe detergent: Molly’s Suds
Harris gives Molly’s Suds a glowing review. “It contains fewer than four simple ingredients, is gentle on skin, and still works well to get your clothes clean,” she says. The powder was developed to be eco-friendly and people-safe, even for babies. If you are chemically sensitive or suffer from allergies or eczema, Molly’s Suds is a quality choice and a safe bet. For a normal load, just add 1 tablespoon of the laundry powder to your machine and your clothes will come out fresh and clean.
Best detergent for very sensitive skin: Pardo Naturals Laundry Detergent
If you thought you had to sacrifice your skin for odor-free clothing, think again. If you have sensitive skin, Harris highly recommends Pardo Naturals detergent, which has just three ingredients. Made from Castile soap, baking soda, and washing soda, it is simple, effective, and kind to your body and clothes. There are also lavender and citrus formulations, which use all-natural essential oils to add a light scent. To increase the softness of your clothes, the brand recommends adding a bit of white vinegar in the fabric softener compartment. Yes, vinegar! Here are another 95 household uses for vinegar you never knew about.
Best drugstore brand: Seventh Generation Free & Clear Natural Liquid Laundry Detergent
Seventh Generation’s plant- and mineral-based formulas are safe for your skin and the environment, which is why it’s such a popular household brand. Made from 97 percent of plant-based ingredients, this detergent has been tested by many dermatologists for safe use on sensitive skin. According to the manufacturer, it’s designed to make everyday cleaning more sustainable by using biodegradable ingredients that won’t pollute the Earth.
Best scented detergent: Method Concentrated Laundry Detergent
This biodegradable and hypoallergenic detergent from Method is proof positive that plant-based formulas can still be incredibly effective against dirt and stains. While the brand does have a Free & Clear option, it also offers clean scents like Spring Garden, Fresh Air, and Nectarine Blossom that will make you want to snuggle up into your clean laundry. Plus, it’s cost-effective: This detergent is concentrated, which means that each 53.5-ounce bottle contains enough detergent for 66 loads. It can also be used in both HE and standard washers.
Best liquid detergent: GO by Greenshield Organic Laundry Detergent
Customers love this natural laundry detergent not just because it doesn’t bother their skin but also because a little bit goes a long way. Since you use such small amounts, according to one happy reviewer, it lasts longer than most laundry detergents, giving you 100 washes compared to the usual 60 washes per bottle. Plus, it’s certified organic, free of dyes, easily gets stains out, and protects colors. Perhaps best of all, the ingredients come from sustainable resources and aren’t tested on animals.
Best detergent pods: Dropps Detergent Pods
This formula is so safe, you could bathe in it! It’s fragrance-free, dye-free, phosphate-free, paraben-free, and phthalate-free, and it’s conveniently portioned out for you in each Dropp. The packaging is also eco-friendly and compostable. You can buy a single package, or you can subscribe to have Dropps delivered to your house every four months.
Best detergent sheets: ECOS Liquidless Laundry Detergent
Say goodbye to laundry detergent in jugs, and never use too much laundry detergent again. Believe it or not, this safe laundry detergent comes in lightweight square sheets that dissolve completely in all water temperatures and work in both HE and standard machines. Since it’s pre-portioned, you don’t have to think about how much detergent is going into each load.
One reviewer loves the way they leave her clothes feeling and also finds them easy for the entire family to use. “My little kid helps throw one in the wash, which is a great way to have him be involved with home chores (that would have been many more years before he could pour detergent into a cup without making a mess),” she writes. “It’s truly unscented and leaves our clothes feeling clean. Plus, these will be great to take when we travel, whereas a jug can be bulky and messy.”
Best value: BioKleen Laundry Detergent
Powder detergent is often more concentrated than liquid, which means you can get more washes for your money. That’s a definite bonus since some of the safest laundry detergents also come with a hefty price tag. But with BioKleen, you can do 150 loads for just $14. Made with just 10 ingredients (most of which are plant-based), this detergent won’t leave any harsh fumes or residue on your clothing.
Best splurge: The Laundress Signature Detergent
While this detergent might cost more than what you typically see on the shelves of your local grocery store, it’s worth every penny. The Laundress’ products are eco-friendly, non-toxic, biodegradable, and allergen-free. They’re also free of petroleum, phosphate, phthalates, and artificial colors. The lovely scent of this detergent also delights its fans with a combination of lily of the valley, jasmine, sweet musk, sandalwood, and a touch of citrus. It’s the ultimate clean-laundry scent that’ll linger for days after your clothes have come out of the washer. While you might not want to use it on all of your items since it’s pricey, we highly recommend it for your bedding to make your bed even cozier.
Best detergent for stubborn stains: Botanical Origin Laundry Detergent
Botanical Origin, whose goal is to be completely carbon neutral by 2040, serves up a plant-based laundry detergent that is free from dyes, brighteners, parabens, chlorine, phosphates, and artificial preservatives. Deemed hypoallergenic by dermatologists, it is safe enough for babies but still strong enough to fight all types of tough stains. Plus, its orange-blossom and citrus scent will make you smile. Next, learn the truth behind these laundry myths that are ruining your clothes.
Best deep cleaning detergent: Tide Hygienic Clean Free & Gentle
You know Tide to be a mainstream laundry detergent that works hard on stains and stink. This newer version works just as well—it contains 10 cleaning ingredients that get between fibers to bust hidden dirt and grime—but is hypoallergenic and has zero dyes or perfumes. In fact, Tide Hygienic Clean Free & Gentle is recognized by the National Eczema Association and the National Psoriasis Foundation for being gentle on sensitive skin. Comes in liquid and pods.
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