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I love laundry – said no one ever!
However, since neither dirty clothes nor nudism are viable options, laundry it is! If you add two adults and three kids, my pile looks a bit like Mt Everest and my need for laundry detergent is never-ending!
Not all laundry detergent is created equal.
So if adopting a more sustainable lifestyle is your goal, switching to a more eco-friendly laundry detergent is a crucial step in the right direction.
And it’s not enough to just ditch the plastic packaging. To ensure you’re using a truly eco-friendly laundry detergent, you also need to pay attention to what ingredients are (or are not) inside! Choosing the wrong formula could mean doing undue damage to the atmosphere, water supply, and your family’s skin.
If you want to jump straight to saving the planet, Earth Breeze Eco Sheets are my go-to fool-proof alternative to heavy liquid detergents and plastic bottles. You can buy it once-off or subscribe, which is my preferred option – did I say my need for laundry ‘detergent’ (sheets, in this case) never ends?
However, there are several great eco-friendly laundry detergents available to choose from!
How Does Laundry Detergent Work?
While it’s possible to wash clothing using just water, it’s no easy task. And the end result will still contain lingering stains, odors, and grime.
Laundry detergent is designed to safely clean your clothes, bed linens, and other household goods without the back-breaking work of manual scrubbing.
The most basic function of laundry detergent is to bridge the molecular gap between dirt and water.
Water itself isn’t able to “grab” onto dirt very well. Detergent is extremely good at grabbing onto both dirt and water at the same time. Once all three molecules are connected, they can be more easily washed from the fibers or your clothes.
If you’ve ever wondered why laundry detergent doesn’t do much until water is added, this unique molecular relationship is the answer!
What Is Laundry Detergent Made Of?
Like most household chemicals, laundry detergent contains many different ingredients. And each brand of laundry detergent will feature a unique combination of these ingredients.
Most of these ingredients can be grouped into one of the following categories:
Surfactants are the key ingredients in laundry detergent. They are what allow laundry detergent to join forces with water and remove dirt and grime from our clothes.
Alkalies are another category of ingredients that actually “wash away” dirt. They help remove ingrained dirt without physical scrubbing (which can lessen the chance of pilling or thinning clothes). Many alkaline ingredients specifically target oil and grease.
Alkaline ingredients can range in strength — stronger alkalies have the potential to damage fabric or injure exposed skin. Baking soda is an example of a mild alkali that works well for many laundry applications.
Brighteners are often added to laundry detergent to make washed clothing look cleaner and brighter than it was pre-wash.
It’s important to note that brightening ingredients do not actually clean your laundry. Instead, they work by adhering to your clothing and slightly changing the color to make it appear whiter.
You’ve probably seen laundry detergent commercials promising to clean your clothes with powerful enzymes. But do you actually know what an enzyme is?
Enzymes are a type of molecule that interacts with other molecules. Each subcategory of enzyme works with very specific types of molecules. The enzymes used in laundry detergents are typically selected for their ability to target specific types of stains, contaminants, and materials.
These molecules aren’t present in all laundry detergent formulas. But those that do include enzymes tend to advertise that fact loudly and proudly.
Added fragrance is not inherently harmful. It can add a lovely aroma to your freshly washed laundry and linen closet.
Research shows that dryer vents may contribute a significant amount of air pollution to the environment. Much of this air pollution is the result of laundry detergent ingredients (including fragrances) being funneled outside of your home.
Another of the biggest concerns with using scented laundry detergent is the risk of causing irritation or an allergic reaction. If you or someone in your home has a sensitive nose or skin, fragrance-free laundry detergent is the safest option!
Many laundry detergents contain dyes or colorants. These ingredients serve no purpose except to change the color of the laundry detergent itself.
Like fragrances, dyes don’t need to be avoided at all costs. But they do represent an unnecessary chemical present in most popular laundry detergent formulas.
How Do You Know If Laundry Detergent Is Eco-Friendly?
Now that we know a bit about what laundry detergent is and how it cleans our clothes, it’s time for the most important questions of all:
Is laundry detergent sustainable? And are some products more eco-friendly than others?
In short: Yes, laundry detergent can be sustainable. And — again — yes, some laundry detergents are much better for the environment than others.
More and more household brands, including laundry detergent manufacturers, are prioritizing eco-friendliness in their advertising. As all eco-conscious consumers know, however, you can’t always judge a book by its cover.
Here’s what to know about laundry detergents that are and are not eco-friendly, and how to educate yourself to easily tell the difference:
How is the laundry detergent packaged?
Packaging, packaging, packaging!
Firstly, you need to consider what type of packaging your favorite laundry detergent comes in. Is it packaged in a plastic bottle? Does it come in a paper bag? Or is it sold in glass jugs?
The most eco-friendly laundry detergents come in packaging that is either recyclable or compostable. Earth Breeze Eco Sheets – described below – is a great example of plastic-free and fully compostable packaging!
Avoid laundry detergents that come in bulky plastic bottles or containers. You should also look for brands that limit the amount of packaging used for each product, as well.
Where do the ingredients come from?
Most ingredients in consumer products are not inherently harmful by themselves. But it’s important to know where those ingredients come from and how they’re produced.
Many laundry detergents are made with petroleum-based ingredients. Petroleum is another term for crude oil.
Crude oil is not only a non-renewable resource but is also a large contributor to global pollution. So there’s really no space for petroleum-based products in a sustainable lifestyle!
Not all laundry detergent manufacturers are upfront about the fact that their formulas include petroleum-based ingredients. Instead, you should look for brands that advertise 100% plant-based ingredients. These products are free of petroleum.
Does it contain unnecessary ingredients?
Green living is often just as much about reducing our use of unnecessary ingredients as it is about eliminating their use entirely. So whether or not a particular laundry detergent contains additives like fragrances and dyes can play a role in its sustainability.
Generally, the shorter the ingredient list of a household product, the better it is for the environment. (Of course, this is just a rule of thumb… always use your best judgment!)
While switching to a dye- or fragrance-free laundry detergent might not seem like a huge change, it has a very real impact on the number of pollutants entering the environment every time you wash your clothes.
Most Eco-Friendly Laundry Detergent in 2021
Best Overall — Earth Breeze Eco Sheets
If you want to support a company that donates time, money, and goods to worthwhile causes, then Earth Breeze is definitely one to check out. Earth Breeze Eco Sheets are dissolvable laundry detergent sheets that work in both hot and cold water.
The extra bonus with this product is their plastic-free packaging! It is definitely one of the most sustainable options as far as packaging goes!
Scented and fragrance-free versions are available — perfect for anyone with sensitive skin. I even had the chance to try them for myself and shared my thoughts through this Earth Breeze laundry sheets review article!
Earth Breeze Eco Sheets can be used for hand-washing and in high-efficiency machines. They are also safe for use in most septic systems.
Each package includes 30 detergent sheets for up to 60 loads of laundry!
Earth Breeze Eco Sheets boast a surprisingly short ingredient list. All ingredients are vegan and bleach-, paraben-, gluten-, and dye-free.
However, this laundry detergent does include some synthetic ingredients (including some derived from petroleum).
How Is It Packaged?
One of the best things about Earth Breeze Eco Sheets is that they eliminate the need for plastic packaging. Instead, these laundry sheets are packaged in recyclable and compostable cardboard.
Best Premium Ingredients — Charlie’s Soap Laundry Powder
Powdered laundry detergent is both easy to use and (more often than not) extremely economical. If you’re disappointed in the number of ingredients in your current laundry powder, consider switching to Charlie’s Soap Laundry Powder instead.
Charlie’s Soap Laundry Powder is only available in a fragrance-free formula. It’s safe to use for hand-washing, septic systems, and high-efficiency washers.
Only 1 tablespoon is needed for the average load of laundry. You can purchase this eco-friendly detergent in 50-, 100-, and 300-load bags.
This laundry detergent is a great choice if you’re looking to limit the number of ingredients in your household cleaners. Charlie’s Soap Laundry Powder contains just a few ingredients: Sodium carbonate, two plant-based surfactants, and sodium metasilicate.
This laundry detergent is free of dyes, brighteners, and phosphates. It is also vegan and is never tested on animals.
How Is It Packaged?
Sadly, no one has figured out how to package powdered laundry detergent without using plastic.
Charlie’s Soap Laundry Powder is packaged in #7 plastic and can be recycled through some residential programs. Check with your local recycling center before adding this packaging to your home bin!
Best Budget Option — Molly’s Suds Laundry Powder
What do you get when you remove the unnecessary ingredients from a laundry detergent? In most cases, you get a plain-looking powder. Molly’s Suds Laundry Powder is a simple, eco-friendly detergent that’s safe to use in septic systems and high-efficiency washers.
Molly’s Suds Laundry Powder comes in several scents, including Original Peppermint and Unscented. Lotus & Peony and Citrus Grove were recently added to the brand’s scent lineup, with even more new fragrances possibly on the way.
You can purchase this eco-friendly laundry detergent in packages containing 70 or 120 scoops. Each package delivers up to 70 or 120 loads of laundry, respectively.
This laundry detergent has one of the shortest ingredient lists on the market. Five ingredients make up Molly’s Suds Laundry Powder: Sodium carbonate, sodium bicarbonate, magnesium sulfate, sea salt, and natural fragrance.
All Molly’s Suds Laundry Powder formulas are free of optical brighteners, dyes, parabens, and phosphates. They are also vegan and cruelty-free.
How Is It Packaged?
Unfortunately, Molly’s Suds Laundry Powder is packaged in plastic bags. This is because more eco-friendly packaging wouldn’t protect the powder from moisture and other damaging elements.
The good news is that the company recognizes the need for more sustainable packaging and is updating its products when possible. The current packaging can be recycled anywhere #7 plastic is accepted.
Best for Simplicity — Kind Laundry Detergent Sheets
The Kind Laundry Detergent Sheets are a great option for anyone looking to take the measuring and mess out of washing their clothes.
These sheets are completely plastic-free and safe to use in standard and high-efficiency machines. You can also hand-wash your laundry with this product (just use half a sheet instead of a full one!).
Kind Laundry Detergent Sheets are available in an Ocean Breeze scent or Fragrance-Free version. Each box contains 60 sheets for up to 60 separate loads of laundry.
These laundry detergent sheets are made of just a handful of ingredients. The main cleaning agents in this formula, sodium dodecyl sulfate and fatty alcohol polyglycol ether, are both derived from natural coconut oil.
While Kind Laundry Detergent Sheets do contain polyvinyl alcohol, the compound is plant-based rather than derived from crude oil.
Otherwise, this laundry detergent is vegan and free of parabens, dyes, bleaches, and other harmful ingredients.
How Is It Packaged?
Kind Laundry Detergent Sheets come in a super simple and eco-friendly cardboard box. There’s no plastic to speak of and the entire package is easily recycled.
Best Specialty Formulas — Dropps Detergent Pods
Finding an eco-friendly laundry detergent that meets your exact needs isn’t easy. But Dropps Detergent Pods are available in several formulas to suit any mess or lifestyle. Along with the original Stain & Odor formula, Dropps also offers Sensitive Skin and Active Wash Detergent Pods.
Each line is available in scented and unscented versions. You can use Dropps Detergent Pods in standard and high-efficiency machines. Dropps recommends using the Sensitive Skin line for hand-washing.
Dropps Detergent Pods are available in boxes of 56, 140, and 210. Each box features a simple child lock that can help deter curious kids and pets.
Related post: Dropps Review: Plant Powered Cleaning That Works
Each variety of Dropps Detergent Pods features a diverse ingredient list. But Dropps does clearly label each ingredient — many of which are plant-based — and its exact purpose.
The pods are free of dyes, chlorine, brighteners, parabens, and phosphates. They are also vegan and cruelty-free.
It’s unclear if the polyvinyl alcohol used in Dropps Detergent Pods is plant- or petroleum-derived. However, each detergent pod does feature a bitter film to prevent accidental ingestion.
How Is It Packaged?
Dropps Detergent Pods come in recycled cardboard packaging that is both recyclable and compostable.
Best Child-Safe Pods — Stoneworks Laundry Detergent Pods
Stoneworks Laundry Detergent Pods aren’t just eco-friendly. They also offer extra peace of mind for parents of young children. Each pod is coated with a bitter layer that deters children and pets from accidental ingestion.
Stoneworks Laundry Detergent Pods come in four scents, plus a completely fragrance-free option.
Each package includes 50 pods (or up to 50 total loads of laundry) which can be used in standard and high-efficiency washers.
Stoneworks Laundry Detergent Pods might contain more ingredients than some other eco-friendly formulas, the way each ingredient is clearly labeled is quite impressive. There’s no question about what is or is not in these pods — even the fragrances are individually listed!
These laundry detergent pods are made of 94% naturally derived ingredients. The remaining 6% includes compounds like polyvinyl alcohol (a water-soluble petroleum byproduct).
Stoneworks Laundry Detergent Pods are free of optical brighteners, dyes, and chlorines. Also, they are vegan and are not tested on animals.
How Is It Packaged?
While these laundry detergent pods are seemingly packaged in a paper bag printed with water-based inks, the interior features a plastic lining. The packaging can not be recycled or composted.
Best Liquid Formula — Biokleen Eco-Bottle Laundry Liquid
If you just can’t go without liquid laundry detergent, the Biokleen Eco-Bottle Laundry Liquid is probably your best option. This liquid detergent uses more sustainable ingredients and packaging than most formulas found in your local store.
Biokleen currently offers two versions of this detergent: Citrus Essence and Free & Clear. The Free & Clear formula is unscented.
Each bottle of Biokleen Eco-Bottle Laundry Liquid contains up to 32 standard loads or 64 high-efficiency loads.
It’s hard to make a liquid laundry detergent that’s also eco-friendly. As a result, the Biokleen Eco-Bottle Laundry Liquid contains more ingredients than the other formulas on this list. But Biokleen does clearly label the sources of each ingredient.
This liquid detergent is both vegan and cruelty-free in terms of testing. It is almost entirely plant-based and is free of artificial dyes and fragrances.
How Is It Packaged?
The biggest obstacle in creating an eco-friendly liquid laundry detergent is how to package it. Biokleen Eco-Bottle Laundry Liquid is packaged in plastic and cardboard — the brand claims that this packaging contains 70% less plastic than standard bottles,
Keep in mind that not all Biokleen products are packaged this way. Only the Biokleen Eco-Bottle line features packaging made of recycled cardboard.
Best Lightweight Packaging — Tru Earth Eco-Strips
Dissolvable detergent sheets are easily the most lightweight and space-efficient option out there. Tru Earth Eco-Strips is another laundry detergent taking advantage of this concept to reduce the amount of plastic packaging being used.
These laundry detergent sheets are available in a classic Fresh Linen scent and Fragrance Free formula for those with sensitive skin. They work well in high-efficiency washers and can be used for hand-washing.
Each package of Tru Earth Eco-Strips contains 32 sheets for up to 32 loads of laundry.
These laundry sheets contain 13 ingredients (or 12, when it comes to the Fragrance Free formula). While there are many eco-friendly laundry detergents that contain fewer ingredients, Tru Earth does a good job of labeling each of its ingredients.
True Earth Eco-Strips are paraben-, dye-, bleach-, and phosphate-free. Of course, they are also vegan and are free of animal testing.
How Is It Packaged?
Tru Earth Eco-Strips are packaged in fully recyclable and compostable cardboard. According to Tru Earth, the lightweight packaging even reduces transmission emissions by 94% compared to traditional laundry detergent.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is laundry detergent toxic?
Yes, in some ways. However, the current research suggests that laundry detergent is more toxic to the environment as a whole than to us as individuals.
Some people worry that the laundry detergent used to wash their clothes can stick around and seep through their skin. But laundry detergent is more likely to cause damage through ingestion or inhalation.
Of course, laundry detergent should never be ingested on purpose. Even eco-friendly laundry detergent should be kept away from curious pets and children!
Does baking soda brighten clothes?
Baking soda is not 100% eco-friendly (very few things are). But it is a great alternative to harsh laundry detergents and additives in many cases.
Baking soda can be used to deodorize, brighten, and otherwise clean clothes. It also works as a fabric softener.
Is hand-washing laundry more sustainable?
Yes! While no one should feel guilty for taking advantage of the modern washing machine and dryer, it’s true that hand-washing your clothes can save both water and energy.
Consider hand-washing delicate and small loads instead of running your washing machine. This can conserve water and reduce the amount of laundry detergent used.
Remember: Just because you own a washing machine doesn’t mean that hand-washing is no longer an option! There’s a time and place for both within a sustainable lifestyle.
Is bleach eco-friendly?
Bleach is one of the most effective ways to whiten and brighten soiled clothing. Yet it’s one of the first chemicals abandoned by those wanting to live a greener life.
There actually isn’t much evidence that bleach in wastewater is toxic to the environment. The issue with bleach is that manufacturing it contributes to organochlorine pollution.
In other words, no, bleach isn’t the most eco-friendly option for whitening your laundry.
Can you use eco-friendly laundry detergent in an HE washer?
An HE (or high-efficiency) washer requires special laundry detergent to work properly. Before using a new laundry detergent in your HE washer, double-check the label to confirm that the two are compatible.
The good news is that most laundry detergents on the market today are compatible with HE washers. That includes eco-friendly laundry detergent brands.
Last update on 2021-09-11 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API