UPDATED: FEBRUARY 2018
I remember fondly the days before I started using natural laundry detergents….While I was never was a big fan of cologne, I used to find a man who emitted the intoxicating scent of Tide to be irresistible.
For the last ten years, Daylon’s clothes have smelled like Tandi’s Naturals laundry soap—which is to say they smell like essentially nothing, and I wouldn’t have it any other way!
Read on to learn more about why I made the switch the natural laundry soaps, what to look out for in conventional laundry products, and how to avoid the Sneaky Stuff.
My Top Pick for the Best Natural Laundry Soap
Toxins in Laundry Detergent
All laundry detergents leave a residue on clothing, which is absorbed by our skin (and inhaled). The ill effects of some of the chemicals in detergents range from skin or eye irritation to possibly much more serious, such as endocrine disruption (some ingredients are even considered potential carcinogens, but I’m not going to suggest that if you don’t give up your Tide you’ll get cancer).
Best Natural Laundry Soap for Cloth Diapers
What Are the Ingredients in Tide?
Because of “trade secrets,” manufacturers are not required to disclose what’s in their laundry detergent, so the ingredient list is usually vague and not very helpful. Conventional laundry detergent generally contain the following:
- synthetic detergents, which are often made of petrochemicals
- phenols (established endocrine disruptors, of which BPA is the most notorious)
- beloved, delicious, and totally toxic fragrance (which usually contains phthalates)
- optical brighteners, which are often made from benzene, a definite carcinogen
- bleach, which contains chlorine (an environmental toxin–and possibly a carcinogen and endocrine disruptor)
- phosphates, which break down minerals and render detergent more effective, but with harmful environmental ramifications
A 2008 study found that of all the top selling laundry detergent brands tested, each contained at least one ingredient considered hazardous under federal law. None of these ingredients was listed on the label and the study didn’t disclose which brands were tested—annoying, I know!
Do You Need a Special Detergent for Baby Clothes?
When I was pregnant and setting up a nursery that would never be used (Felix slept with us), everyone told me to wash all of his clothes in Dreft. After a bit of research I decided against it (see below, under “The Bad Stuff”).
I’m sure there are people who separate baby linens from other household laundry–probably the same people who make their bed in the morning even if no one is coming over. While I envy such organization, I personally feel successful if a cloth diaper is washed separately from a cashmere sweater.
More importantly, if my laundry detergent is an irritant for my babies’ skin (or worse), I don’t want to use it on my clothes! My own health aside, when my boys were infants I spent about 30 percent of my day snuggling their little naked bodies to my clothed one, so I was determined to find a safe, natural laundry detergent.
Who Uses Powder Detergent?
I used to think no one did, but then I tried it and it turns out it works just as well as liquid. The only one I use now is Tandi’s natural laundry soap, since almost every “natural” laundry detergent brand is not natural at all. Tandi’s contains nothing concerning and works so much better than the Sneaky Stuff we used to use (I remember washing Felix’s bibs in Seventh Generation detergent and then pulling them out of the dryer and seeing food still stuck on the fronts). I didn’t think I could fall in love with a tallow-based, powder detergent, but there you go. Tandi’s is the best natural laundry detergent for babies’ clothes and mine.
Here’s a video of my dad demonstrating the super cool dispenser on his favorite brand of Good Stuff laundry soap, Pure.
The Good Stuff
Although this laundry liquid has a great safety profile, with an A from EWG, we had a number of customers complain that it faded the colors of their laundry, so we have chosen to stop carrying it in our online store.
This is a natural laundry soap rather than a detergent, and a perfect alternative to Tandi’s for those of you who want a vegan option for your laundry. Start with a glass jar, and then refill with eco-friendly bags. You can even set it and forget it by ordering via a subscription.
This is my favorite liquid natural laundry detergent–it’s got a safe ingredients list, works well, and smells nice. EWG score:
You guys have been asking about this one for years, and I am pleased to say that–after reviewing the ingredients in Fit’s various lines of natural laundry detergents–it is definitely Good Stuff! The surfactant is saponified coconut oil, and Fit laundry detergent doesn’t contain any of the usual gross preservatives. EWG score: A
If you love a detergent pod, here is your safest bet. GrabGreen contains a few mildly concerning ingredients (such as sodium metasilicate, which may have respiratory effects), but only in small concentrations. EWG score: B
PLEASE NOTE: Grab Green recently switched to synthetic fragrance (phthalate-free), so we only recommend the unscented natural laundry detergent. And their dish soap and hand soap should be avoided as they both contain SLES.
This awesome natural laundry detergent has a totally safe ingredients list, with the main cleaning agent being saponified organic coconut oil. The unscented variety is great for even those with the most sensitive skin (like babies). EWG score: A
MamaSuds is a deep cleaning, all natural laundry soap that is safe for cloth diapers. This is NOT a detergent, and therefore you will not need a fabric softener when using it. MamaSuds household cleaning products are simple, nontoxic, and eco-friendly. They are also incredibly effective and completely free of the Bad Stuff.
Note: This soap contains borax.
Molly’s Suds line of laundry products are safe, and even include some organic ingredients, such as peppermint oil.
MyGreenFills has a very cool concept (and would save a ton of plastic!). Their surfactant (sodium cocoate) is safe, but I wasn’t sure about the “fragrance from natural sources.” I did hear back from them and it’s 100% essential oils! I’m a convert:).
This natural laundry liquid has quickly become one of our favorite new laundry soaps! It is made from soap berries and does a great job. A little bit goes a long way, and the container has an easy to use measuring chamber. They come in a 2-pack which will wash 128 loads in an HE machine! (Here’s a video that shows you how to use this natural laundry soap!)
This is my favorite natural laundry detergent. It’s made in Germany, smells delish (although it’s also available in an unscented Neutral), and gets our clothes super clean. Of course, it contains none of the questionable ingredients listed above.
Tandi’s concentrated laundry soap is suitable for regular and HE washers. Tandi uses tallow as the basis for this soap, which she blends with natural cleaners like baking soda, plus essential oils for a delicate scent. This soap does not contain borax or SLS/SLES, and is a very effective option.
Almost all of Zum’s formulas are safe, with three primary ingredients: vegetable glycerin, saponified coconut oil, and baking soda. Avoid the Frankincense & Myrrh formula as it contains synthetic fragrance (although it is free of phthalates). EWG score: B-C, depending on formula
The Okay Stuff
Attitude laundry detergent contains a few mildly concerning ingredients, like allyl caproate and sodium coco-sulfate, but isn’t a terrible option if the Good Stuff is unavailable.
Honest Co.’s laundry pods are given an A by EWG, but I can only call them Okay Stuff, thanks to some semi-sketchy ingredients like polyvinyl alcohol.
Planet’s laundry detergent is an okay choice if you can’t find any of the Good Stuff, but I’m not crazy about the fact that it contains laureth-7, which contains a bunch of contamination concerns.
The Bad Stuff
Most big name and generic laundry detergents have the same bad stuff in them; if a bottle doesn’t list its specific ingredients on the label, I wouldn’t use it.
Dreft, as we all know, is marketed as being special for babies and recommended by many pediatricians. Amazingly, nowhere on Dreft.com are ingredients mentioned. The closest they come is under their FAQ:
Q: How is Dreft formulated for my baby’s laundry needs?
A: The Dreft® formula is designed to not only help fight tough baby and toddler stains, but also provide a gentle clean for baby.
With a bit more sleuthing, I was at last able to dig up a list of Dreft ingredients. Fragrance, propylene glycol,ethanolamine, ethanol, sodium hydroxide, diethylene glycol, polyethylene glycol 4000 (which Skin Deep scores as 5-8), and about a dozen other ingredients make up the “gentle” clean of Dreft. EWG score: D-F, depending on formula.
Tide has a section of its website devoted to product ingredients, and a quick scan reveals that it’s made up of lots of stuff that the EWG’s Skin Deep Database scores as moderately to highly hazardous—such as benzisothiazolinone, fragrance, FD&C Yellow 3, and laureth-9. EWG score: D-F, depending on formula.
The Sneaky Stuff
BabyGanics Loads of Love Laundry Detergent. Contains SLES and undisclosed conditioning agents. I like that they are relatively transparent about all of their ingredients, and while nothing sounds particularly horrid, when I asked for more details on what was meant by “naturally derived plant based cleaning agents,” they admitted: “Our products do not contain SLS however some our products do have SLES in them.” Yuck! I’ve often made my peace with SLS, but definitely not with its more sinister cousin, which is sometimes contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, a well-established carcinogen. EWG Score: F.
BioKleen uses cocamidopropyl betaine as a surfactant, so I cannot call this Okay Stuff.
Caldrea Laundry Detergent. Also contains neurotoxic methylisothiazolinone and sodium laureth sulfate. EWG score: F.
Charlie’s Soap is the perennial favorite on tons of natural living blogs, and having used their powder formula, I can attest to its effectiveness. Like other producers, Charlie’s is unwilling to provide their exact ingredients, and would only say this when I probed them further: “Our formulas are what make us special. They have been fully tested for toxicity (Duke University) and biodegradability (Japan Food Research Labs) and effectiveness (SGS US Testing Labs). They are unique and (following the practices of Coca-Cola) secret. Their formula is secret too, but that doesn’t keep folks from drinking it.” Hmmm, comparing themselves to Coke probably isn’t Charlie’s savviest PR move—The Coca-Cola Company is not exactly exemplary when it comes to concern for the health of its consumers. While Charlie’s denies using SLS or SLES, one of the ingredients they disclosed is sodium metasilicate–which Skin Deeps considers moderately hazardous and which the Journal of Reproduction and Fertility found to show reproductive effects in animals at low doses. EWG Score: D
Citra-Suds has also been moved from Good Stuff to Sneaky Stuff. One of my readers suspected that their laundry detergent contains sodium laureth sulfate and I followed up to discover that it does. When doing the initial review, I had an email exchange with a company representative and I asked twice if their laundry detergent contained SLES. I was told that it did not. I suspect that the woman I talked to was just uniformed, but this is no excuse. In addition, some Citra products (laundry and otherwise) contain limonene, a potential carcinogen and definite respiratory irritant. I was told they used orange oil for fragrance, which is a misleading answer as orange oil is technically a different (and harmless) ingredient. It also contains neurotoxic methylisothiazolinon. EWG Score: C.
Dapple’s various laundry detergents contain tetrasodium iminodisuccinate (which gets a C from EWG), cocamidopropyl betaine (which also gets a C), and benzisothiazolinone, which is a concerning preservative.
Ecover gets an A from EWG, but because it contains sodium laureth sulfate, which is known to be contaminated with carcinogenic 1,4-dioxane, I consider it to be Sneaky Stuff.
Green Works Free & Clear Detergent contains a number of bad ingredients, including synthetic preservatives. EWG score: F.
If You Care’s laundry liquid contains yucky preservatives like methylisothiazolinone as well as PEG-chemicals.
Method laundry products contain a number of concerning ingredients, from synthetic fragrance to PEG chemicals.
Nellie’s All Natural Laundry Soap contains a number of ingredients of concern, including alcohol ethoxylates (which gets a D from EWG), sodium metasilicate (which gets an F), and cocomide DEA (another F).
Ology Laundry Liquid contains a bunch of ingredients that give me pause, from laureth-7 to cocamidopropyl betaine. I don’t know why EWG gives this laundry detergent an A, but I strongly disagree with this assessment.
Puracy laundry detergent contains borax, which doesn’t worry me, but which I know many of my readers would prefer to avoid. Worse, it uses cocamidopropyl betaine as a surfactant.
Seventh Generation Liquid Formulas. Also contains methylisothiazolinone. The powder formulas are okay, but not quite Good Stuff. EWG Score: D.
A Note on Drycleaning
Be wary of organic dry-cleaning establishments. These are almost always sneaky! Learn how to find truly safe professional cleaning services in our recent blog meh “The Truth About Organic Drycleaning.”