10 Best Eco-Friendly Laundry Detergents (2021)
When it comes to making our laundry room more eco-friendly, we mostly think of having the latest washing machines and dryers. And while having more energy-efficient appliances will have a big impact on your carbon footprint, there are other impacts of keeping your clothes clean.
What I want to focus on today is using eco-friendly laundry detergents in order to reduce your environmental impact.
To guide you through this, I will show you why it’s important, what to watch out for on packaging and ingredient lists, and I have a list of great products for you as well.
Let’s dive right in.
What Makes A Laundry Detergent Eco-Friendly? Is It Just a Hoax?
As mentioned above, making sure that your machine doesn’t contribute too much to climate issues is just one part of its environmental impact. Switching to an eco-friendly laundry detergent is just as important.
But what does it actually mean?
OK, the first thing to look at is the chemical ingredients on the label. And when you look past the misleading advertising, you’ll often find stuff that isn’t great for the environment or your skin, for that matter.
So, the first thing you want to check is whether there is any phosphate. Generally speaking, this shouldn’t be in any detergent or soap that is biodegradable. There should also be no chlorine bleach or brighteners as these almost always introduce chemicals into places where they don't belong.
The problem with such laundry detergent ingredients is that they can end up in lakes, rivers, and groundwater because they are mostly not filtered out in water treatment plants.
The other thing to consider is using concentrated or powder laundry detergents. They have a lower carbon footprint because the weight to dosage ratio is lower. That means there is less carbon tied up in transport.
There are two things to look at here.
First of all, if you prefer buying a liquid laundry detergent, then ideally, you want it to come in plastic-free and compostable bottles. These types of bottles are becoming more common so look out for them.
Alternatively, make sure that the plastic bottle is fully recyclable so that it doesn’t end up in a landfill.
And for powder laundry detergent, make sure that the packaging is plastic-free. That ensures that it’s fully recyclable or gives you the option of composting it as well.
Bottom line, if there’s any indication that parts of the packaging will end up at a landfill, then stay away from the product altogether.
Watch Out for These Harmful Detergent Ingredients
I’ll recommend eco-friendly laundry detergent products shortly. But the first thing you should do is check your existing stock of powder and liquid detergents.
And I’ve gathered a list of some ingredients that are very common in a traditional detergent. Unfortunately, common also means harmful to the environment, and these are things that you don’t want to find on an eco-friendly laundry detergent label.
Sodium Laureth Sulfate
First of all, this difficult to pronounce chemical compound can be harmful to the skin and is often the main reason people with sensitive skin have reactions to certain laundry detergents. But did you also know that it’s a common organic herbicide?
So, when your laundry detergent ends up in nature it can actually kill off vegetation.
Phosphates are very common in laundry detergent products, and they generally don't get filtered out in water treatment plants. When they enter natural waterways, they cause eutrophication which is a form of poisoning that kills marine animals.
These are generally quite irritating and not just to people with sensitive skin. There’s a reason detergents with these ingredients say that you have to keep it away from your eyes. But those optical brighteners also have a direct toxic impact on marine life.
Chlorine is toxic even in small amounts. And you just have to spend some time in a chlorinated swimming pool without goggles to understand this effect. But that bleaching effect can also impact marine vegetation.
This is another common reason for allergic reactions, even with people who don’t have sensitive skin. There’s a lack of studies on their effect in nature, but if it irritates human skin, then it’s not really meant for exposure to living things.
This has become less commonly used in detergents, but other cleaning products still have small amounts. It’s a known carcinogen to humans and really has no place in a laundry detergent.
And the final chemical to avoid is another one that has a highly toxic effect on marine life and is almost impossible to remove from nature once it has made it into water.
Pick up These Eco-Friendly Laundry Habits
Here are five laundry tips that will make washing clothes a lot more eco-friendly. And they are so simple to follow.
1. Wash Less Frequently
If you keep track of how often you load up the washer, then you’ll probably find that you have four loads per person each week. That is so much energy, water, and laundry detergent use.
In reality, most clothes that you put in the wash are likely not dirty or smelly. Yes, your underwear and socks should go in after one wear, but most other things can easily be worn 3 or 4 times.
There’s nothing unhygienic about it, and in many ways, we’ve probably become too cautious about micro dirt and germs.
2. Don’t Use A Drier
This is probably one of the biggest wastes of energy for any household. Even with the most energy-efficient models out there, you’ll end up using tons of energy.
In the summer months, it’s easy to hang out clothes and let them naturally dry within a few hours. But even dry and windy days in winter could take care of most of the drying.
And when you do have a load of washing that you need to dry quickly, then ditch those dryer sheets.
3. Install A Water Softener
One thing you should do is have your water tested to see how much lime it contains. The more lime, the harder the water and the less effective it will be at mixing with powdered laundry detergent.
But even if you look at the label on liquid detergents, you’ll see that in hard water, you need to add a lot more laundry detergent.
Not only will a central water softener mean that you use less detergent, but it will make your appliances last a lot longer. And it’s much better for sensitive skin when you shower and wash your hair.
4. Use Cool Wash Functions
Most modern washing machines will have cool wash functions that will be suitable for the majority of your clothes. Unless you regularly fill the machine with heavily stained and dirty clothes, a cool wash at about 85 degrees will give you enough cleaning power.
Many eco-friendly laundry detergent products often work better at lower temperatures, and that will significantly lower the carbon footprint of your laundry routine.
5. Reduce Synthetic Clothing
And finally, even when you use an eco-friendly laundry detergent, you could end up flushing plastic fibers down the drain. This is very common with synthetic fabrics like nylon, acrylic, and polyester.
Yes, these are cheap, but regular washing will release some of the fibers. And it shouldn’t be a surprise what plastic accumulation is doing to wildlife.
10 Best Eco-Friendly Laundry Detergents
1. Tru Earth Laundry Detergent Sheets/Eco-Strips
Each strip is one wash, and despite the fact that the strip only weighs 0.1 ounces, it has the power of 1.4 ounces of traditional detergents.
The Tru Earth laundry strips also completely dissolve in hot and cold water, so you don't have to go looking for them in your clothes. And it also means that these strips won’t get caught in the machine filter either.
The impact of this on the environment is huge.
First of all, there is a much lower carbon footprint associated with the transportation of this very light detergent. And with the plastic-free cardboard box, you can either recycle or compost the packaging as well.
2. Dropps Stain & Odor Laundry Detergent Pods
It’s completely plastic-free, and none of the pods will remain in your washing machine. It also doesn’t contain harmful chemicals that could damage the environment.
The pods also come in plastic-free recyclable packaging.
The way I got onto this product was through a recommendation from a vegan friend.
He pointed out that this detergent wasn’t tested on animals and didn't contain any of the toxic chemicals you’ll find in most other detergents.
And I also have to add that the natural fragrance and cleaning power are pretty impressive, considering it only contains plant-based ingredients.
3. ECOS Laundry Detergent
But what I like about this liquid detergent the most is the way the company has approached manufacturing processes. The product has achieved a TRUE Platinum Zero Waste status. That means it’s carbon neutral, water neutral, and made with 100% renewable energy.
That is a rare approach and not something that many other companies have managed to successfully implement.
Each bottle contains enough laundry liquid to wash 100 loads, and I love the subtle lily smell as well.
The only downside is that it comes in plastic packaging, but it is recyclable. It would be great if the company switched to compostable bottles instead.
4. Puracy Natural Laundry Detergent
It’s entirely based on plant-based ingredients and enzymes, and the company has also partnered with doctors to make sure this is a hypoallergenic detergent. That means no bleach or chemicals and no irritation from laundry liquid.
It’s particularly popular for parents of young babies who are worried about exposing them to harsh chemicals that can leave rashes and irritations.
The company also offers another product specifically formulated to help clean your linen more effectively and efficiently. I’ve used both, and they offer a great combination.
One thing I would highlight as a potential improvement is to either offer refill pouches to reduce waste or to make the bottles compostable. But they are fully recyclable, so they won’t add to plastic waste at landfills.
5. Seventh Generation Detergent
Despite that, the eco-friendly laundry detergent has a pretty impressive stain-removing power, and that’s something that many of the thousands of Amazon reviewers have highlighted as a big bonus.
At the same time, it’s also suitable for anyone with sensitive skin. And because it’s fragrance-free, it could be a great option for people with allergies that are common with intensive smells, even from natural essential oil.
The one thing I don't like about this product is the measuring cup. These tend to be inaccurate, and you easily end up wasting and spilling some of the liquid laundry detergents.
6. Ethique Flash! Laundry Bar
First of all, if you’ve ever had a tough stain on clothes that you want to pre-treat before you wash them, then you need something easy to apply and rub in. This laundry soap gives you that extra stain removal power for perfectly clean laundry.
Secondly, laundry soap is ideal for any clothes that you need to hand wash. Rather than try to measure out liquid or powdered detergent, you simply rub the soap onto the clothes as needed.
That can save a huge amount of conventional detergents, and I’ve found that such a bar lasts for years.
It also comes in a fully recyclable cardboard box, so there really is zero waste that might pollute the environment.
7. Biokleen Natural Laundry Detergent
It’s nice to have an eco-friendly laundry detergent option that doesn’t need to be fragrance-free.
All of the ingredients are fully biodegradable and are entirely based on plant products. You also might notice the cruelty-free certification, which makes this an ideal option for vegans.
It’s also one of the more reasonable products we found, and you get a large 150-ounce bottle that should give you up to 300 washes in high-efficiency (HE) washing machines.
The main improvement would be a compostable bottle rather than plastic, but it is fully recyclable.
8. Molly's Suds Natural Oxygen Whitener
It’s entirely plant-based and has a great stain removal formula that really brightens up your whites. It does this by combining four simple ingredients that are completely biodegradable.
These are sodium percarbonate, sodium carbonate (aka baking soda), citric acid, and lemon essential oil. The result is pure white laundry with a nice and fresh smell.
Now, it does come in a resealable plastic container, but because it’s a pouch, the amount of waste is very limited and is recyclable.
So, if you’re looking for an eco-friendly laundry detergent with great stain removal power for white clothes, then give this one a try. Also, Molly’s Suds offers great dryer balls that you might want to consider adding to your order.
9. Tide Purclean
The result is 50% less plastic use compared to the same amount of washes from plastic bottles.
But Tide has also decided to change its manufacturing processes for this particular detergent, and the result is a process that uses 100% renewable energy.
And the ingredients have also been selected to be entirely plant-based with EPA approval for the formula. That means less impact on the environment both from a manufacturing perspective and environmental waste.
Overall, it works very well for most types of washes, but you might need to buy a separate stain removal soap to work on tougher dirt.
10. ATTITUDE Baby Laundry Detergent
Not only does it not use any harsh or harmful chemicals, but it’s entirely based on natural plant ingredients.
And with a cruelty-free formula, it’s also vegan certified. Overall, that makes it perfectly suitable for the delicate skin of young babies and avoids exposing them to common allergens.
Parents also like the natural lavender and chamomile smells which have a soothing effect on babies.
It could be the ideal detergent to help get your baby to sleep with less effort.
Reducing the carbon footprint of your laundry room is just one part of the puzzle to make your home more environmentally friendly. But with the best eco-friendly laundry detergents listed above, you can make another huge impact on nature.
Not only do they avoid the use of toxic chemicals, but there are even options there that are completely plastic-free. That makes them almost zero waste products, and that will make a huge difference in animal and plant life.
Out of all these products that I have tried, I keep going back to the Tru Earth laundry strips. They are so easy to use and have the lowest possible footprint. Order yours today and see how much of a difference they will make.
Chris is one of GreenCitizen’s writers who has been a long-time advocate of individual responsibility when it comes to the environment. He shares GreenCitizen’s passion for making the world a better place every day of the year.