The 10 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 use any old pod or detergent in your laundry routine, but have you ever stopped to consider what goes into those products? Unfortunately, even some of the highest-rated laundry detergents are loaded with artificial fragrances and other chemicals that can lead to skin irritation, trigger allergic reactions, and even harm the environment. And with so much to sort through on product labels, it can be hard to find safe laundry detergents.
Though pleasant-smelling laundry is tempting, start with 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. These potentially harmful ingredients aren’t always listed on the label, either. “Fragrance is considered to be a trade secret, so […] 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.
In short, opt for a fragrance-free formula and add essential oils to your dryer balls for an extra scent boost at the end. In a world where everyone is marketing their products as “clean,” we did the research for you. Read on to find the safest laundry detergents and select the one that’s right for you.
How we chose the safest laundry detergents
After researching expert recommendations, we searched for laundry detergents that had clean ingredients and eco-friendly certifications, were dermatologist tested, and were free from all the “bad stuff” like phthalates, phosphates, petroleum, and artificial dyes and fragrances. We then read hundreds of verified reviews to see which detergents were not only safe but also effective. Here are our picks for the safest laundry detergents. No matter which detergent you choose, follow those handy laundry symbols on your clothing labels. And while we’re on the subject, a new washer and dryer set wouldn’t hurt either!
- Safest laundry detergent overall: Molly’s Suds Unscented Detergent Powder
- Best powder: Charlie’s Soap Laundry Powder
- Best detergent pods: Dropps Detergent Pods
- Best detergent sheets: Grove Co. Laundry Detergent Sheets
- Best for deep cleaning: Tide Hygienic Clean Heavy Duty 10X Free Power Pods
- Best for old stains: Puracy Natural Stain Remover
- Best for stubborn stains: Botanical Origin Laundry Detergent
- Best value: Pardo Naturals Laundry Detergent
- Best drugstore option: Seventh Generation Free & Clear Natural Liquid Laundry Detergent
- Best for cold water: Attitude Liquid Laundry Detergent
Safest detergent overall
Molly’s Suds Unscented Detergent Powder
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 one tablespoon of the laundry powder to your machine and your clothes will come out fresh and clean. In case you’re wondering, here’s the difference between powder and liquid detergent.
- Expert recommended
- Safe for babies, people with sensitive skin, and the environment
- One bag goes a long way
- If you tend to wash your laundry in cold water, it’s recommended you switch to warm water when using this detergent
Best powder detergent
Charlie’s Soap Laundry Powder
If you or your washing machine happen to prefer powdered detergent, then this hypoallergenic, eco-friendly detergent from Charlie’s Soap is a great choice. Made using just four plant-based, biodegradable ingredients, the formula is EPA Safer Choice certified, meaning it’s safer for the environment as well as your septic system. Charlie’s Soap recommends adding just one tablespoon of the detergent directly into your washer to remove tough stains and odors from your laundry, but did you know that it will also clean your washing machine? Yep! Run a load of rags through on hot to give your washing machine a much-needed deep clean.
- Cleans your laundry and your washing machine
- You only need one tablespoon per load, meaning one bag of this detergent will last you quite a while
- Warm or hot water works best with powder detergents
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 as often as you need it. Just be sure you know how to use laundry pods the right way.
- Environmentally friendly formula and packaging
- Works best on smaller loads
Best detergent sheets
Grove Co. Laundry Detergent Sheets
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. Not convinced these will do the trick? Here’s what our Executive Shopping Editor had to say about her experience with Grove Co. laundry detergent sheets.
- Free from plastic, synthetic fragrances, optical brighteners, and dyes
- No large jug, making them easy to store, pack, and transport
- Only available on Grove Co.
Best for deep cleaning
Tide Hygienic Clean Heavy Duty 10X Free Power Pods
You know Tide to be a trusted 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 on a microscopic level—but is hypoallergenic and has zero dyes or perfumes. In fact, Tide Hygienic Clean Heavy Duty 10X Free Power Pods are recognized by the National Eczema Association and the National Psoriasis Foundation for being gentle on sensitive skin.
- Leaves clothes feeling clean
- Comes in liquid or pods
- Not vegan
Best for removing old stains
Puracy Natural Stain Remover
Puracy Natural Stain Remover is made almost entirely of natural, plant-based ingredients. It contains six plant-derived surfactants and enzymes that effectively remove stains and odors without irritating even the most sensitive skin. Not only does this stain remover work on all sorts of stains, both old and new, it also works on just about any washable fabric. Yep. We’re talking clothing, linens, carpets, floor mats, dress shirts, bedding, car seats, cloth diapers, you name it!
- Works on all types of stains, from dirt and oil to wine, coffee, food, and more!
- Works on any fabric
- If using to pre-treat stains, cannot sit for more than an hour on more delicate fabrics
Best 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. Rather than using artificial perfumes, the formula is infused with essential oils for a natural, orange-blossom and citrus scent that won’t overstay its welcome.
- Works with all water temperatures
- Removes tough stains in one wash
- One bottle is enough for 72 loads of laundry
- Some users say the measurement lines on the cap are hard to see
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.
- Only three ingredients
- Safe for HE machines
- Available in four scents as well as unscented
- Eight-ounce bag yields only 16 HE loads
Best drug store option
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. According to the manufacturer, it’s designed to make everyday cleaning more sustainable by using biodegradable ingredients that won’t pollute the Earth. More important, it’s made from 97 percent plant-based ingredients and has been tested by many dermatologists for safe use on sensitive skin.
- Easy to find in most drug stores and big-box stores
- Scented version also available
- If ordering online, this detergent only ships to the United States
Best for cold water
Attitude Liquid Laundry Detergent
Not only is washing your clothes in cold water more sustainable, but it can also improve their longevity. This plant-based, safe detergent is formulated without dyes, irritating enzymes, phosphate, or SLES. It is dermatologist tested and hypoallergenic, making it the ideal choice for people with sensitive skin. And to make you feel even better about adding this detergent to your cart, it’s 100 percent vegan, Ecologo Certified, biodegradable, and septic tank safe.
- Cleans as effectively in cold water as it does in warm or hot water
- Has a light, fresh scent but is also available unscented
- Dermatologist tested
- You’ll have to use more detergent per load if you have hard water
- Kristin Baird, MD, Colorado-based dermatologist and founder and medical director of Green Goo
- Tonya Harris, award-winning environmental toxin expert and creator of the Slightly Greener Method
This article includes additional reporting by Meghan Jones and Zoë Roscoe.
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