Why Switch to Non-Toxic Laundry Detergent?

It’s kind of ironic: you wash your clothes, sheets, and towels, expecting them to be fresh and clean, but really you just end up coating them with a bunch of synthetic chemicals that could potentially cause problems for you and your loved ones over time.

The most popular laundry detergent brands carry ingredients that have been linked to everything from allergies and dry skin all the way to cancer. Even the baby and “Free & Clear” versions contain chemicals that pose a risk to your health.

There are so many great smelling non-toxic laundry detergent brands that are completely effective, so why NOT choose the safer bet? Below are our researched and recommended brands for the best non-toxic laundry detergent.

This post may contain affiliate links, which means we may earn a small commission if you choose to make a purchase. We only make recommendations that are genuine and meet our ingredient/material safety standards.

What Are the Harmful Effects of Detergents?

Whether or not your laundry detergent will actually cause issues depends on a lot of different factors, including age and other health issues. Those who are extra sensitive or have chronic health concerns are more likely to react negatively to the ingredients in common laundry detergents compared to those who are healthier and more equipped to process certain toxins and get them out of their bodies.

Common ingredients found in conventional laundry detergents have been linked to issues like:

  • Skin irritation and allergies
  • Respiratory problems
  • Nervous system issues
  • Endocrine (hormone) disruption
  • Infertility
  • Damage to vision
  • Cancer
  • Organ damage

Even those individuals who don’t have strong and immediate reactions to specific brands of detergents would do well to consider switching to a safer alternative since these chemicals, especially when used in small quantities, tend to show the most damage over long periods of time.

Toxins in Laundry Detergent: Chemicals to Avoid

Before we get into our recommended brands, let’s review some of the most common ingredients in laundry detergents that have been linked to health problems:

Fragrances: This is a big one when it comes to laundry detergents. Even the brands that are marketed as “clean” or “green” can contain mystery fragrances that can potentially cause problems.

Phthalates: Phthalates are chemicals that are often used in laundry detergents to make the scents last longer. They may or may not be listed under the ingredients because they can sneak in under the “fragrance” label. Phthalates can be endocrine disruptors, which means they can interfere with hormone functioning.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate & Sodium Laureth Sulfate / Sodium Lauryl Ether Sulfate (SLS/ SLES): SLS and SLES were originally developed to degrease garage floors! As a foaming agent and dirt remover, these are some of the most commonly used ingredients in laundry detergents as well as shampoos, dishwashing liquid, and other kinds of soaps. SLS and SLES have been found to irritate and inflame the skin, eyes, and lungs.

Phosphates: Some evidence links phosphates to illnesses such as cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis. Not only that, but when they end up in our wastewater systems, phosphates can interfere with the ecosystems necessary for aquatic life health and survival.

Formaldehyde: Most of us know about formaldehyde because it’s used to preserve dead bodies, but it’s also commonly found in many laundry detergents. According to the EPA, formaldehyde is a class B1 probable carcinogen, which means it can probably cause cancer.

Chlorine Bleach: Most of us know that bleach is toxic, but many don’t know just how dangerous it can be. It’s often found in laundry detergents, especially ones meant for white loads. Chlorine bleach can cause burns, pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs), respiratory failure, and other health conditions.

Dioxane: This has been a known carcinogen since 1988. It can cause skin, eye, and lung inflammation, and can also spontaneously combust.

Nonylphenol Ethoxylates (NPEs): The EPA states that NPEs have been linked to hormonal problems, cancer, and infertility, and can also cause severe harm to aquatic life when it reaches waterways.

Optical/UV Brighteners: Brighteners are used to make fabrics look whiter and brighter. They’re also used to treat (read: hide) stains by coating fabric with a substance that reflects light. These brighteners can irritate skin, eyes, and lungs, and can harm aquatic life as well.

Other potentially toxic ingredients to watch out for are:

  • Ammonium Laureth Sulfate (ALES)
  • Ammonium Quaternary Sanitizers (Quats)
  • Dichlorobenzene
  • Benzyl Acetate
  • Artificial Colors, Dyes, and Preservatives

Which Laundry Detergents Are Toxic?

These brands use many of the ingredients above. Many of them have products targeted for babies and children.

  • Ajax
  • All
  • Arm & Hammer (with the exception of regular baking soda and their Super Washing Soda Detergent Booster & Household Cleaner)
  • Cheer
  • Clorox
  • Downy
  • Dreft
  • Dynamo
  • Era
  • Fab
  • Gain
  • Kirkland
  • LA’s
  • OxyClean
  • Persil
  • Resolve
  • Shout
  • Suavitel
  • Sun
  • The Laundress
  • Tide
  • Up & Up (Target)
  • Great Value (Walmart)
  • Xtra

What Are the Ingredients in Tide?

So many people use Tide; it’s one of the most popular laundry detergent brands out there. But is Tide safe? There are over 100 different Tide products on the market, but none of the formulations contain good news when it comes to toxins. Let’s look at the ingredient list of the Original Liquid Tide. The ingredients in bold have been shown to have cause for concern in one way or another.

SODIUM BORATE, ETHANOLAMINE, POLYETHYLENEIMINE ETHOXYLATES, LAURETH-9, FRAGRANCE, DISODIUM DIAMINOSTILBENE DISULFONATE, PEG-75, DIMETHICONE, ALCOHOL ETHOXYSULFATES, ALCOHOL SULPHATE, DIQUATERNIUM ETHOXYSULFATES, DIETHYLENE GLYCOL, ALKYL DIMETHYL AMINE OXIDES, PENTETIC ACID, LIQUITINT BLUE, ALCOHOL ETHOXYLATES (C10-C16) SODIUM SALT, LINEAR ALKYLBENZYL SULFONATES (C10-16), MONOETHANOLAMINE CITRATE, ALKYL BENZENE SULFONATE, ETHANOLAMINE SALT, AMMONIUM ALKYL SULFATE (C10-C16), PENTASODIUM DTPA, PROTEASE, AMYLASE, SODIUM FORMATE, FORMIC ACID, CALCIUM SALT, BETA-MANNANASE, WATER, PROPYLENE GLYCOL, CITRIC ACID, SODIUM HYDROXIDE, ETHANOL, SODIUM FATTY ACIDS

Is Tide Free & Gentle safe? Tide has several different versions of its Free & Gentle formulations, and unfortunately, the ingredient lists are only slightly cleaner than standard Tide and cannot be considered non-toxic. It’s best to skip the Tide altogether.

Is Seventh Generation Laundry Detergent Safe?

There are a few popular “eco-friendly” brands out there like Seventh Generation, Mrs. Meyers, and Method. For the most part, these brands fall into the “Better” category of Bad, Better, Best. They’re generally not as toxic as Tide or the other brands listed above, but they can still contain potentially harmful ingredients. With these brands, it’s good practice to consider the products on a case-by-case basis; some of the products may be safe while you may want to steer clear from others. 

The good thing about these brands is that they’re often widely available at stores like Target and Walmart, so they may be a good option if you’re in a pickle. Here are the Seventh Generation products that are generally safe to use (note that the baby detergents are not on this list!):

  • Seventh Generation 3-In-1 Oxy Booster Packs, Free & Clear
  • Seventh Generation Chlorine-Free Bleach, Free & Clear
  • Seventh Generation Ultra Power Plus Laundry Detergent Packs
  • Seventh Generation Zero Plastic Laundry Detergent Tablets, Fragrance Free
  • Seventh Generation Laundry Detergent Packs
  • Seventh Generation Natural Laundry Detergent Powder, Free & Clear

Is Mrs. Meyer’s Laundry Detergent Safe?

Like Seventh Generation, Mrs. Meyer’s products might be slightly better than more conventional ones, but they still contain many ingredients that are not considered safe, including undisclosed fragrance. If possible, stay away from Mrs. Meyer’s laundry detergent (including the one for babies).

Is Method Laundry Detergent Safe?

Method’s Free + Clear Laundry Detergent Packs are safe to use, but their other laundry products unfortunately don’t make the “Best” cut.

The Best Non-Toxic Laundry Detergent Brands for 2021

All of that may be overwhelming, but the good news is that there is no shortage of natural, non-toxic, and great smelling laundry soaps and detergents on the market. So, what is the safest laundry detergent? All of the following brands are free from ingredients that are potentially toxic and safe to use. (Keep reading for the best brands by category!)

best non toxic laundry detergent

Branch Basics

Branch Basics is MADE SAFE certified, biodegradable, and is not tested on animals. It’s also super easy and convenient to use: you just use one concentrate for all of your cleaning and laundry needs. You can also set up a subscription so that you get a fresh bottle delivered to your door as often as needed. Use their Oxygen Boost in combination with the Concentrate to remove stains, break down grease, and clean stained surfaces.

best non toxic laundry detergent grab green

Grab Green

The team at Grab Green is committed to formulating innovative and high-performing cleaning products that are also completely safe, eco-friendly, and not tested on animals. Try their Lavender and Vanilla for a great smelling natural detergent!

Meliora

Meliora is a super safe laundry detergent brand with several badges, like MADE SAFE, Leaping Bunny, and B Corp. It’s made and packaged in Chicago Illinois, and they give at least 2% of sales towards nonprofits like the Women’s Voices for the Earth, a non-profit dedicated to eliminating toxic chemicals from products.

best non toxic laundry detergent thrive market

Thrive Market Goods

If you’re a fan of Thrive Market (it’s so convenient!), then you can rest assured that their branded line of laundry products are safe and non-toxic. It’s free of all the potentially harmful ingredients listed above, is vegan, and biodegradable. It uses naturally-derived enzymes to clean stains and is safe for septic tanks. This is one of the best non-toxic laundry detergent brands.

Molly’s Suds

In addition to being safe and non-toxic, Molly’s Suds laundry detergent is certified vegan and cruelty-free, and is safe for septic tanks. Their laundry powder is made from just five ingredients. The peppermint smells amazing, leaving your clothes incredibly fresh.

Common Good

Available in Bergamot, Lavender, and Unscented, Common Goods’ non-toxic, cruelty-free laundry detergent concentrate is specially formulated for sensitive skin. Plus, they’re helping to cut back on plastic with their glass bottle and refillable pouch.

best non toxic safe laundry detergent

PUR

PUR’s liquid laundry detergent and detergent pacs are not only free from toxicants, but also cruelty free, vegan and safe for septic systems. Their concentrate formulation comes in compostable packaging and a little bit goes a long way!

Best Non-Toxic Laundry Detergent 2021 by Category

Best Smelling Laundry Detergent: ATTITUDE Living (Wildflowers)

When looking for the best non-toxic laundry detergent that also smells amazing, check out ATTITUDE. It’s a great brand that is ECOLOGO certified, hypoallergenic, vegan & cruelty-free, and biodegradable. It can be challenging to find a non-toxic laundry detergent that truly smells good, but ATTITUDE has managed to do it!

Best Natural Baby Laundry Detergent: Dropps Baby

Because they’re still developing, it’s even more important to use completely safe ingredients on little ones. Unfortunately, many of the popular laundry detergents that are marketed toward babies and children still contain potentially harmful ingredients. 

Third-party tested and named EPA Safer Choice Partner of the Year in 2017, Dropps is committed to ingredient transparency and you can read in-depth about each ingredient on their website. Dropps’ baby detergent gets an A rating from the Environmental Working Group as well.

Plus, Dropps detergent is cruelty-free, made in the USA, supports ocean conservation, and comes in compostable packaging.

Best Laundry Detergent For Eczema: Eco Nuts

If you or someone you love has really sensitive skin, you may want to try something completely different than standard laundry detergent. Eco Nuts Soap Nuts are actually dried berries from trees in the Himalayas that release a natural cleansing agent and fabric softener called saponin when they’re agitated with water.

Eco Nuts are USDA Certified and nut allergy safe.

Best Laundry Detergent For Sensitive Skin: Brandless, Fragrance Free

If the Eco Nuts aren’t your thing, this is another great brand that’s great for sensitive skin. It’s got only four ingredients (plus water) and gets an A score from the Environmental Working Group.

Best Detergent For Whites: Puracy

With tons of great reviews, the consensus is in about Puracy’s natural laundry detergent. It’s plant-powered, developed by doctors, cruelty-free, and strong enough to take care of the dirtiest clothing.

Best Laundry Detergent For Stains: Meliora Stain Stick

When it comes to tough stains, Meliora Stain Stick does the trick without the toxic chemicals. Made from natural ingredients like vegetable soap and coconut oil, you can use this as a pre-treatment before throwing stained clothes in the washing machine.

Best Laundry Detergent For Sweat and Odors: Puracy

In addition to being the best pick for whites, Puracy gets our “award” for the best detergent for getting rid of odors as well. This stuff really works!

Best Detergent For Hand Washing Clothes: Dropps Small Loads

If you like laundry pods but do a lot of small loads or handwashing, then you can end up wasting a lot of detergent. Dropps makes it more convenient and efficient by offering their natural and toxin-free detergent pods in two sizes, so you can choose what’s best for you.

Cheapest Laundry Detergent: Public Goods

Public Goods’ hypoallergenic and dermatologist-tested formula starts at just $6.95 / bag. It’s totally safe, biodegradable, and made in Illinois. Try their dryer balls too!

Best Detergent For Pet Owners: Bac-Out Stain + Odor Remover

This Bac-Out Stain + Odor Remover is not actually a detergent, but can be used in conjunction with regular laundry detergent to get rid of pet accidents and strong smells. It’s made from a unique blend of live enzyme-producing cultures, botanicals, and plant-based surfactants for a safe but powerful clean.

Best Laundry Pods: Dropps

Again, Dropps are super safe, and their subscription model makes them very convenient too.

Best He Detergents: All of the above!

Unless otherwise indicated, all of the above detergents are compatible with He washing machines, so you can feel good using any of them!

Best Free And Clear Detergent

If you’re looking for a “Free & Clear” detergent, then all of the recommended brands above would fit that category since they’re all safe, free of potentially harmful ingredients, and clear of allergens and toxins.

But what about the Free & Clear versions of more conventional brands of detergent such as Tide, Gain, etc? Unfortunately, most of the time, these brands are guilty of greenwashing (marketing something as eco-friendly/natural/non-toxic when it’s really not), and these “Free & Clear” detergents still don’t make the cut when it comes to toxicity. We recommend steering clear of the conventional brands altogether if possible, and choosing one of the truly non-toxic brands above instead.

Should You DIY Laundry Detergent?

Because of the fact that there are so many non-toxic, and affordable options, you don’t necessarily need to make your own. But if you enjoy DYI-ing, there are some great, safe recipes for laundry detergent, like this one on DIY Natural!

What About Dryer Sheets?

Just like with laundry detergent, dryer sheets can contain a lot of hidden ingredients that can potentially cause harm. Because they’re so concentrated, they can actually be even worse than the detergent itself. Check out this article for more information about non-toxic alternatives to dryer sheets.

With so many great brands and safe options, there is no reason you can’t have clean and fresh smelling laundry that won’t pose harm to you or your family with unnecessary toxic chemicals.


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Image Credits: Karolina Grabowska, Olya Kobruseva, all product photos belong to respective brands