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16+ Best Eco-Friendly Laundry Detergent Brands for a Sustainable Laundry Routine

Updated: Dec 16, 2022

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We all know we’re surrounded by plastic in every area of our lives. We’re so used to some products that we hardly ever consider how much damage they can do to ourselves and the environment. We are going to dive deeper into laundry detergents even though it is only one of the too many products. Most of us are so used to purchasing detergents that come in plastic jugs that we forget about the fact that these are just as bad as plastic water bottles. Close to 1 million plastic bottles are purchased every minute. Some of these plastic bottles can be recycled but unfortunately, liquid detergents often come in high-density polyethylene bottles and only 30% of these can be recycled as you need a special facility for this. The remaining 70% will keep poisoning our planet for centuries.


I think it is time to make our laundry routine more sustainable. Not only by switching to a more eco-friendly laundry detergent brand but also by improving your laundry routine in general.

 
 

How to do laundry sustainably

How often to wash clothes


The biggest impact of our clothes environmental impact comes after the purchase of our clothes meaning during laundry. The more we wash our clothes, the bigger the impact of our clothes. A washing machine uses between 7 (highly efficient washing machines) and 20 (average washing machines) gallons of water. If we wash our clothes less frequently, we can save a lot of water. Clothes made with synthetic fibers also release microplastic into our waters so fewer washing is also better for the environment.

So, how often should you wear clothes?

  • Jeans: 4-5 wears

  • Pants and shorts: 2-3 wears

  • Shirts, sweaters, and dresses: 2 wears

  • Socks: 1 wear

  • Underwear: 1 wear

  • Bras: 3-4 wears

  • Sportswear: 1 wear

  • Sleepwear: 3-4 wears

 
 

Temperature

How hot you wash your clothes depends on how dirty they get. I wash my clothes at 90 F degrees Celcius (90 degrees Fahrenheit) after I wore them a couple of times. T-shirts usually 2-3 times and jeans 3-4 times. At most my clothes get a little sweaty 30 degrees Celcius is enough. I also wash towels at 30 degrees after using them a couple of times. These only got wet from drying your body so these shouldn’t be dirty after use.


Items dirtier than a little sweat I wash at 40 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit). For example bed sheets and underwear. In this case, bacteria need to be killed which happens above 40 degrees Celsius.

I only wash my cloth diapers at 60 degrees Celcius (140 degrees Fahrenheit). These are extremely dirty and need to be properly cleaned to prevent a rash on my baby’s bum. Also, clothes and wipes that are soiled with poop will be washed with my cloth diapers. Read more about my cloth diaper washing routine here.

 
 

Water softener

One thing you should do is have your water tested to see how much lime it contains. This is an indication of the hardness of the water in your area. The harder the water used for your laundry, the harder it will be at mixing with powdered laundry detergent. If you look at the label on your detergents, you’ll notice that in hard water, you need to add a lot more laundry detergent. This is because, in hard water, laundry detergent is less efficient. By installing a central water softener you will use less detergent, and it will make your appliances last a lot longer. It is also much better for sensitive skin and it will make your hair much softer after a shower.


Drying

Don’t use a dryer to dry your clothes. This has 2 major advantages; It saves a lot of energy and your clothes will deteriorate slower. Another benefit of outside drying (when the weather allows for it) is the nice outdoorsy smell your clothes get. However, line drying is not possible as the space you have is limited. Go for one that is as energy efficient as possible. Some driers even have a steam option which you could use to freshen up clothes in between washes.

How to remove stains eco-friendly?

Some stains can be a challenge but when you know what caused the stain you can handle it in an eco-friendly matter.

  • Red wine: generously apply table salt on the stain and let it be for several minutes. Rinse with cold water.

  • Blood: Prewash cold with detergent and some enhancer. Don’t use hot water as this causes the protein in the blood to solidify and the stain won’t come out. After rinsing you can wash it with other items.

  • Waterproof makeup: Use liquid soap. Waterproof makeup is often oil-based and can be broken down with soap.

  • Coffee: Use baking soda. Rub some baking soda gently over the stain with a clean cloth. Rinse in cold water after half an hour.

  • Grass: Use white vinegar. Make a solution with 1 part vinegar and 2 parts water. Rub the solution on the grass stain and leave it there for about 15 minutes before washing.

 
 

Dry cleaning

The chemicals used in the dry cleaner are aggressive and toxic. It is best to avoid this altogether as these chemicals will stay in your clothes when you pick them up and you transport them to your car, house, and in the end onto your skin. Tetrachloroethylene (perc) is the chemical used by dry cleaners. This is a carcinogenic substance that can enter your body via your skin or airways.

Other sustainable laundry tips


Separate clothes

While separating lights and darks is obvious, there are other ways to separate clothes to ensure cleaner results. Separate dirty or muddy items from lightly soiled clothing, and abrasive fabrics (denim) from delicate ones to ensure your clothes last as long as possible.


Don’t overload the machine

Your clothes need space to spin around the drum to create enough friction to clean your garments. It also ensures that distribute detergent is distributed evenly over all your clothes.


Clean your washing machine regularly

Warm water, laundry detergent, and bleach get rid of a lot of bacteria, complete the job with a laundry sanitizer to make sure your machine remains in good condition.

 
 

What is wrong with regular laundry detergent?

Unlike with cosmetics, manufacturers of laundry detergents are not obliged to list all ingredients used on product packaging. Which means that reading the ingredient list to check for ingredients is not always an option. If you are in Europe, the legislation permits reference to a website for a complete list of ingredients by product. Even though this is more work it pays to do so. Research has shown that 119 out of 300 brands tested contained microplastics in the detergent. Do you want to know which ones? Check here.


Harmful ingredients to be aware of in your laundry detergent

Regular laundry detergent has a lot of ingredients. Not all of these ingredients are safe for delicate skin not to mention the impact they have on the environment. Therefore this list of ingredients you should pay attention to when you are on the market for a new laundry detergent.


Sodium laureth sulfate and sodium lauryl sulfate

This one is also often used in shampoo but that doesn’t mean it is safe for your skin. Research has shown that it can inflame the eyes, skin, and lungs.


Phosphates

Phosphates are very common in laundry detergent products, and they generally don't get filtered out in water treatment facilities. When they enter fresh waterways, they cause eutrophication in our water. This is caused by too many minerals in the water which slowly kills marine animals.

 
 

Chlorine Bleach

I am extremely allergic to bleach. If the contents in tap water are too high, will get a rash after a shower. The fact that it can kill lots of small organisms should be an indication enough that bleach is not a very healthy compound. Chlorine bleach is known to be extremely toxic to the environment and consumers, yet chlorine-based chemicals are still often used to bleach fabric. Because of this high toxicity, it is best to avoid bleach.


1,4-Dioxane

Dioxane is increasingly less used in detergents but other cleaning products still have small amounts. It’s a known carcinogen to humans and should be avoided use on products that end up being directly on your skin.


Dichlorobenzene

This chemical was often used in room deodorizers and as moth repellents. Even though it was found to not be toxic directly, nowadays we know the long-term effects. Dichlorobenzene is carcinogenic and is also very harmful to marine life and should never end up in our environment.


Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde is a very toxic poison that is absorbed well into your body by inhalation. The vapor is a severe respiratory tract and skin irritant and may cause dizziness or suffocation in the short term. In the long run, there may be an increased risk of cancer as it is classified as a B1 carcinogen.


Ammonium sulfate

This is used in laundry detergents and similar care products. Low doses may not be harmful but long term the effects of ammonium sulfate are unknown. So, is unclear if this chemical is carcinogenic but it is known that it can cause severe rashes on your skin when exposed to it.

 
 

Benzyl Acetate

This is a chemical present in essential oils which means it is a chemical that occurs naturally in nature but this doesn’t mean that it is safe to use directly against your skin. It is also known to cause tumors in the liver and pancreas in mice. It is also sometimes added to detergents to make them smell nice as benzyl acetate has a pleasant smell.


Nonylphenol ethoxylate

The fact that this chemical is banned in the EU should say enough. This is used in laundry detergent as well as paints and lawn care products. It is known to cause reproductive disorders, including cancer. It is increased the risk of breast cancer specifically. It not only impacts human reproductive systems also wildlife is affected by it.


Optical Brighteners

These are present in our laundry detergent to make clothing appear whiter and brighter, and therefore cleaner. They are known to have low toxicity to humans and the environment both as parent chemicals and degradation byproducts. Optical brighteners aren't readily biodegradable and may bioaccumulate over time. When this happens, they pose a potential hazard to aquatic life.


Artificial Fragrances

According to research over 30% of the population experiences irritation to products with artificial fragrances.


Artificial Dyes

They serve no purpose in laundry detergent and are known to cause rashes and allergic reactions.

 
 

Why not to use a DIY laundry detergent

I love to DIY skincare and haircare products so a laundry detergent is not too far off. However, I would never make laundry detergent. It may seem like a good idea as you have complete control over all ingredients involved and you can avoid all the nasty chemicals but there are a few big downsides of DIY laundry detergent.

Often DIY laundry detergent is not a deterrent but plain soap. Soap is made from oils and a neutralizing alkali compound, such as sodium hydroxide (NaOH). Most DIY laundry recipes for laundry soap require a combination of Borax, washing soda, and shaved soap. Laundry detergents, however, are made of a specific mix of synthetic and natural ingredients, often with more than one surfactant, and have a much higher solubility in water compared to regular soap.

What is also important is that the minerals in tap water, react with the chemicals in soap (real laundry detergent is designed not to react) which can leave unwanted residues behind on your clothes. Not only that, but it can also build up in your washing machine and even clog the drain of your machine or can cause mold and mildew to grow.

If you have used a DIY laundry detergent and your clothes suffer from build up residues, you need to strip your clothes from these residues. Luckily this is not a difficult proces but it does takes some time as you need to let your clothes soak for a while. The treatment you need to give your clothes is similar to stripping cloth diapers as also cloth diapers sometimes suffer from build up minerals. You can find the entire method of stripping clothes here.

It’s also important to note that homemade recipes are not tested for safety as consumer products are. In the wrong doses, even if you only use natural ingredients in your recipe can be harmful to you and your clothes.


So, what can you do instead? Go for an eco-friendly plastic-free laundry detergent. Below are several brands that both clean your clothes properly without destroying them or affecting your health or impacting the environment.


Eco-Friendly plastic free Laundry Detergent Brands for a Sustainable Laundry Routine

16+ Eco-Friendly Laundry Detergent Brands


Dropps

  • Consistency: Pods

  • Package Material: Cardboard

  • Loads per Package: 32

  • Ingredients: Ethoxylated alcohol, C12-16, glycerin, linear alkylbenzene sulfonic acid, triethanolamine , subtilisin, alpha-amylase, deionized water, polyvinyl alcohol film with a bittering agent.

Dropps was founded in the 1980's, when the company’s founder Jonathan Propper and his mother Lenore started a small business making apparel from patented cotton yarn. As regular detergent made the yarn they used yellow and stretchy, they decided to make their own which is what Dropps is today.

Dropps are laundry pods that are filled with the same biodegradable, enzyme-free detergent that was designed at the beginning of the brand. They come in both scented and unscented versions but also ones for sensitive skin.

Their products come in recyclable, and compostable packaging, and they offset 100% of carbon emissions from shipping.

Eco-Friendly plastic free Laundry Detergent Brands for a Sustainable Laundry Routine -  dropps


Cleancult

  • Consistency: Liquid

  • Package Material: Tetra pack

  • Loads per Package: 64

  • Ingredients: Sodium Coco-Sulfate, Functionalized Alkyl Polyglucoside, Lauramine Oxide, Cocoamidopropyl Hydroxysultaine, Glycerin, Phenoxyethanol, Sodium Citrate, Polyglyceryl-3 Caprate/Caprylate/Succinate, Trisodium Ethylenediamine Disuccinate, Amylase Enzyme Blend, Lipase Enzyme Blend, Mannanase Enzyme Blend, Protease Enzyme Blend, Lemongrass Oil, Calcium Chloride, Eucalyptus Tea Tree Oil

A few years ago, one of the owners of Cleancult took a look at a bottle of laundry detergent, they were shocked to see that no ingredients were listed. They were aware of the possible hazardous chemicals present in detergent but you want to know which ones. They decided to be open about the ingredients and made them as eco-friendly as possible. The most important ingredients they use are derived from coconut oil. Cleancult offers household cleaners such as all-purpose cleaners, liquid dishwashing soap, hand soap, dishwasher detergents, and, laundry tablets. All the products come in refillable packaging. When you run out of your product, you can simply order a refill which will come in paper-based tetra packs like milk cartons. They ship their products in fully recyclable paper and offsets 100% of the shipping’s carbon footprint.

Eco-Friendly plastic free Laundry Detergent Brands for a Sustainable Laundry Routine - cleancult


Ecoegg

  • Consistency: Pellets

  • Package Material: Cardboard

  • Loads per Package: 70

  • Ingredients: Sodium C12-C16 Olefin Sulfonate Sodium Carbonate Calcium Carbonate Sodium Bicarbonate Sodium Metasilicate Dodecyl Alcohol, Ethoxylated Cellulose Gum Sodium Citrate

Over 2 million households are using Ecoegg since its launch in 2018. It provides an affordable and sustainable laundry product. The egg contains natural mineral pellets that work similarly to laundry detergent that is safe for sensitive skin. You pop them into your washer with the dirty laundry and the pellets release some of their detergents while washing. After about 70 washings you can refill the egg so you can keep using it for years to come.

Eco-Friendly plastic free Laundry Detergent Brands for a Sustainable Laundry Routine - ecoegg


Tru Earth

  • Consistency: Sheets

  • Package Material: Cardboard

  • Loads per Package: 60

  • Ingredients: Corn Starch, Polyvinyl alcohol, Glycerin, Sodium C14-16 Olefin Sulfonate, Aqua , Glyceryl Cocotte, Codamilopropyl Betaine, Caprylyl/Capryl Glucoside, Sodium Gluconate, Paraffin Liquidum, Potassium Sorbate, Lauryl Glucoseide, C10-16 Olefin, Sodium Chloride.

This Canada-based company produces laundry detergent that is safe for your health, wildlife, and the environment. They are free from harmful chemicals which means even if you have very sensitive skin or a little one you can use this detergent without worry. Their low-sudding formula makes them suitable for both cold and hot water washes. You can even use them for handwashing or take them with you camping. Since these sheets are so light, they are perfect for traveling. Another great benefit of their weight is their carbon footprint. Plastic jugs with detergent are heavy and therefore have a large carbon footprint while laundry sheets don’t.

Eco-Friendly plastic free Laundry Detergent Brands for a Sustainable Laundry Routine - tru earth


Home Farm

  • Consistency: Liquid

  • Package Material: Glass Jar

  • Loads per Package: 8

  • Ingredients: Organic Saponified Oils (Coconut, Olive & Jojoba), Orange Essential Oil, Cedarwood Essential Oil, Lavender Essential Oil, Lemon Essential Oil, Lime Essential Oil, Rosemary Extract, Tea Tree Oil, Eucalyptus Essential Oil, Organic Aloe Vera

This biodegradable detergent is specially formulated to gently deodorize, soften, and clean your clothes, towels, and sheets. This eco-friendly detergent is suitable for both high-efficiency (HE) and front-loading washers. This laundry soap is suitable for sensitive skin, and skin allergies, as well as septic tanks. The use of aloe naturally softens your clothes and also has a mild whitening effect. Great for all materials including cotton, bamboo, silk, wool, and others.

Eco-Friendly plastic free Laundry Detergent Brands for a Sustainable Laundry Routine - home farm


Ethique

  • Consistency: Bar

  • Package Material: Cardboard

  • Loads per Package: -

  • Ingredients: Sodium cocoate, water/aqua, glycerine, kaolin clay, Bicarbonate of soda, citric acid, coconut acid, Mentha piperita (Peppermint) oil, Lavandula augustifolia (lavender) essential oil, tetrasodium etidronate, pentesodium pentetate, linalool, coumarin, d-limonene

Ethique’s Flash! Solid Laundry Bar & Stain Remover is a very versatile cleaning bar. It is made with 100% biodegradable ingredients and essential oils making the bar smells amazing and last much longer than you may expect. This plastic-free laundry detergent has minimal packaging. A small cardboard box that is easily recyclable or compostable. This bar is great for traveling, camping, backpacking, or just washing hands or dishes. It’s not suitable for washing machines on its own but give stubborn stains a rub of this bar and they will come out next wash.