Every day, we hear about another dangerous toxin in the products we put on our bodies. But while many of those chemicals are things we temporarily put against our hair, skin, or fingernails, laundry detergent leaves its residue on our clothes and sheets. And those fabrics get draped around us, in direct contact with our skin, for hours and hours at a time.
No laundry detergent is rinsed out entirely through the wash, so it gets inhaled throughout our mouths and noses, and absorbed through our skin. If there are ingredients in laundry detergent that are irritants, we can suffer everything from hives or itchy eyes to endocrine disruption (meaning, they may mess with our hormones).
But how to determine which detergents are safest? We cut through the greenwashing to discern what’s safest for the environment, our health, and worth every penny. To do so, we enlisted the help of the Environmental Working Group’s A to F ranking system. Here are our top contenders.
Tangie’s laundry paste concentrate comes as a stick that you dilute in water in a reusable container of your own choosing. Each order comes with printed instructions for dilution and use, a sticker to label said container, and one stick that will make enough solution to clean 264 loads of laundry. The concentrate is made out of plant-based soaps and liquids extracted from nuts using solar ovens. Toss in some yucca powder and baking soda, and you’ve got yourself a product that scored a solid A with the EWG.
Cost: $23 per stick (6 cents/load)
Sun and Earth has one goal: to make cleaners as effective as chemical-based brands, naturally. They’ve been doing just that since 1988—making them one of the most trusted green brands on the market. Their light citrus laundry detergent scored an A for the EWG’s ranking system, so you know it’s free of harsh chemicals and dyes, hypoallergenic, and gentle on the planet.
Cost: $16.95 (about 16 cents/load)
Planet Ultra’s laundry detergents got a range of rankings all the way down to F; but two—free and clear, and powdered hypo-allergenic—get an A.
Cost: $33.38 (26 cents/load)
Molly’s Suds was started in 2008 by a woman who was both a pediatric nurse and mother of four, so you know this stuff is good. The brand’s “Cloth Diaper Laundry Powder” and basic laundry powder both get A’s. That said, this brand ranks among the most expensive on our list.
Cost: $43.48 (36 cents/load)
Lion Bear has five laundry detergents enjoying A-ratings by the EWG. The company is certainly thorough in its environmental commitments, as the packaging is all biodegradable, including the laundry scoops. Just watch the price point, as it’s going to cost you almost a buck per load.
Cost: $34 (85 cents/load)
Dr. Bronner’s has been a household name for environmentalists since the ‘60s, but arose way back in 1948. Calling this a trusted brand is an understatement. Dr. Bronner’s 18-in-1 soaps are so universal, seven of them got top ratings by the EWG for use as laundry detergents. One of my favorite things about Dr. Bronner’s is how they can be used for anything. Out of toothpaste? Dish soap? House cleaner? These guys have got you covered—and they’re a great way to cut down on all the packaging that comes with having separate containers for separate tasks.
Cost: $14.39 (dilutions vary)
Biokleen is a favorite at my farm for how effective it is at getting dirt and stains out of clothes, and for how much of a punch is packed into one container. Biokleen’s ultra-concentrated formula means you can use just an ounce of the stuff to wash a full load of clothes. Getting 128 (or up to 300) loads out of a jar of Biokleen means less waste, and a whole lot less real estate being occupied in your laundry room.
If you buy in bulk, it’s only 9 cents per load of laundry. That’s a deal for eco-friendly anything—and part of the ethos of Biokleen’s founder Jim Rimer, who worked for a chemical supply company and saw firsthand the negative effects of toxins on his colleagues and clients. Since 1989, Rimer’s goal has been to offer inexpensive alternatives to mainstream brands that are healthier for everyone.
Five of Biokleen’s laundry detergents get A ratings from the EWG for how gentle and effective they are. And it’s no surprise why, when the ingredients are plant- and vegetable-based.
Cost: $25.64 (8 cents/load)
Better Life’s line of cleaners, soaps, and detergents rely on ingredients like coconut, corn and soap bark over perfumes, dyes, and bleach. The idea for the company came in 2008 when best friends Tim Barklage and Kevin Tibbs got to talking about how to create cleaning products that wouldn’t be harsh on their toddlers’ skin. Five years later, the pair appeared on Shark Tank. The rest? History. Better Life’s unscented and lavender grapefruit laundry detergents both landed A ratings from the EWG and have ingredient lists that include purified water and citric acid made out of actual citrus fruit.
Cost: $17.99 (28 cents/load)
Attitude is a company offering skincare, household items, cleaning supplies, sun care, and laundry detergents that are hypoallergenic, totally natural, and free of all dyes, mutagens, endocrine disruptors, and irritating enzymes. Three of Attitude’s laundry detergents got an A score by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) for a lack of suspected hazards to health or the environment—and solid ingredient disclosure, to boot.
Cost: $15.95 (45 cents/load)