The 11 Best Eco-friendly Laundry Detergents

best eco friendly laundry detergents

One of the simplest ways to have a positive impact on the environment at home is to use eco-friendly laundry detergent.

Why?

Because it’s a regular (for most people) chore that has a relatively significant output. For one, the water that gets drained from your washing machine goes right back to—you guessed it—our waterways. And that includes any toxic chemicals you toss into the machine to keep your whites blindingly white and rid those soiled clothes of dirt.

That’s also not counting the actual physical waste from our laundry detergent: mainly, the plastic jugs they often come in. (Learn more about how much of our compostable and recyclable trash actually gets composted / recycled.)

Not to mention detergent has in the past contained many harmful chemicals (read: actual carcinogens) that companies are slow to remove—and usually only after they’ve been called out very publicly.

The good news is that there are way more environmentally conscious options today beyond your average Tide and Gain, that are good for not only the environment but our bodies too.

We’ve been trying to be more cognizant of our choice of detergent in the past few years and have been doing a bit of homework on some of the “best” options out there. The result: this (hopefully growing) list of the most interesting eco-friendly laundry detergents we found and will break each one down below.

Every detergent on this list:

  • Is biodegradable
  • Involved no animal testing
  • Is paraben/phosphate-free
  • Has non-scented options
  • Has sustainable packaging

Without further ado, let’s dive into this in-depth guide on environmentally friendly detergents. Skip ahead if you’d like:


But first, three things to get out of the way…

1. EWG ratings

As you’re doing research on eco-friendly detergents, you’ll see references to the Environmental Working Group, or EWG, a nonprofit organization that specializes in research and advocacy in the areas of agricultural subsidies, toxic chemicals, drinking water pollutants, and corporate accountability.

They give ratings to many detergent brands based on their ingredients (and how transparently they disclose those ingredients), and are generally a good source to refer to if you’re ever curious about the nitty gritty details of how harmful your laundry detergent’s ingredients really are.

However, because these ratings are hyper ingredient-focused, they may not always be representative of the overall risk factors of using that product itself. For instance, even AspenClean’s laundry detergents, which comprise two of the top three detergents that received EWG’s highest possible ranking (“EWG Verified™,” which is higher than an A grade) still had some ingredients that EWG noted as “Some Concern: damage to vision, acute aquatic toxicity, etc.”

So… for us, that makes things a little blurry. (Does that mean that products that got an A or B are much worse and shouldn’t be used at all? If even these EWG Verified products have risks, then should we even be using them?)

Because this is unclear, we won’t be too hung up on EWG ratings. Instead, we’ll be looking at the packaging and ingredients (because we’re interested in eco-friendly laundry detergents first and foremost), and keep an eye out for known toxic chemicals (like phthalates—more on these later).

And on that note…

2. Some common certifications for eco-friendly laundry detergent

If you see any of these certifications on your list of options, that’s a good sign that it’s eco-friendly (or at least more eco-friendly than your average supermarket brand).

**Getting these types of certifications can take time, and often money—and there are many small businesses that produce eco-friendly or zero waste laundry detergent that don’t have these certifications (or don’t have them yet). We make a mental note of these certifications if we do come across them while shopping, but it’s not a dealbreaker if a brand doesn’t have this certification (provided that everything else looks good, of course).

💡 Side note: What about B Corps? B Corp-certified companies are those that are basically deemed by B Lab, a nonprofit, to be doing good in the world beyond just turning a profit. Lots of popular brands, like Patagonia and Allbirds, are certified B Corps, and most people view having that label on your website as a sign that your company has environmentally friendly practices, cares about social responsibility, provides good working conditions, and so on.

We’ve written positively about brands that are B-Corp-certified in past posts. But! Since then, we’ve been doing a little more research and found that interestingly, it’s very unclear how the scores are actually doled out. Companies pay a pretty penny each year to stay “certified” and have the right to say that they’re B Corps, but if you look at the actual impact assessments for each company, it’s not obvious what exactly they’re doing to merit the score. (Here’s an excellent write-up on it.)

Because of this, we personally don’t pay as much mind to B Corp labels and would rather just look more closely at the company’s ingredients, packaging methods, and any other sustainability practices instead.

3. Palm oil (even RSPO) doesn’t necessarily = good!

Some detergent brands market themselves as being “more sustainable” because they use palm oil.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t change the fact that palm oil production requires huge plantations—which requires massive deforestation.

You might have read about some companies that are trying to keep consumption alive through initiatives like the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (or RSPO, which is supposedly finding ways to produce palm oil more sustainably and ethically). However… even RSPO-certified palm oil products aren’t necessarily good, according to Scientific American. (Hello, greenwashing.)

So, we try to stay from palm oil, whether it’s RSPO or not, if we can.


A quick checklist of what to look for in eco-friendly laundry detergent

  • Biodegradable – Is the detergent itself biodegradable? (Meaning it won’t kill marine life in our waters while taking hundreds of years to break down)
  • Recycled, or recyclable packaging
  • Plant-based or mineral-based ingredients
  • Natural fragrances (or unscented)
💡 Pro-tip: *Generally, eco enthusiasts advise against fragrances in your cleaners, mainly because fragrances have traditionally contained phthalates, which are harmful (more on this in the FAQs). But there have been tons of innovation in recent years and there are some detergents with safer phthalate-free fragrances today. (We kinda like nice fragrances, so given the choice between two equally safe and equally zero-waste detergents, we’ll choose the one that smells nicer. That being said, these can be tough to find, so we’d also settle for essential oils’ smells in detergent, which are equally lovely. 😊
  • No parabens or phthlates
  • No optical brighteners
  • Safe for septic systems and usable by folks living off the grid
  • No animal testing

Ready to see some of the best natural laundry detergents out there? Let’s dive in.

The 11 best eco-friendly laundry detergents


1. Tru Earth Laundry Strips: The lightest format for laundry detergent

tru earth eco strips

  • Fragrance-free? Yes, but there are scented options if you’re into that
  • Format: Strips
  • Compatible with high-efficiency washing machines? Yes
  • Packaging: Number 7 plastic bag

If we’re talking environmental impact and reducing your carbon footprint, it’s hard to top Tru Earth’s laundry strips.

It solves a few of the typical not-so-great things about traditional laundry detergent:

  • It’s in an innovative strip form—which is much lighter than liquid jugs and easier to transport or ship. In fact, Tru Earth says that this reduces transportation fuel consumption and carbon emissions by a whopping 94% compared to typical liquid and powder detergents.
  • Measuring and pouring out liquid detergent sometimes results in spills (we’ve done it more than a few times). With these strips, you just have to toss one into your machine for one load of clothes, and you’re done.

To use these almost-zero (we’ll get into why it’s “almost” later) waste laundry detergent strips, all you have to do is:

  1. Tear a strip off.
  2. Put that strip (which should be half of a square sheet) into your washer.
    • For front-load washing machines, put the detergent strip into the detergent dispenser—tear it up if you need to.
    • For top-loaders, just throw the strip into the washing machine.
  3. Throw your clothes in, and that’s it!

In terms of ingredients, it has no 1,4-dioxane (certified by independent laboratory tests)—which companies aren’t required by law to disclose, by the way, so that’s a good sign.

Our only gripe with the Tru Earth laundry strips is that the packaging comes in Number 7 plastic, which is one of the least commonly recyclable types of plastics—not all cities or municipalities will take this in, so double check before throwing yours into the recycling bin.

tru earth laundry strips packaging

If you subscribe, you’ll save 28% off the price of a pack of these strips, which is a pretty good deal.


2. Cleancult Laundry Detergent: Best liquid eco-friendly laundry detergentcleancult laundry detergent. shipping

  • Fragrance-free? Yes, but there are also scented options if you’re into that
  • Format: Liquid
  • Compatible with high-efficiency washing machines? Yes
  • Packaging: Recyclable milk cartons—clever! ✅

Cleancult has designed their zero waste laundry detergent with the environment in mind, not only in terms of using good ingredients, but also in terms of the packaging. They use recyclable milk cartons—and even the caps are plant-based! Very creative.

(In terms of the fun-ness in aesthetic, Cleancult and method are tied for number one for us.)

Speaking of packaging, Cleancult has refillable glass bottles that you can fill up with their detergent, and these bottles are built to last. They’re created with shatter-resistant glass and a colorful protective silicone sleeve:

cleancult laundry detergent glass bottles

Now, let’s get to the ingredients. Cleancult uses what they call “CocoClean Technology,” which “harnesses the natural antimicrobial and antifungal properties of coconuts.” And here we were thinking that delicious coconut water was the most amazing thing about coconuts…

What we like about Cleancult’s membership is that it’s like your typical subscription-based product plans, but you can customize the schedule to fit whatever works best for you.

You can pause, cancel, or adjust your plan at any time—which is awesome. There are lots of subscription boxes that we’re intrigued by, but we don’t like that you’re stuck paying every month for a box when you may not want / need a new one every single month. So kudos for solving that!


3. Dropps Stain & Odor Laundry Detergent Pods: Best pod-form zero waste laundry detergent

dropps laundry detergent pods packaging

  • Fragrance-free? Yes, but there are also scented options if you’re into that
  • Format: Pod
  • Compatible with high-efficiency washing machines? Yes
  • Packaging: Compostable ✅

Dropps is an innovative company that makes eco-friendly laundry detergent pods. (Who needs Tide Pods?)

Dropps’ laundry pods are 100% biodegradable, since they’re made from a water-soluble casing called polyvinyl alcohol (PVOH).

💡 Pro-tip: PVOH is a material that dissolves as soon as it comes into contact with water, and is consumed by microorganisms.

Something we like is that Dropps has a version specifically for sensitive skin—most eco-friendly laundry detergents, whether they’re liquids or pods, only have the one variety and maybe an extra couple of options in different scents. It’s nice to have an option for folks with sensitive skin.

This Stain & Odor version in particular is formulated to tackle stains and dirt in athletic wear too, so if you need something a little more powerful, this is the one to go with.

Their packaging and shipping are 100% carbon neutral. If you’re interested in other zero waste products, you can learn more about them here.

💡 Side note: We’ve been doing some reading about carbon credits and companies offsetting their carbon, and we’re not 100% sold on it. For instance, if a company isn’t making any attempt to actually reduce their carbon emissions and just saying that they’re “offsetting their carbon emissions”—is that actually a good thing?

Granted, in some cases, it’s impossible to completely eliminate emissions—you still have to ship a product to your customers somehow, which we think applies here in Dropps’ cases, so we do think it’s great that they’re “100% carbon neutral” in terms of shipping.

Like Cleancult and some other brands, there’s a subscription plan that lets you save 30%(!) on the price of the pods.


4. Branch Basics Oxygen Boost: Winner of “Laundry Detergent with the Shortest Ingredient List”

branch basics oxygen boost laundry detergent

  • Fragrance-free? Yes
  • Format: Powder
  • Compatible with high-efficiency washing machines? Yes
  • Packaging: Reusable container ✅

Oxygen Boost is Branch Basics’ laundry detergent that has, surprisingly, only two ingredients. Even for a greener laundry detergent, this is impressive and as you’ll see in the other detergents below, this wins the price for “shortest ingredient list”:

  • Sodium bicarbonate – A mineral-based water softener, also known as baking soda! Found dissolved in many mineral springs.
  • Sodium percarbonate – A mineral-based brightener and deodorizer

It’s safe for septic tanks, and Branch Basics says that you can use it on grout and other stains too—not just laundry!

It’s MADE SAFE® certified, which is apparently the most comprehensive safety standard out there and certifies that Oxygen Boost is made without the 5,000+ toxic chemicals.

These cover both chemicals that harm humans, like carcinogens, and chemicals that harm the environment, like aquatic toxicity contributors):

made safe hazard list

You can buy this eco-friendly detergent as either a one-time purchase or on a subscription basis (which gets you 10% off).


5. Eco-Max Hypoallergenic Laundry Wash: Our favorite store brand

eco max laundry detergent

  • Fragrance-free? No
  • Format: Liquid
  • Compatible with high-efficiency washing machines? Yes
  • Packaging: Number 2 plastic jug

Eco-Max is actually a Canadian brand (their detegents are 100% manufactured in Canada) that we’ve always used—and really liked. S works in healthcare, so she needs something that’s hypoallergenic, and this is easy to find in our local grocery stores.

This eco-friendly detergent from Eco-Max is super gentle and is actually designed for use on baby clothes. Its toxicity level is close to that of water and has an extremely low aquatic toxicity—so you know it’s safe.

A bonus for us: it’s very affordable!


6. Biokleen Free & Clear Laundry Powder: Another good powder laundry detergent option

biokleen laundry detergent

  • Fragrance-free? Yes (but there are options with fragrances)
  • Format: Powder (also a liquid option)
  • Compatible with high-efficiency washing machines? Yes
  • Packaging: Recyclable cardboard paper box

Another zero waste laundry detergent in powder form, Biokleen’s Free & Clear uses plant-based surfactants and packs much more into a box compared to most liquid formula detergents.

In fact, Biokleen says that they’re the first ones to introduce a 3x concentrated laundry detergent (though now it’s pretty common to see detergents that are 2x or 4x concentrated as well).

It’s safe for septic tanks, and we also like that Biokleen uses recycled packaging where they can. Plus, this format of detergent more environmentally friendly because the powder form is lighter to transport (compared to liquid).


7. ECOSNEXT™ Liquidless Laundry Detergent: Good budget-friendly eco laundry detergent

ecos laundry detergent sheet

  • Fragrance-free? Yes (but there are options with fragrances)
  • Format: Sheet
  • Compatible with high-efficiency washing machines? Yes
  • Packaging: 100% recyclable ✅

ECOS is one of the least expensive brands out of all the eco-friendly laundry detergents out there (which kind of sucks because that means that only relatively wealthy people can afford to make environmentally friendly choices—but that’s a whole other blog post).

ECOSNext is their zero waste laundry detergent—in sheet form. It’s much lighter than liquid detergents and takes up way less space. Each square dissolves completely in your washing machine, and they work for both standard and high efficiency (HE) machines.

ECOSNext is formulated with enzymes to target tough stains and is also hypoallergenic so it’s gentle on your skin.

One of its biggest perks is that it’s safe for both septic tanks and home grey water systems, which means that the water that comes out of your washing machine after a wash cycle can be used to irrigate your lawn, for instance.

Apparently, ECOS is the first company in the world to have achieved the “trifecta” of sustainable manufacturing: carbon neutral, water neutral, and TRUE Platinum Zero Waste certified (highest level, >95% waste diversion in all four of their US facilities) Very impressive.

ECOS invests in local water conservation programs, supports equitable access to freshwater resources—and even the locations of their facilities are strategically chosen to minimize carbon emissions from transporting stuff.

It doesn’t get more eco-friendly than that.


8. Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day Laundry Detergent: A beloved Whole Foods / Trader Joe’s classic

mrs meyers laundry detergent

  • Fragrance-free? No
  • Format: Liquid
  • Compatible with high-efficiency washing machines? Yes
  • Packaging: Bottle is made with at least 30% recycled plastic

Mrs Meyer’s is probably one of the most popular cleaning product brands out there, and its line includes eco-friendly laundry detergents, all-purpose cleaners, and more.

It’s made with recyclable packaging, and the ingredients themselves consist of plant-derived enzymes and surfactants. And while the full ingredient list is quite long, they do have a helpful “Ingredients Glossary” that lets you look up what each ingredient is.

💡 Pro-tip: What’s a surfactant? Surfactants are basically molecules that spontaneously bond with each other to form sealed bubbles, lowering the surface tension between two substances. Specifically, their job is to lower the surface tension between water and the dirt on your clothes—this helps loosen up that dirt and grime, and allows them to be easily rinsed away.

You’ll find surfactants in many detergents, emulsifiers, and foaming agents. Try to avoid chemical surfactants and go for plant-based instead where you can.

The bottles are made with partially recycled plastic, which is better than non-recycled plastic, but still not as ideal as sheets or pods that come in cardboard boxes and fully dissolve:

mrs meyers detergent ingredients


9. Seventh Generation Free & Clear Natural Liquid Laundry Detergent: Common / easy-to-find store brand, but uses palm oil

seventh generation laundry detergent

  • Fragrance-free? No
  • Format: Liquid or pods
  • Compatible with high-efficiency washing machines? Yes
  • Packaging: 100% recycled plastic ✅
💡 Did you know? The “Seventh Generation Principle” is a philosophy that comes from the Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois, people that urges us to consider the impact of our actions and make decisions that will benefit those who come after us—seven generations from now. (Seventh Generation does not, however, have any Indigenous people on its executive team to the best of our knowledge, and their 10-person “social mission” board has one Indigenous person on it.

Another very popular eco-friendly laundry detergent, Seventh Generation’s Free & Clear is made from plant-based ingredients—no dyes, optical brighteners or fragrances. It’s made for sensitive skin, but it does use palm oil (Seventh Generation claims it’s “sustainable palm oil,” which, if you remember from our note on palm oil above, we’re not totally sold on).


10. ATTITUDE Eco-Refill Laundry Detergent: Best eco-friendly laundry detergent with bulk packaging

attitude laundry detergent bulk packaging

  • Fragrance-free? Yes (but there are also scented options if you’re into that)
  • Format: Liquid
  • Compatible with high-efficiency washing machines? Yes
  • Packaging: Compostable ✅

ATTITUDE is a Canadian company that has a load of different personal care and cleaning products like natural laundry detergents. (Because they’re Canadian, that may also be why their certifications look a little different from American eco-friendly laundry detergent brands.)

This specific packaged version of their environmentally friendly detergent is made from FSC-certified 100% recyclable cardboard and uses 62% less plastic than the original bottle, and is designed to refill and reuse your ATTITUDE bottle (which is made from HDPE #2 plastic—one of the most commonly recyclable types of plastic).


11. Method Concentrated Laundry Detergent: Most aesthetic eco-friendly liquid detergent brand

method laundry detergent

  • Fragrance-free? Yes (but there are options with fragrances)
  • Format: Liquid
  • Compatible with high-efficiency washing machines? Yes
  • Packaging: 25–50% recycled plastic

method is one of the most well-branded laundry detergents out there. From its copywriting to the amazing scents (if you’re okay with scents) in its body washes and laundry detergents, it’s easy to see why method is so popular.

If you don’t like scents, the “free & clear” will be your go-to, but if you do, then boy are you in for a treat. For detergents, you have options like “fresh air” and “spring garden” (other products have different scents).

Like all of the other eco-friendly detergents on this list, its formula is plant-based, though of course if you have allergies to fragrances, then you’ll want to stay away from the scented detergents.

method has an entire page dedicated to information about their packaging, and it looks like the bottles for this liquid detergent is made from 50% recycled plastic, which is decent.

♻️ Side note: Given the choice, we’d go for products with packaging that’s made from recycled plastic rather than “virgin” plastic that’s never been recycled before. One, because it signals to businesses that they should invest in using recycled plastic instead of just making new plastic, and two, because even though plastic can get recycled, that doesn’t always mean that it actually gets recycled. When possible, we’d rather avoid contributing to the creation of more new plastic.


FAQs about eco-friendly detergents

1. What should I look for in a natural laundry detergent?

  • Ingredients – Ingredients is probably one of the biggest things to look for in your laundry detergent. It has a huge impact on not only your own health, but also marine life and the environment. Ideally, your eco-friendly laundry detergent will be fully biodegradable, meaning they’re safe to send back out to the waterways—we’ll go into more detail about what ingredients to avoid below.
  • Scent – It used to be that green laundry detergents featured little to no scent, but today’s varieties include some pleasing natural essences. However, unscented formulas are still widely available and may be the best option for people with especially sensitive skin or allergies.
  • Format – Choose from laundry detergent available in powder, liquid, or pod form. With powder or liquid detergent, you’ll need to measure the output each time you wash, but you can adjust for the size and soil level of the load more easily. However, you may prefer the convenience of ready-to-go laundry pods.
  • Packaging – Of course, as you’ve probably gathered by now, the packaging that any zero waste laundry detergent comes in will influence its environmental impact. For us, we’d prioritize packaging that’s made from already recycled or compostable materials, then recyclable packaging, then well, all the rest.

2. What should I avoid when looking for eco-friendly laundry detergent?

Some of most environmentally toxic chemicals in laundry detergent include:

  • NPEs (nonylphenol ethoxylates) – This is an example of a chemical surfactant that becomes more toxic as it degrades. It’s toxic to fish and wildlife, and is bad for humans too—it imitates   estrogen, which can affect fetal development and reproductive health
  • Chemical surfactants – Can harm marine life (but plant-based/natural surfactants are okay)
  • Optical brighteners – According to research, these aren’t easily biodegradable, water treatment plants can’t filter them out, and they’re not good for living creatures—human or not. When detergent brands say that they’ll make your white clothes look brighter, this is the ingredient they’re talking about. Which brands use optical brighteners? Many at the supermarket do, so make sure you check the label.
  • Phosphates – Promotes algae growth which leads to dead zones in rivers and lakes and deprives marine life of sunlight (and oxygen)
  • 1,4-Dioxane – Classified as a probable human carcinogen according to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). You won’t find it on the label because it isn’t technically an added ingredient, but a “byproduct of the manufacturing process.” Which makes no sense to us, but hey, we don’t make the laws. And get this, a 2019 study by Citizens Campaign for the Environment found 1,4-Dioxane in these laundry detergents…
    • Tide Original
    • 2x Ultra Ivory Snow (Gentle Care)
    • Gain Original
    • Arm and Hammer (Clean Burst, 2x Concentrated)
    • Johnson’s Baby Shampoo
    • Disney Frozen Bubble Bath
    • Victoria’s Secret Bombshell and Love Fragrance Washes
    • Olay Moisture Ribbons Plus Body Wash
    • Neutrogena Rainbath Shower and Body Gel
    • Nivea Care and Hibiscus Body Wash

💡 Pro-tip: How to avoid 1,4 Dioxane

Read the ingredients! “But wait, didn’t you just say that this won’t be on the ingredient list?”

Yes, but there are other chemicals in laundry detergent, soaps, shampoos, and more that frequently coincide with 1,4 Dioxane:

  • Sodium laureth sulfate
  • PEG compounds (usually listed as “PEG” followed by a number)
  • Chemicals that end in “eth” (denotes ethoxylation), like ceteareth and oleth
  • Look for the USDA Organic certification, which doesn’t allow ethoxylation processes, and the MADE SAFE seal.
  • Phthalates – Usually omitted from ingredients lists because they are hidden behind the ‘fragrance’ label. Manufacturers are not legally obliged to disclose what their fragrances are composed of because they are considered ‘trade secrets.’ The chemical, which is used in washing detergents to prolong that fresh laundry scent, is known to disrupt hormone and reproductive systems.
  • Silver nanoparticles (Ag NPs), which are used to eliminate odor-causing bacteria. Similarly to optical brighteners, these particles seep into the ecosystem and damage aquatic life. Rodents exposed to Ag NPs in a laboratory setting have shown detrimental effects to their “circulatory, respiratory, central nervous and hepatic systems” as well as effects on dermal tissues, according to the US National Center for Biotechnology.

3. What are the different laundry detergent formats?

  • Sheets – The lightest form that eco-friendly laundry detergents can take; convenient + no measuring needed. Can come in a cardboard box, which is easily recycled.
  • Pods – Like sheets, these are premeasured so you don’t need to measure and you’re less likely to spill or make a mess. Can also come in a cardboard box, which is easy to recycle.
  • Powder – Like liquid detergents, this tends to be heavier and not as environmentally friendly in terms of how it’s transported around.
  • Liquid – Generally the worst of the formats in terms of packaging because it can’t come in recycled cardboard, but if it comes in recycled plastic, that’s not so bad. It’s more convenient than other formats for hand-washing.

4. Is detergent eco friendly?

Some are! It depends on the types of ingredients in the detergent (is it good for both humans and the environment?), how it’s packaged, and how it’s transported.

5. Is laundry soap or detergent biodegradable?

Some are—you’ll have to check each brand individually.

What’s your favorite eco-friendly laundry detergent?

Will it be powder, liquid, sheets, or pods? Certifications are great, but make sure to look at the company’s sustainability practices and the detergent’s ingredient list too to make sure it really is as environmentally friendly as they claim.

The 11 Best Eco-friendly Laundry Detergents
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