Need the best laundry detergent? The thought of clean laundry brings to my mind fresh clothing and crisp linens with a snuggly bear touting a particular brand of fabric softener. But what about the harsh chemicals used in most laundry detergents? It’s no wonder so many kids suffer rashes or eczema from detergent! You’ve trusted Mamavation to bring you topics like safest cookware, safest kitchen appliances, & safest shampoos, now join us as we explore the best (& worst) non-toxic laundry detergents for sensitive skin and tips for what ingredients to avoid.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links and was fact-checked by Rebecca Elizabeth Sherrick Harks, RN, BSN.
What is Non Toxic Laundry Detergent?
Mamavation is looking for eco-friendly laundry detergent that is
- Non-toxic to the touch for people with sensitive skin & eczema
- The fragrances are safe to inhale from clothing the entire day
- Using ingredients that are safe for the environment.
Because we use so much washing soda for dirt and stains and it eventually makes its way into streams and other water systems, it’s important to consider purchasing from brands that prioritize green and non-toxic ingredients for our washing machines. We want to get those grease stains or other tough stains out while still using less water in high-efficiency washing machines. Are these laundry formulas out there? Yes, and they are available in both liquid form and powders.
14+ Toxic Chemicals Commonly Found in Brand Name Laundry Detergent
We looked at the most popular brands of laundry detergents and found that the amount of problematic ingredients is vast. This list includes everything from mild irritants and allergens to endocrine disruptors and cancer-causing agents that can be found in your local laundromat or in your home:
Although fragrances give you that sense of things smelling clean, they do more to trick you than actually help you. Your brain is hard-wired to associate certain scents with clean, but did you know that those scents can also contain hormone-disrupting chemicals? Sadly, they can trick your brain into thinking they are good for you in that regard.
Phthalates are plasticizer chemicals used to make scents carry longer around inside your indoor air and in the bottle. But they come with some health risks. Prenatal exposure in utero to phthalates are linked to attention problems in children. Phthalates are also closely linked to risks to children like attention deficit disorder (ADD), and other behavioral disorders.
However, phthalates are rarely on the label, so good luck finding them. But they are typically found in the ingredient “fragrance” on the label. Technically, thousands of chemicals are approved to list under the ingredient “fragrance.” But here’s more:
- “Fragrance” and the ingredients included in that label are considered trade secrets and, therefore, companies are not required to disclose their components to the general public.
- If you see “fragrance” or “perfume” on the ingredient list, the product may also contain chemicals such as acetone or ethanol, just two of thousands of possible ingredients you’d also want to avoid.
- Only brands disclosing ingredients in their fragrance made our “best” list down below for washing machines.
Nonylphenol Ethoxylates (NPEs)
Nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs) are endocrine-disrupting chemicals that mimic estrogen and are linked to both hormonal problems and cancer. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), NPEs have been associated with reproductive and developmental effects in lab studies on rodents and are highly toxic to aquatic life. They have been found in human breast milk, too. While the EPA is starting to take action on NPEs, they have not yet banned them.
Although this chemical is not supposed to be used in “eco-friendly” products, studies have discovered it in a number of laundry detergents anyways. 1,4-dioxane isn’t added directly to your laundry detergent, it’s a contaminant that gets in during a process called ethoxylation when ethylene oxide is added to other ingredients to make them less harsh in processing.
Ingredients like sodium laureth sulfate are ethoxylated because they are harsh on the skin. This process is what creates the contamination of 1,4-dioxane.
The EPA has determined that this chemical is a probable human carcinogen.
Synthetic and Petroleum-Based Surfactants
Surfactants help to clean your clothes, but when they are synthetically derived or petroleum-based, they are the most harmful. Surfactants can be divided into three categories:
- Natural surfactants: Derived from vegetable or animal fats and they are the safest, however, some are still toxic to aquatic life.
- Naturally derived surfactants: made by modifying coconut oil or other fatty acid plant-based ingredients. They may sound natural and safe, however, they are mostly known to be toxic and are known carcinogens.
- Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) and Sodium Laurel Sulfate (SLS) are examples of naturally derived surfactants but we will discuss. SLS and SLES are naturally derived surfactants but that doesn’t mean they are not harmful. Both have been shown to be a skin and eye irritant by the Journal of the American College of Toxicology. There is debate over whether SLS is a carcinogen, and some research indicates it may damage the immune system. Both are harmful to the environment.
- Synthetic or petroleum-based surfactants: These surfactants are typically the worst and potential for contaminated ingredients is higher. Examples of synthetic surfactants are ammonium Laureth Sulfate (ALES) and Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate (ALS).
- Ammonium laureth sulfate (ALES), which can cause moderate to severe skin and eye irritation, can also be contaminated with 1,4-Dioxane, which is a suspected carcinogen. The severity of the irritation will increase with the amount you are exposed to, but when combined with other chemicals, they can create nitrosamines, which are a potent class of carcinogens. ALES may also damage the skin’s immune system by causing skin layers to separate, inflame and age.
- Polyethylene glycol (PEG), may be contaminated with measurable amounts of ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane. 1,4-dioxane is persistent, meaning it doesn’t easily degrade and can remain in the environment long after it is rinsed down the drain.
Phosphates are difficult to remove, even in wastewater processing systems, and can pose a threat to the environment. According to the EPA, they promote algae growth that decreases the oxygen that many aquatic life forms need to survive. Studies also link them to cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and death in animals.
Chlorine bleach, such as Clorox, can burn the skin, and can cause eye damage and respiratory issues. It is classified as a hazardous chemical in its initial state.
Ammonium Quaternary Sanitizers (Quats)
Lab studies have shown this chemical to harm fertility, cause miscarriages, and cause severe birth defects in animals. According to Chemical of the Day, they can also trigger skin and respiratory irritations as well as allergies. Some quats are also EDCs and some are toxic to aquatic life. Not much is known about its effect on humans, but this is definitely a chemical you don’t want around your children.
Benzyl Acetate, and Other Benzene Ingredients
According to its own material safety sheet, this benzyl acetate is toxic if inhaled or ingested. It’s also irritating to eyes, lungs, and skin. Benzene-based ingredients are often toxic.
The EPA states that this chemical can irritate your throat, skin, or eyes and may have even more serious health effects. In animal lab studies, it has also been associated with harmful effects during pregnancy, neurological effects, and more.
These chemicals create the “optical illusion” of brighter whites. They “coat” your clothing and remain after washing, meaning that your family’s skin is constantly exposed to them. According to the material safety sheet, they are extremely toxic to aquatic life. They are also an irritant to skin, eyes, and lungs, and can be harmful if ingested.
Quaternium-15 & Formaldehyde
Quaternium-15 releases formaldehyde. Additionally, some companies add formaldehyde to their products. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen and toxicant.
Artificial Colors and Preservatives
We know that artificial dyes are associated with ADHD. And artificial preservatives, like BHT and BHA, may be carcinogenic or an endocrine disruptor. You should avoid these as much as possible.
A Word About Silver Nanoparticles
More manufacturers are adding silver nanoparticles to clothing to combat odor-causing bacteria. These can seep back into wastewater, in this case, from your washing machine. They are harmful to ecosystems and can damage fish and other animals as well as their embryos, according to research. They can also prevent wastewater treatment systems from functioning properly. You may want to limit how many “odor-reducing” clothing articles you buy for your family.
Mamavation Investigates Laundry Detergents
Mamavation combed through 200+ Laundry Detergents online. Brands offering no or incomplete ingredient disclosure were deemed not our favorite. So were laundry detergents that cleaned with an abundance of ingredients harmful to the Planet and the humans on it.
Here are some additional investigations we thought you’d be interested in:
Worst Laundry Detergent Brands (i.e. Not Our Favorite)
These brands contain many of the chemicals from our toxic ingredient list above. We specifically were looking for brands that had Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS), benzisothiazolinone, and methylisothiazolinone. Please take note that some brands have other products in other categories.
- 365 Whole Foods Market Powdered Laundry Detergent Unscented
- 365 Whole Foods Market Liquid Detergent Laundry Packs Unscented
- 365 Whole Foods Market Lavender Citrus Concentrated Laundry Detergent
- Ajax (all products)
- All (all other products)
- All Free & Clear: Contains surfactants and brighteners
- Amway Home SA8 Liquid Laundry Detergent
- Amway Home SA8 Powder Laundry Detergent
- Arm & Hammer Clean & Simple Laundry Detergent
- Arm & Hammer Liquid Detergent Perfume & Dye-Free
- Babyganics 3X Laundry Detergent Fragrance-Free
- Biokleen Free & Clear Laundry Liquid
- Biokleen Free & Clear Laundry Powder
- Biokleen Citrus Essence Laundry Powder
- Biokleen Baby Laundry Liquid
- Biokleen Citrus Essence Laundry Liquid
- Biokleen Lavender Lily Laundry Liquid
- Biokleen Sport Laundry Liquid
- Biokleen Cold Water Laundry Liquid
- Botanical Origin Laundry Detergent Orange Blossom & Citrus Leaves
- Cheer Free & Gentle
- Cheer (all products)
- Cosy House Collection Detergent Pacs Unscented
- Cosy House Collection Detergent Pacs Fresh Scent
- Dr. Bronners Sals Suds All Purpose Cleaner
- Dreft Stage 1 Newborn Liquid Detergent
- Dreft Baby Laundry Detergent Powder
- Dynamo (all products)
- EcosNext Liquidless Laundry Detergent Free & Clear
- EcosNext Liquidless Laundry Detergent Lavender Vanilla
- Ecover Zero Laundry Detergent Fragrance Free
- Ecover Laundry Detergent Lavender Field
- Era (all products)
- Fab (all products)
- Just The Basics (CVS) Laundry Detergent Fresh Scent
- Kirkland Signature Ultra Clean Premium Laundry Detergent Free & Clear
- Lazy Coconuts Eco-friendly Detergent Strips
- Method Laundry Detergent Packs Free + Clear
- Method Laundry Detergent Packs (with fragrance)
- Method Laundry Detergent Pour Free + Clear
- Method Laundry Detergent Pour (with fragrance)
- Modere Laundry Detergent Clean (liquid)
- Norwex Liquid Laundry Detergent
- Persil Sensitive Skin Laundry Detergent
- Persil ProClean Discs
- Planet Ultra Powdered Laundry Detergent Free & Clear
- Planet Ultra Laundry Detergent Free & Clear
- Purex Free & Clear for Sensitive Skin
- Purex for Baby Laundry Detergent
- Purex 4-In-1 Packs Mountain Breeze
- Purex Powder Detergent
- Seventh Generation Ultra Plus Power Free & Clear
- Seventh Generation Free & Clear for Baby’s Sensitive Skin
- Seventh Generation Ultra Power Plus 3-In-1 Fresh Citrus Scent
- Tide (rest of brands)
- Tide Purclean Plant Based Liquid Unscented
- Tide Pods
- Ultra (all products)
- Wisk (all products)
The Better Brands
These brands are better but may contain 1 or 2 of the above ingredients. Most have naturally derived versions of certain chemicals and derive their scents naturally, and are clear of the worst of the “bad” chemicals. However, these are better products than those listed above and do not contain the worst offenders on the above list. That said, these chemicals do not pose a high risk but maybe something to avoid if you have sensitive skin, allergies, or are autoimmune compromised. One more thing to note about this section is it contains ALL additional “natural” brand that did not offer 100% fragrance disclosure. If we didn’t know what the fragrance was, we added it here.
- Babyganics 3x Laundry Detergent, Fragrance-Free and Lavender
- Biokleen Premium Stain Fighter Laundry Powder
- Blueland Laundry Detergent Tablets Starter Set
- Charlie’s Soap Natural Laundry Liquid Detergent
- Charlie’s Soap Natural Laundry Powder Detergent
- Dropps Sensitive Skin & Baby Laundry Detergent Pods Unscented
- Dropps Stain & Odor Detergent Pods Clean Scent
- Dropps Oxi Booster Laundry & Household Pods Unscented
- Earth Breeze Laundry Detergent Eco Sheets Fragrance-Free
- ecoegg Laundry Egg + Pellets
- Ecos Free & Clear Laundry Detergent
- Ecos Disney Baby Free & Clear Laundry Detergent
- Ecos Laundry Detergent Packs Free & Clear
- Ecos Lemongrass Laundry Detergent
- Ecos Lavender Laundry Detergent
- Ecos Honeydew Laundry Detergent with Enzymes
- Grab Green 3 in1 Detergent Pods Fragrance-Free
- Grab Green 3-In-1 Laundry Detergent Powder
- Grab Green Stoneworks Detergent Pods Rain Fragrance-Free
- Grab Green Stoneworks Detergent Pods Olive Leaf
- Grab Green Classic Delicate Laundry Detergent Pods
- Grab Green 3-In-1 Detergent Pods Vetiver
- Greenshield Organic Laundry Detergent Lavender
- Honest Company Baby Laundry Fragrance-Free
- Indigo Wild Zum Lab Aromatherapy Laundry Soap Frankincense-Lemongrass
- Indigo Wild Zum Lab Laundry Soap Frankensince Patchouli
- Indigo Wild Zum Lab Laundry Soap Frankensince & Myrrh
- Indigo Wild Zum Lab Aromatherapy Laundry Soap Sea Salt
- Mama Suds Laundry Soap
- Melaleuca MelaPower 9x Detergent Scent Free
- Mild By Nature Unscented Laundry Detergent Pods
- Modere Laundry Powder
- Molly’s Suds Delicate Wash Unscented or Lavender
- Molly’s Suds Super Powder Lavender
- Molly’s Suds Super Powder Ocean Mist
- Mrs. Meyers Laundry Detergent Lavender
- Mrs. Meyers Laundry Pacs Lavender
- Public Goods Laundry Detergent Pods
- PUR Home Laundry Detergent Pacs Lavender
- Puracy Natural Laundry Detergent
- Puracy Natural Laundry Detergent Fresh Linen Scent
- Rockin’ Green Classic Rock (Unscented AND Scented option)
- Rockin’ Green Platinum Dirty Diaper or Active Wear
- Seventh Generation Laundry Detergent Free & Clear
- Seventh Generation Laundry Detergent Fresh Lavender Scent
- Seventh Generation Laundry Detergent Packs Free & Clear
- Seventh Generation Ultra Power Plus Detergent Packs
- Seventh Generation Easy Dose Laundry Free & Clear Concentrate
- Shaklee Fresh Laundry Fragrance-Free Powder
- Shaklee Fresh Laundry Fragrance-Free Liquid
- Sheets Laundry Club Laundry Sheets Free & Clear
- Sheets Laundry Club Laundry Sheets Fresh Linen
- Simple Truth Laundry Detergent Free & Clear
- Simple Truth Laundry Detergent Sweet Olive Blossom
- Simple Truth Laundry Detergent Wildflower
- Sonett Laundry Liquid Sensitive
- Sonett Laundry Powder
- Thrive Market Free & Clear Liquid Laundry Detergent
- Thrive Market Lavender Liquid Laundry Detergent
- Tide Free & Gentle Liquid Detergent
- Tide Simply Free & Sensitive
- Trader Joe’s Liquid Laundry Detergent Free & Clear
- Trader Joe’s Liquid Laundry Detergent Lavender Scent
- Tru Earth Eco-strips Laundry Detergent Fragrance-Free
- Tru Earth Eco-strips Laundry Detergent Baby
- Tru Earth Eco-strips Laundry Detergent Fresh Linen
- Whole Foods Organic Citrus Geranium Laundry Detergent
- Woolzies Lavender Jasmine Powder Laundry Detergent
The Best Non-Toxic Laundry Detergent Brands
We are happy to announce that this list is long enough to provide you with plenty of options! All of these products are either MADE SAFE certified, do not contain the ingredients listed above, or are naturally/organically grown with no added chemicals. Pay attention to products because some brands have products in different categories.
(If you are interested in Mamavation’s recommendation, check out Pure Natural below. They are running a special for the Mamavation community with a “buy one get one free” special using code “Mamavation” at checkout)
- Aspen Clean Laundry Detergent Unscented
- Aspen Clean Lavendar Lemongrass Laundry Detergent
- Attitude Nature + Technology Baby Laundry Detergent Extra Gentle Fragrance Free
- Attitude Nature + Technology Baby Laundry Detergent Soothing Chamomile
- Attitude Baby Sensitive Skin Care Natural Laundry Detergent
- Attitude Sensitive Skin Care Natural Laundry Detergent w/ Oatmeal
- Attitude Nature + Technology Wildflowers Laundry Detergent
- Attitude Nature + Technology Citrus Zest Laundry Detergent
- Attitude Nature + Technology Pink Grapefruit Laundry Detergent
- Attitude Nature + Technology Baby Laundry Detergent Sweet Lullaby
- Attitude Nature + Technology Baby Laundry Detergent Pear Nectar
- Better Life Naturally Dirt Demolishing Laundry Detergent Unscented
- Better Life Naturally Dirt-Demolishing Laundry Detergent Lavender Grapefruit
- Blur Laundry Detergent Powder Calming Cleanse
- Blur Laundry Detergent Powder Restorative Cleanse
- Blur Laundry Detergent Powder Soothing Cleanse
- Branch Basics Laundry Kit
- Buckaroo Organics Soapberry Suds Organic Laundry Detergent
- Celadon Road Unscented Laundry Detergent
- Celadon Road Orange Laundry Detergent
- Celadon Road Lilac Laundry Detergent
- Celadon Road Cedarwood Laundry Detergent
- Celadon Road Jasmine Laundry Detergent
- Celadon Road Lime Laundry Detergent
- Celadon Road Lavender Laundry Detergent
- Christina Maser Vegan Laundry Detergent
- Cleancult Laundry Detergent Fragrance Free
- Cleancult Laundry Detergent Juniper Sandalwood
- Cleancult Laundry Detergent Sea Spray & Aloe
- Cleancult Laundry Detergent Sweet Honeysuckle
- Common Good Laundry Bergamot
- Common Good Laundry Lavender
- Corewash Laundry Powder
- Dansoap Laundry Soap Unscented
- Dansoap Laundry Soap Citrus
- Dansoap Laundry Soap Lavender
- DoTerra On Guard Laundry Detergent
- Eco Nuts Natural Liquid Laundry Detergent Fragrance Free
- Eco Nuts Soap Berry Laundry Detergent
- EcoMe Laundry Detergent Fragrance Free
- EcoMe Laundry Detergent Vanilla Bean
- EcoMe Laundry Detergent Lavender Blossom
- EcoMe Laundry Detergent Citrus Berry
- EcoMe Laundry Whitener Brightener Fragrance Free
- Fit Organic Baby Laundry Stain Remover
- Greenshield Organic Laundry Detergent Free & Clear
- Greenshield Organic Laundry Detergent Lavendar
- Greenshield Organic Baby Laundry Detergent Free & Clear
- Hello Bello Concentrated Organic Laundry Detergent Fragrance Free
- Hello Bello Concentrated Organic Laundry Detergent Sweet Baby
- Indigo Wild Zum Lab Unscented Clean Laundry Soap
- Ingredients Matter Laundry Soap Powder Fragrance Free
- Ingredients Matter Laundry Soap Powder Lavender
- Ingredients Matter Laundry Soap Powder Lemongrass
- Meliora Unscented Laundry Powder
- Meliora Lemon Laundry Powder
- Meliora Lavender Laundry Powder
- Miessence Organic Platypus Laundry Liquid
- Miessence Happi Earth Laundry Liquid
- Molly’s Suds Laundry Powder Unscented
- Molly’s Suds Laundry Powder Peppermint
- My Green Fills Laundry Wash Unscented
- My Green Fills Laundry Wash Signature Scent
- Nature First Laundry Pods
- NaturOli, Extreme 18x, Soap Nut / Soap Berry Liquid Detergent & Cleaner, Unscented
- Nellie’s Laundry Soda
- Nellie’s Laundry Nuggets
- Nellie’s Baby Laundry
- OdorKlenz Laundry Liquid
- OdorKlenz Laundry Powder
- Pardo Naturals Natural Laundry Detergent Unscented
- Pardo Naturals Natural Laundry Detergent Citrus
- PUR Home Laundry Detergent Free & Clear
- Pure Haven Laundry Detergent
- Pure Natural Laundry Detergent
- Pure Baby Natural Laundry Detergent
- Sapadilla Laundry Liquid Rosemary Peppermint
- Tandi’s Naturals Concentrated Laundry Soap (Unscented, Lavender, Citrusy Trio)
- The Simply Co. Laundry Detergent Unscented
- The Simply Co. Laundry Detergent Lavender
- Young Living Detergent
- Thrive Market Free & Clear Laundry Detergent Powder
- Thrive Market Lavender Laundry Detergent Powder
- Thrive Market Peppermint Laundry Detergent Powder
- Whole Foods Organic Unscented Laundry Detergent
- Whole Foods Organic Unscented Baby Laundry Detergent
- Woolzies Lavender Jasmine Liquid Laundry Detergent
If this list of toxic laundry detergents surprised you, I’m sorry to say that it gets worse. Almost all laundry aides – dryer sheets, fabric softener, and stain remover – use toxic chemicals. Most fabric softeners, for example, contain quats but they also have fragrance, or artificial preservatives and colors. Dryer sheets fare even worse.
If you want to use these products, here are some of the safest choices:
- Fabric Softeners: Attitude: Fragrance-Free, Sweet Lullabuy, Citrus Zest, and Pear Nectar. Greenshield Organic Fabric Softener
- Dryer Sheets: Pure Ecosheet
- Stain Remover: Branch Basics Oxygen Boost, Fit Organic Baby Laundry Stain Remover, Poofy Organics Pre-Spray, Puracy Natural Stain Remover, Pure Haven Master Blaster, OxyClean Stain Remover.
So what can you use in your high-efficiency washer and is laundry detergent toxic? Many brands are but you don’t have to stop washing your clothes. (Bad news for your teenager!) There are a lot of brands you can choose from to keep your family safe and freshly laundered. Or, take the plunge and DIY your laundry cleaners. You won’t regret it!