The 8 Best Eco-Friendly Laundry Detergents of 2021

Protect your skin and the planet by starting in the laundry room

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The Rundown
"Affordable, cruelty-free detergent that's safe for sensitive skin and can help cut plastic waste."
"Made of just a few plant-based ingredients, ECOS is half the cost many other brands."
"Detergent strips let you cut the plastic, carbon footprint, and bulk from laundry duty."
"This top-rated vegan powder is safe for the most sensitive skin."
"These simple, anti-inflammatory, sustainable ingredients can clean clothes for both babies and adults."
"Convenient, safe and effective detergent pods that are packaged for the planet."
"Get a fresh, mild citrus scent in a product that’s only cruel to dirt."
Most Innovative Packaging:
Biokleen Laundry Liquid at Amazon
"Cut plastic by 65 percent with this affordable plant-based liquid detergent."

All of the water that runs through your washing machine will eventually make it back to our oceans, lakes and streams, even if it makes a stop at a treatment facility along the way. You can make a big impact on the environment by carefully choosing the laundry detergent you use to get your clothes clean. Where you can, try to use natural household ingredients like vinegar or baking soda to reduce the chemicals you use and release into our water systems.

Treehugger put together this list of top-rated, widely available environmentally-responsible laundry detergents to help you make this simple, positive transition toward protecting our waterways. As you’ll discover, it is difficult to find a quality detergent whose ingredients and packaging tick all the right boxes, so keep that in mind as you make your choices. If the first detergent you try isn’t a good fit for your lifestyle, try another one until you find what’s right for you.

Ahead, the best eco-friendly laundry detergents.

Best Overall: Puracy Natural Laundry Detergent

Puracy NATURAL LAUNDRY DETERGENT

To earn our Best Overall spot, the detergent must be safe for sensitive skin, affordable, effective and be free of harmful chemicals. Puracy Natural Free & Clear laundry detergent fits the bill. It was originally developed with help from physicians for those with sensitive skin and allergies. A bonus is that this liquid detergent is plant-based, cruelty-free and has never been tested on animals.

Because this product is at a concentration ten times traditional liquid detergents, using Puracy means the bottle is smaller, so less energy is used in shipping and you’ll generate less plastic waste. Puracy comes in a 24-ounce recyclable bottle that does 96 loads and a 64-ounce foil refill that can cover 256 loads. For comparison, a typical 100-ounce jug will handle just 64 loads. Using just 0.25 ounces of Puracy per load, you’ll reduce your plastic waste by 80 percent compared to traditional detergents.

A special combination of four hard-working enzymes remove stains and odors while leaving clothes soft and fresh. Their formula contains no sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), sodium laureth sulfate (SLES), sodium coco sulfate (SCS), petrochemicals, sulfates, caustics, phosphates, dyes, chlorine, gluten, tree nut allergens, or optical brighteners.

Although the formula contains some alcohol ethoxylates that are concerning in high concentrations, EWG gives it an “A” grade overall when compared to other detergents. Puracy is also made in the United States and has a 100 percent satisfaction guarantee.

Best Budget: ECOS Hypoallergenic Liquid Laundry Detergent Free & Clear

ECOS Hypoallergenic Liquid Laundry Detergent Free & Clear

Making positive purchases shouldn’t put too much pressure on your wallet. Earth Friendly ECOS Hypoallergenic Free & Clear Liquid detergent is a sound compromise. It is doubly concentrated so you’ll use half as much as traditional liquid detergents. It is plant-based, 100 percent biodegradable and free of chlorine and petroleum-based ingredients. It's safe for baby’s sensitive skin and gentle enough for delicate fabrics.

This detergent is made of just six ingredients. That’s unusually low for laundry detergent. ECO’s surfactant, a soapy ingredient of detergents whose job is to break up stains, is made from anionic coconut kernel oil.

One ingredient of some concern is methylisothiazolinone. It is used in small concentrations as a preservative to extend shelf life. In the aquatic environment, this chemical is toxic to some organisms and for some with sensitive skin, it can be an irritant. Despite this, ECOS has earned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Safer Choice Certification.

Made in the United States, the company is based in California and is majority women owned. Depending on what size and where you buy it, you’ll spend just $0.05 to $0.15 per load. That’s less than half what you’d pay for many traditional brands.

Best Detergent Sheets: Lazy Coconuts Laundry Detergent Strips

Lazy Coconuts Laundry Strips

There are a number of detergent strips available, but most have not yet been evaluated by groups like EWG. We chose Lazy Coconuts Eco-Friendly Detergent Strips because they contain better ingredients than the Tru Earth brand which earned a C grade from EWG. Those ingredients are septic-safe and gentle on sensitive skin.

Lazy Coconuts Strips are also vegan and free of parabens, bleach, chlorine, and dyes. They are ideal for anyone who has to trek to the laundromat or shared laundry room, and they're also handy for traveling and camping. They’re a little cheaper than many comparable brands.

The Dirt on Detergent Strips

Detergent strips are relatively new on the laundry detergent front, but a variety of them are popping up in response to demand from consumers to reduce the plastic waste associated with liquid laundry detergent bottles. Because they are also 20 times lighter than the equivalent in liquid detergent, the amount of fossil fuel used for transportation is also decreased, reducing the carbon footprint of your clean laundry.

The idea is that instead of measuring out a volume of liquid or powder, you simply tear off a detergent strip (similar to dryer sheets) and pop it in the washer. The concentrated dried ingredients fully dissolve in water and do the same hard cleaning work of liquid and powdered detergents, but without the plastic bottles. Most are packaged in recyclable cardboard.

Best Powder: Molly's Suds Original Laundry Detergent Powder

Molly's Suds Laundry Detergent Powder

Molly’s Suds Laundry Powder is a great choice because it’s made from some of the same simple ingredients the pioneers used. It contains only five earth-derived vegan ingredients that are safe for sensitive skin. You won’t find dyes, optical brighteners, chlorine, or parabens here.

You’ll use just a tablespoon per load, so the carbon footprint for shipping is smaller than many liquid detergents on a per-load basis. Molly’s Suds also receives an “A” grade from EWG. It’s most dangerous ingredient is peppermint oil (only a concern if you happen to be allergic to this essential oil) so you can feel good about your purchase.

If you have hard water, the manufacturers recommend you add a splash of white vinegar to each load. Those with soft water can use even less than a tablespoon in each load.

Best for Sensitive Skin: ATTITUDE Baby Laundry Detergent

Attitude Laundry Detergent

Many eco-friendly detergents are by nature safe for sensitive skin, but Attitude Little Ones laundry liquid contains the ancient medicinal herb chamomile. This herb is well known for its ability to help you sleep—commonly as a tea, but it also has been used for centuries for its anti-inflammatory properties.

Although it was formulated for babies and children, this detergent is almost free of scent so adults don’t have to worry about smelling like a baby or being irritated by unnecessary scents. If you suffer from eczema or other skin issues, this might be a fit for you.

Its plant-based ingredients that are vegan and cruelty-free. It's certified by both PETA and ECOLOGO, so you can be sure that the manufacturing process for this product harms no animals and is sustainably produced. It also received an “A” grade from EWG and is formulated for cold water, meaning it works well while you save money on your energy bill.

Best Pods: Dropps Sensitive Skin & Baby Detergent Pods

Sensitive Skin & Baby

Pods, also known as packs or pacs, have grown in popularity, now outselling powdered detergents. They’re convenient because you don’t have to worry about spilling or measuring. Each “dose” is generally wrapped in a polyvinyl alcohol casing that dissolves quickly in water and works equally well in all types of machines. More concentrated than their non-concentrated cousins, they have a smaller carbon footprint related to shipping.

But pods also come with some disadvantages. They tend to be more expensive per load, and because they’re premeasured for an average load, you can’t vary the amount based on the size or dirtiness of the load. Look carefully at the packaging as well. Although you’ll eliminate plastic bottles of liquid detergents, they’re often individually packaged in non-recyclable foil. One other con is that some pods are mistaken by children or others for candy, so keep them out of reach.

Dropps Sensitive Skin & Baby Laundry Detergent pods have found a way to offer all the positives of this delivery method while also eliminating some of the negatives. With just five plant-based ingredients and water, they receive an “A” grade from EWG. One of those ingredients is a proprietary bittering agent that helps reduce the chance of accidental poisoning.

Dropps also come in recyclable and compostable cardboard packaging and are made in the United States. On a per-load-basis, they are only slightly more expensive than our Best Budget pick.

Best Smelling: Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day Laundry Detergent Pacs

Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day Laundry Detergent Pacs

From a widely trusted brand, Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day, the fresh lemon verbena scent of these laundry pacs was inspired by flowers and herbs, but still packs a punch in the laundry room. All of their cruelty-free scents are made from plant-derived ingredients and essential oils that are never tested on animals.

These pacs are made without chlorine, artificial colors, parabens, phthalates, monoethanolamine (MEA), and diethanolamine (DEA). MEA and DEA are emulsifiers or foaming agents used often in traditional cosmetics and other soapy products, but are associated with an increased risk of cancer with prolonged use. 

Some of the ingredients used to make the scent cause this option to earn a “B” grade from EWG, because they can be irritating to those who are sensitive to scents or who have sensitive skin.

Most Innovative Packaging: Biokleen Laundry Liquid

Biokleen Laundry Liquid

You might have noticed a new kind of packaging in the laundry aisle of the grocery store. Several brands have responded to customer’s calls for less plastic by bottling liquid detergent in bottles made from recycled cardboard.

Biokleen Natural Concentrated Free & Clear liquid laundry detergent now comes in a 32-ounce bottle made from 100 percent recycled cardboard and newspaper. The measuring cap and spout are still made from plastic, and inside is a plastic pouch to safely hold the liquid, but it’s a step in the right direction.

When the bottle is empty, you remove the cap, pop open the cardboard shell and pull out the pouch. The plastic pieces should be recyclable in most areas (but check with your recycler if you’re not sure). The outer shell is fully compostable or can be recycled with your standard paper or cardboard recycling.

Every bottle uses about 65 percent less plastic than the typical detergent bottle. Refreshingly, this innovative change hasn’t increased the price. This new packaging was developed by Ecologic Brands, who are leading the way in our much needed transition away from plastic packaging.

Like some of the other brands above, Biokleen is triple concentrated, so energy is saved in packaging and shipping and a single bottle will handle 64 loads. Made in the United States, the Biokleen brand is also plant-based and rated well for its performance. It earned a solid “B” from EWG.

Trend Alert:

Watch for more and more companies to transition toward plastic-free packaging. Seventh Generation has also adopted this packaging so if you don’t find Biokleen in your store, look for other brands. Or drop a note in your store’s suggestion box asking them to stock this positive alternative.

Final Verdict

You can take steps in the laundry room to reduce your carbon footprint while protecting your skin and the planet. Start with Puracy Natural Free & Clear liquid laundry detergent (view at Amazon) that checks all the boxes for performance, health and safety for the environment. Or go back to the simple basics that work with Molly’s Suds Laundry Powder (view at Walmart). No matter what you try, you’ll be taking leaps in the right direction.

FAQs

Can I make my own eco-friendly laundry detergent?

Yes! Before laundry detergents were widely available at grocery stores, our grandmothers made their own from simple ingredients. Many people have found success with those same recipes—or improved with essential oils. Try your hand at making your own powdered or liquid laundry detergent.  

Why use eco-friendly laundry detergent?

For many people, taking good care of our skin includes caring about what touches it. Conventional laundry detergents contain a number of chemicals that are not good for our skin, or that may be harmful to our lungs. Some of these same chemicals may be harmful to aquatic organisms in our streams, lakes and oceans.

For example, the phosphates in laundry soaps have been linked to heart disease and osteoporosis, and are disruptive to natural phosphate cycles in the environment as well as being toxic to marine animals. Phosphates are just one of many chemicals found in traditional laundry detergents that are worth avoiding. Luckily, there are a range of quality eco-friendly alternatives on the market, including those above.

Are "eco-friendly" laundry detergents actually eco-friendly?

The term “eco-friendly” can be misleading because it might imply that eco-friendly laundry detergents cause no harm to the environment. In reality, perhaps no cleaning product can ever be completely free of environmental impacts. That’s because no matter what we use to wash our clothes, energy is consumed to make the product and its packaging. Even recyclable or reusable packaging requires energy to be repurposed. The spent ingredients of our detergent, however benign, are being discharged to pass through our water treatment plants and then into our waterways.

Instead, when we use these terms like “eco-friendly,” we’re comparing these alternatives to the traditional products that haven’t typically considered concern for the environment. Perhaps terms like “more eco-friendly” or “greener” are more accurate.

In addition, because the term “eco-friendly” is not a technical term, any manufacturer can claim it. Some products that carry this label actually contain chemicals that are known to be toxic. So it’s important to look at ingredients and choose products that have received certifications from third party nonprofit organizations such as the Environmental Working Group to back up their claims. In the end, the best thing we can do is find new ways to do less laundry, and therefore, impose less human impact on our environment.

If you’ve ever wondered why there are so many ingredients in laundry detergent, you might be interested to learn more about the science behind it.

What are other ways to make doing laundry eco-friendly?

When looking at what you can improve around your home to help the environment, taking a good, hard look in the laundry room is an excellent place to start. At the top of the list for saving time, money and energy is to find new ways to do less laundry. Every load you avoid saves an average of 15 to 30 gallons of drinking water in a high efficiency front-loading machine or 30 to 45 gallons for an older washer.

There are a number of small changes you can make to further cut your water use and increase efficiency. To save time and energy use in the dryer, consider adding a few reusable dryer balls to each load. Or skip the dryer altogether and use a drying rack.

Why Trust Treehugger?

In general, we’ve chosen detergents that are phosphate-free to protect the environment and fragrance-free for those with sensitive noses and/or skin. But most brands are also available in scented form. We’ve also considered their rating by the nonprofit Environmental Working Group (EWG), who ranks products based on the toxicity of their chemical ingredients, and packaging.

Lorraine Wilde has done more laundry than she’d like to admit over the last 17 years with her twins. She has only the highest of standards for what goes on her family’s skin. Lorraine also holds a Master’s degree in environmental science and is a firm believer that consumers can make healthy, informed and environmentally-conscious choices to protect their families and our planet.