We Sniffed Out the Six Best-Smelling Laundry Detergents
Enjoy lingering hints of bergamot, myrrh, kiyomi, and more.
Published Mar 5, 2022 1:59 AM
Even the most ardent fans of doing laundry (yes, we exist) look for ways to make this chore a little less mundane. A memorably scented detergent often does the trick, offering a welcome change from the standard-issue, overpowering aromas that tend to dominate the cleaning market.
Although Tide will always have a nostalgic place in our hearts, a new wave of refreshingly fragrant laundry detergents is taking hold. With notes like bergamot, myrrh, kiyomi (Asian citrus), and cedar, these put the conventional tropical and floral constructions out there to shame. Rather than veer too heavily on the perfume-y side, the modern scents are light yet luxurious, elevated yet familiar. The liquid detergents have a full-bodied fragrance in the bottle, but when used in a wash cycle they leave clothes with a mysterious and alluring scent that will linger in the laundry room and get the closest heads turning.
Curious yet? Here are the six best-smelling laundry detergents worth poking your nose into.
- Best for freshness: Fer À Cheval Concentrated Laundry Liquid
- Best long-lasting scent: Dedcool Dedtergent 05 Spring
- Best for minimalists: Dirty Labs Bio-Liquid Laundry Detergent Signature Scent
- Best organic: Tangent GC Kiyomi Perfume Everyday Detergent
- Best earthy: Steamery All Colors Laundry Detergent
- Best perfume-like: The Laundress Le Labo Signature Detergent in Rose 31
Best for Freshness: Fer À Cheval Concentrated Laundry Liquid
Scent(s): Fresh spring | Weight: 67.63 fluid ounces | Packaging: Plastic bottle with handle
What we like:
- Made from traditional Marseille soap
- Allergen-free formula
- Measuring cup is integrated into the cap
- Only one scent available
- Additional shipping cost required
Why we chose it: A light, fresh scent that transports you to the French countryside without the need for air miles.
Fer À Cheval’s concentrated laundry liquid brings ancient know-how (aka savoir faire) up-to-date. The famed brand is one of the oldest soap factories in Marseille and uses a traditional recipe (and ancient cauldrons!) dating back to 1688, and its signature Marseille soap forms the basis of this detergent. Comprised of 99 percent natural ingredients, the allergen-free formula cleans effectively at low temperatures while maintaining the colorfastness of garments. The natural spring fragrance is a mix of light florals with that distinctly clean, soap-scrubbed scent—quintessentially European. Its satisfyingly soapy consistency also makes removing stubborn stains a breeze. With this elegant yet unfussy formula, doing a load of laundry will feel like taking in a breath of fresh air.
Best Long-Lasting Scent: Dedcool Dedtergent 05 Spring
Scent(s): Milk, taunt, and spring | Weight: 32 ounces | Packaging: Aluminum canister
What we like:
- Choice of three unique and memorable scents
- Stylish packaging
- Biodegradable and naturally sourced ingredients
- Does not come with a measuring cup or decanter
- Use more for a more fragrant wash
Why we chose it: Dedcool elevates laundry day with an array of memorable scents and cool, utilitarian packaging.
Los Angeles–based label Dedcool believes that great fragrances should translate across all different kinds of mediums. From perfumes to candles to car air fresheners, its ethos demonstrates scent layering at its finest. Case in point: Three of the company’s complex unisex scents can be enjoyed in detergent form. Rather than simply dousing your clothes in perfume, Dedtergent makes it possible to clean your clothes while getting them to smell the way you want, too. The naturally sourced, biodegradable formula is nontoxic and eco-friendly while still remaining surprisingly effective. The spring scent is the heaviest of the trio, a sexy mélange of incense, moss, and bergamot that fades to a light, smoky finish. We especially love that the detergent comes packaged in a cool aluminum canister, which can be recycled endlessly. Top tip: Commitment-phobes can order sample sizes of the three laundry scents before deciding on one.
Best for Minimalists: Dirty Labs Bio-Liquid Laundry Detergent Signature Scent
Scent(s): Fragrance-free and signature (magnolia, bergamot, cedar) | Weight: 8.6 fluid ounces | Packaging: Aluminum bottle with silicone cap
What we like:
- Low-water, hyper-concentrated formula
- Silicone cap doubles as a measuring beaker
- Stains and odors targeted at the source
- A little goes a long way
- Subtle fragrance
Why we chose it: Dirty Labs’s clean formula is backed by its proprietary enzyme-based technology, which means you can clean more, and safely, with a whole lot less.
The eco-credentials behind each slender bottle of Dirty Labs’s laundry detergent are hard to beat. It is a super-concentrated, low-water formula that means you only need two teaspoons to combat a standard load of laundry. Backed by proprietary enzyme-based technology, this nontoxic, biodegradable formula targets stains and odors at the source, while still remaining gentle on both your skin and your clothing. Its signature scent is light and subtle, featuring magnolia, bergamot, cedar, and zero fragrance allergens. Packaged in a recyclable aluminum bottle with a silicone cap that doubles as a measuring cup, this detergent is the perfect choice for those who want their clothes to smell good without being overpowering.
Best Organic: Tangent GC Kiyomi Perfume Everyday Detergent
Scent(s): Fir, clover, oud, kiyomi, yuzu, sugar, and fragrance-free | Weight: 33.8 fluid ounces | Packaging: Bio-plastic bottle
What we like:
- Elegant packaging
- Organic and vegan formula
- Each scent targets a specific purpose
- Scent is strongest in liquid form
- Does not include a measuring cup
Why we chose it: Tangent GC’s organic universal detergent comes with a beguiling citrus fragrance that transforms hand washing into a journey for the senses.
Leave it to the Swedes to take chores to new heights. Made from organically grown plants and eschewing animal by-products, Tangent GC’s wares (which also include hand soap and body care) are as conscious about the environment as they are about your well-being. The elevated detergent collection upholds these principles and matches each distinct fragrance to a specific purpose: The denim wash is paired with an oud perfume; the cashmere solution has an airy, sugar-tinged fragrance. To remove stains, fresh fir is the ideal companion, while sportswear gets clean with a bright clover scent. The light-handed yuzu fragrance is reserved for washing delicates, and kiyomi citrus makes washing everyday basics a dream. These fragrances are at their most intoxicating in liquid form, so to maximize their staying power, we recommend them for hand washing.
Best Earthy: Steamery All Colors Laundry Detergent
Scent(s): Rose and musk, citrus and cedar, oud wood, and fragrance-free | Weight: 25.3 fluid ounces | Packaging: Plastic bottle
What we like:
- Measuring cup included
- Specific fragrances for specific needs
- Designed to preserve colors of all kinds
- Discrete scent after washing
Why we chose it: The high-efficiency detergents from garment-care pros Steamery do exactly as they promise while leaving a subtle fragrance behind.
First known for its line of handheld steamers and garment-care gadgets, Steamery puts clothing integrity first by placing efficacy front and center. Its succinct line of detergents—including a denim wash, delicate wash, and one for odor control—matches each targeted, power-packed formula with equally surprising fragrances. This multipurpose All Colors formula is gentle enough that it doesn’t target color pigments like it does dirt and bacteria. Designed to be used on low-temperature wash cycles, it helps to preserve the life span of clothing while keeping energy use and the environment in mind. What’s more, the sumptuous myrrh and ylang fragrance is alluring without being imposing, evoking the feeling of being wrapped in a warm blanket. No one would need to convince us to use this every day.
Best Perfume-Like: The Laundress Le Labo Signature Detergent in Rose 31
Scent(s): Rose 31 and Santal 33 | Weight: 16 fluid ounces. | Packaging: Plastic bottle
What we like:
- Iconic fragrance
- Creamy, biodegradable formula
- The best of two brands combined
- Recommendation to use the bottle’s cap to measure gets messy
Why we chose it: The O.G. in sophisticated, perfumed laundry detergents, this union between two cult favorites is a match made in heaven.
Probably the formula that started them all, this sought-after love child of two iconic brands brings cleaning prowess and the be-all and end-all in fragrance together in one fell swoop. Le Labo’s Rose 31 scent is far from floral: Rich, spicy, and moody with notes of cedar, amber, and rose (obviously), it’s blended from 31 ingredients that reimagine the rose. The scent is both feminine and masculine, not the blossomy smell you might expect it to be, which perhaps accounts for its wide appeal. Needless to say, the Laundress’s formula is easy on the skin, too. Allergen-free and eschewing all animal by-products, this plant-derived formula continues to lead the pack in the world of great-smelling detergents.
How We Chose These Products
The best-smelling laundry detergents might feel indulgent, but they have to do what they’re supposed to do, too. We put this selection of detergents to two tests: First, we washed cotton basics by hand in order to experience the full spectrum of each formula’s fragrance and staying power. Then we used them in the weekly laundry loads of a family of four to truly test the might of their cleaning powers. The detergents that made the final cut cleared both of these hurdles, making them the best of both worlds.
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As much as natural ingredients are in favor these days, fragrances derived naturally from essential oils can be irritating to those with sensitive skin. “All of our fragrances fall under ‘safe synthetics’ that are mixed with natural scent profiles and compositions,” says Dedcool’s founder, Carina Chazanas. “Our scents are never composed of ingredients that will disrupt your hormones, damage your skin, or harm your body and the environment. We make all our fragrances in small batches so that they uphold our high-quality standards.” The same can be said about the other fragrances we were drawn to during testing. Complex, long-lasting yet unobtrusive, these scents are better than nature intended.
Gone are the days where lugging around fluorescent, economy-size containers went hand in hand with getting the laundry done. There are solid and powdered options, of course, but today’s modern liquid laundry detergents not only come in more streamlined bottles, they are often even stylish. From Dedcool’s recyclable aluminum canisters to Tangent GC’s Scandi-style bottles, the packaging is far from an afterthought. These containers are easy to store because they no longer need to be hidden—in fact, a great-smelling detergent might be the quickest way to upgrade your laundry room setup.
The best laundry detergents clean just as beautifully as they smell. Boasting super-concentrated formulas that work efficiently at low temperatures, these eco-friendly, energy-efficient detergents often feature plant-based ingredients that are nontoxic, noncarcinogenic, and eschew other nasties like irritants and pollutants. Thanks to contemporary scientific advancements, many biodegradable detergents now clean as well if not better than traditional liquids—particularly impressive when you consider their all-natural origins.
The not-so-secret ingredient in making these fragrant detergents function as well as their commercial cousins? Enzymes. Different classes of enzymes are known to tackle fat, starch, cellulose, and protein, making them excellent at breaking down stains. Dirty Labs counts on Phytolase, it’s signature enzyme technology, to precisely target odors and stains while remaining gentle on clothes and the planet, while Steamery’s color-preserving formula utilizes amylase, cellulase, and lipase to attack dirt and bacteria. To top it all off, these discrete workers naturally occur in the human body, so they’re nonirritating and biodegradable too. Win-win.
Q: Can fragrant laundry detergent irritate sensitive skin?
Detergents made with heavy chemicals, such as sulfates, phthalates, phosphates, and petroleum, can be irritating to the skin. Fragrances themselves tend to be more irritating when they contain large doses of essential oils or high amounts of alcohol. While it’s unclear which of these is more irritating to sensitive skin, eliminating all allergens and irritants and opting for clean laundry detergents will decrease the chances of a skin reaction. “We’re making changes in the traditional fragrance space by choosing to use the term clean as opposed to natural,” explains Chazanas. “We choose to use clean ingredients, where science is involved and our health standards are met.”
Q: How long does a laundry detergent’s scent last on clothes?
Given that most of these detergents answer the call for more eco-conscious and health-oriented ingredients, it’s important to note that their scents will not be as powerful or long-lasting as those of conventional brands. If you are a fragrance fiend and want to maximize the enjoyment of these scented formulas, we recommend using these detergents for hand-washing garments and delicates. The fragrance tends to last longer when clothes air-dry (and you’ll get to catch whiffs of it over and over again, too).
The Last Word
While scent-focused detergents conjure up ideas of heavy perfumes, the new wave of fragranced detergents is more sophisticated than you might think. Bolstered by high-performing, clean formulas featuring carefully selected biodegradable ingredients, fragranced laundry detergents are now more effective and sweet smelling than ever.
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