Published on November 6, 2018

Artboard 1 (2) Pin It
Illustration by Phuong Nguyen

A bottle of dish soap is a bottle of dish soap—except it’s not. Between the ingredients, price point, and packaging, there’s a lot to consider when finding your perfect product. And with so many companies coming out with bargain brands (the most recent being Target’s Smartly), the choice can seem overwhelming.

Which is why we’re breaking it down: Ahead, we compare seven of the most common household essentials made by three easily accessible, affordable brands. We’re looking at Whole Foods’ 365 Everyday brand, the aforementioned Smartly vertical, and the perennially cheap Trader Joe’s to see how these go-to groceries measure up. Here’s what you should know before your next trip to the store.

imagePin It
Illustration by Phuong Nguyen

Hand Soap

Lavender & Chamomile Hand Soap, Trader Joe’s, $3.99

You’ll actually want to display this hand soap: It features a minimalist design accented by pops of lavender. Most of the ingredients are derived from plants, including tea tree oil and grapefruit seed extract. Plus, the lavender and chamomile oils make for a super calming scent.

Blossom-Scented Liquid Hand Soap, Target Smartly, $0.99

Millennial pink minimalist packaging aside, this soap is a steal at under $1 (yes, you read that right). The floral scent is sweet but not overpowering; great for anyone in need of bathroom basics.

Lavender Foaming Hand Soap, Whole Foods 365 Everyday Value, $3.99

A barely-there hint of lavender is subtly luxe, and this foaming soap (crafted from biodegradable ingredients) won’t dry out your hands either. As one reviewer put it, “I’ve bought enough of this for every sink I have in my house… and there are a lot of sinks.”

Verdict: Trader Joe’s, for a hand soap that looks as luxe as it smells. Beyond packaging, the plant-centric ingredient list is another huge plus for anyone averse to putting chemicals on their skin. 

Dish Soap

Liquid Dish Soap, Trader Joe’s, $2.99

This soap is another relatively stylish kitchen counter accessory. Well, as chic as dish soap can ostensibly be. Choose the citrus variety for a refreshing scent, and take comfort in the fact that the formula is hypoallergenic and biodegradable. From a user perspective, you will need a whole lot of this to get through an entire batch of dishes; however, considering how much you get for this low price, it’s worth the purchase.

Citrus-Scented Liquid Dish Soap, Target Smartly, $0.80

This Target steal is super effective for something so wallet-friendly and the grease-cutting properties in this formula will make your post-dinner chores a cinch. Choose the citrus option for its fresh scent and orange bottle. Haven’t you heard? Orange is the color of the season!

Fig & Pear Dish Soap, Whole Foods 365 Everyday Value, $3.19

Even this bargain brand has a strong focus on being environmentally responsible. The natural fragrance (which smells amazing, by the way) comes by way of essential oils. Using plant-based ingredients, this soap gets the job done without causing harm to your skin in the process.

Verdict: For a dish soap that ticks all the boxes, opt for the Whole Foods 365 bottle. Not only is it eco-friendly, but the added money you’ll spend on it is well worth it in how effective the soap is. 

imagePin It
Illustration by Phuong Nguyen

Toilet Paper

Regular Toilet Paper, Trader Joe’s, 12 for $4.99

Made with 100 percent recycled materials (even the packaging is eco-friendly) Trader Joe’s toilet paper is both an environmentally and financially friendly purchase. Yes, this is one item that’s worth buying in bulk. 

Septic Safe Toilet Paper, Target Smartly, 4 for $0.99

Pricewise, Target’s version can’t be beat. Each roll offers 150 2-ply sheets, so you won’t have to pop back to the store to buy replacements as often as you might have to with other cheap toilet paper brands. As with the rest of the collection, Smartly’s minimal packaging is perfect for those who end up displaying their utilitarian goods out of a lack of storage space.

Sustainably Soft Bath Tissue, Whole Foods 365 Everyday Value, 12 for $9.99

Definitely on the highest end of the spectrum, but ideal for sustainably-minded shoppers. Completely hypoallergenic and fragrance-free, it’s safe for use and doesn’t skimp on softness, either.  

Verdict: When it comes to paper goods, you want them to be recyclable and have as minimal damage on the environment as possible. While both Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods excel at putting sustainability at the forefront, being that the 12-pack from Trader Joe’s is cheaper, you should probably opt for that one. 

Paper Towels

Paper Towels, Trader Joe’s, 3 for $3.99

There are 80 2-ply sheets per roll—so it’s not as much as a jumbo pack, but each sheet is fairly strong. The packaging is only stylish if you have a thing for sketches of Victorian-era figures, but if you’re opting for function over fashion you can’t go wrong with these towels. Worried about your consumer impact on the environment? The product is made from 100 percent recycled material.

Paper Towels, Target Smartly, 2 for $1.19  

There’s no mention of biodegradability or recyclability in this packaging, but what these towels potentially lack in environmental responsibility they more than make up for in pricing and fun, colorful packaging.

100% Recycled Paper Towels, Whole Foods 365 Everyday Value, 8 for $6.99

Here’s the biggest plus for this purchase: You won’t have to buy more paper towels for a very, very long time. The products are totally recyclable and made from recycled materials, so you can feel good (or at least, better) about your consumerism. According to some reviewers, the sheets aren’t as sturdy as they would like… but with the sheer amount of product you get, you’ll have enough to clean up messes.

Verdict: The Whole Foods 365 option will give you the most bang for your buck, hands down. Think of the environment and pick a paper product made from recycled materials. 

imagePin It
Illustration by Phuong Nguyen

Laundry Detergent

Liquid Laundry Detergent, Trader Joe’s, $4.99

Trader Joe’s sells two different sizes of liquid laundry detergent. The 53 fl oz. bottle ($4.99) and the 128 fl oz. bottle ($9.99) are both eco-friendly options that get the job done. If storage space is tight, get the smaller bottle, which will last for at least 26 loads of laundry and not take up too much valuable under-sink real estate.

Fresh-Scented Laundry Detergent, Target Smartly, $4.49

The price-to-quantity ratio for this is definitely solid: $4.49 gets you 100 fl oz. The detergent includes a stain-fighting formula for maximum power and smells super fresh. The downside is how many chemicals pollute the ingredient list (when compared to the Trader Joe’s liquid version), but if you’re someone who prizes efficiency and budget above all else, it’s still a good buy.

2x Concentrated Laundry Detergent, Whole Foods 365 Everyday Value, $14.99

We should all be so lucky as to have lavender-scented clothing. This detergent will last for 100 loads (hence the higher price tag, compared to the other products on this list) because it’s concentrated, so it will save you money in the long run. And, of course, it’s made from plant-derived ingredients.

Verdict: The Trader Joe’s 53 fl oz. bottle is compact enough so that you can lug it to your nearest laundromat but also get enough use out of it. Plus, the ingredient list leans eco-friendly, which is always a nice bonus. 

Dishwasher Detergent

Dishwasher Detergent Gel, Trader Joe’s, $3.99

Props to Trader Joe’s for getting in on the neon trend with their detergent gel. Again, the emphasis is on using plant and mineral-based ingredients so that it’s as natural as possible. Made without synthetic fragrances or dyes and boasting a 65 percent USDA Certified Biobased Product label, it’s a cleaning product that’s literally clean.

Lemon-Scented Dishwasher Gel, Target Smartly, $3.59

If you’ve previously suffered from dishes that smell a little moldy or damp after a stint in the dishwasher (which can happen sometimes with older dishwashers or subpar detergents), the lemon scent Smartly offers is refreshing. The size of this bottle—75 fl oz.—is another bonus. You’ll be getting use out of this for months to come.

Dishwasher Detergent Packs, Whole Foods 365 Everyday Value, 20 count for $4.99

The plus side: these pods are fragrance-free and phosphate, phthalate, and chlorine-free. The downside: according to the reviews, the potency of these pods is tepid at best. If you want a cleaner that’s eco-friendly or powerful, it’s probably best to go with either of the other two retailers on this one.

Verdict: It’s cheap, it’s effective, and it’s built to last: Go with the Target Smartly option to clean your dishes. 

All-Purpose Cleaner

Multi-purpose Cleaner, Trader Joe’s, $2.99

It’s not much to look at, but it’ll get the job done; without using harsh chemicals, too. This spray-bottled cleaner works on a variety of surfaces and can be used in several capacities, making it a staple for your kitchen and bathroom.

Meadow Scented All-Purpose Cleaner, Target Smartly, $1.59

Available in a variety of scents, each denoted by a different vibrant color (potential cause for concern for any consumers in search of all-natural cleaners), this multipurpose tool is great for the price.

All-purpose Cleaner, Whole Foods 365 Everyday Value,$2.99

Affordable and effective, this cleaner is a great target for all areas of your home in need of a quick tidy. The packaging is colorful and cheery; and as for the scent, wild orange is a fun reprieve from the traditionally sterile-smelling cleaners you find in most grocery stores.

Verdict: Though colorful minimalists will love the Target bottle, the composition of Whole Foods 365’s multi-purpose cleaner means you can breathe (literally) a little easier knowing there aren’t as many harsh chemicals you’ll be spraying about your home. 

Conclusion

Budget-driven consumers (with a thing for color and minimalist packaging) may be drawn to Target’s Smartly brand for aesthetics and price; but if you can manage it, go with Whole Foods 365 Everyday Value. The slightly higher price point is well worth it in terms of transparency—you know exactly what you’re getting with your product, and more often than not you’re getting an eco-friendly, responsibly made product that won’t pollute your home with too many chemicals. It’s comparable to Trader Joe’s—another great budget-friendly option with a focus on the environment, for sure—but being that sustainability is the crux of the entire Whole Foods brand, eco-conscious consumers can’t go wrong with that choice.

See more household basics we’re loving:
11 Watering Cans You’ll Love More than your Plants

Hand Washes that Double as Bathroom Decor
Easy Swaps to Elevate Your Household Basics