The Best Eco-Friendly Laundry Detergent Neutralizes Odors With This Everyday Ingredient
We tested it alongside four others.
Updated Oct 3, 2022 1:29 PM
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Reading up on Domino’s shopping guides is like having your own personal product concierge. We do the tedious part—deep-dive research, hands-on testing, and tapping experts for advice—so all you have to do is hit “add to cart.” That’s why we call them Simply the Best.
Fading fabric and skin irritation can be the result of using a detergent that’s full of chemicals or pumped with fragrance. If you want to make the switch to a more compatible option but aren’t sure where to start, the best eco-friendly laundry detergents might be the way to go. According to Cheryl Nelson, laundry expert and founder of Prepare With Cher, “Natural ingredients are much gentler on both skin and clothes.” Other perks of taking a greener approach to laundry? You get to replace chemical detergents with those with ingredients that are gentler on your clothing, skin, and the environment.
In case you have doubts about these “milder” products’ ability to tackle tough stains, we put several options to the cleaning test. And after sussing out everything from detergent sheets to laundry pods and beyond, the one pick that exceeded our expectations of the best eco-friendly laundry detergents is 9 Elements Liquid Laundry Detergent.
Scents: Lemon, eucalyptus | Weight: 65 fluid ounces | Packaging: 100 percent recyclable
What we like:
- $13 for 65 fluid ounces
- Quick and easy to purchase (online or at Target)
- 100 percent biodegradable
- Slight vinegar odor upon opening break
- Plastic container
This brand gets its name for sticking to nine (or fewer) ingredients—and it’s a potent, plant-based formula that uses vinegar as its primary purifier. The detergent manages to sufficiently cleanse without the assistance of artificial preservatives, thickeners, brighteners, or synthetic fragrances, plus it’s ideal for those with sensitive skin.
When our tester first got a whiff of 9 Elements, the vinegar scent was extremely noticeable but not overpowering. She had concerns over whether the sour odor would linger on clothing, bedding, and towels, but this worry was quickly quelled after putting the detergent to the test. The formula powered through several loads of gym towels, sweaty clothing, an accidentally chocolate-stained cotton cap, and wine-stained shirts. And our tester was relieved to report that the brand’s “no vinegar odor left behind” claim held up. No sticky residue or overwhelming scents remained—only fresh, stain-free, soft-to-the-touch fabrics. One reviewer who scored this formula 5-out-5 stars agrees, writing, “The funky smell is gone, the texture of the towels is renewed, and they absorb so much more than when I was using regular detergent. Also tried it on blankets—same results!”
While we’re partial to the eucalyptus scent (this was our tester’s first time using a plant-based formula), the detergent comes in lemon as well. Adjust the amount you use according to load size: For tinier ones, we used slightly less than the recommended amount and filled the cap to the brim with heavier lifts (sports bras, stained cotton tee, and thick cotton bath towels).
Overall, this detergent earned its spot based on its ability to produce visibly clean and supple fabrics and get rid of unpleasant odors in a single wash cycle, all in a recyclable bottle and at an extremely reasonable price point.
We Also Like
- Blueland: A long-standing Domino cleaning go-to makes Laundry Tablets, which topped our list of best laundry pods as our favorite unscented option.
The brand’s starter set comes with a compostable pouch filled with 60 tablets that you can store in a dishwasher-friendly container. The tablets are vegan-, gluten-, soy-, and nut-free, but the absence of chemicals didn’t stop them from thoroughly cleaning heavy-duty loads of gym clothes and everyday summer outfits.
You can also order refills (40 tablets for $14 or 120 tablets for $32).
- Laverée: A cruelty-free, all-natural option. The coconut, palm, citric acid, and pectinase (an apple derivative that removes stains) formula is packaged in a minimalist container made of recycled polyethylene terephthalate.
Offered in a range of subtle, nature-inspired scents (like Wind and Forest), this detergent worked wonders when we prewashed particularly sweaty workout T-shirts and tights. The screw-off top is a bit cumbersome to remove and can get a bit messy when pouring out detergent, but this doesn’t detract from the overall effectiveness of the detergent. You’ll pay $45 for a 30.5-oz. bottle (approximately 64 pours), but the attention to sustainability is worth giving it a shot.
- Method: We’re devotees of this brand in large part because it’s reliable and economical, an assessment that extends to its plant-based laundry detergent.
“One capful cleans an entire extra-large load,” writes one reviewer. “There is no residue in my washer, leaving it clean and fresh.” Its biodegradable, hypoallergenic formula is compatible with HE and standard washers and left our tester’s bedsheets and stinky gym clothes clean and fresh smelling.
Spend $15 for a 55-ounce, 66-load bottle, or save 40 percent when you sign up for monthly shipments.
- Dr. Bronner’s Sal’s Suds: Assistant editor Raven McMillan found a versatile, nontoxic formula with minimal ingredients in this natural-food aisle staple.
The concentrated, fragrance-free detergent lasts her months at a time and easily tackles everything from gym gear to jeans in both HE and standard machines.
How We Chose These Products
All of the detergents we tested shared similar formulas—chemical-free, hypoallergenic, light on the ingredient list, and created with one or more sustainability elements in mind. For the most part, we chose liquid options (Nelson says powder detergents tend to leave more residue), sought out those with recyclable or compostable packaging, scoured reviews for high-rated products, and kept our eye on budget-friendly selections as well.
We washed several loads of everyday clothing—from piles of sweat-soaked gym shirts, tights, and socks to bath towels, dish towels, and sheet sets—using the recommended amount of detergent and water temperature each time. After ranking the best detergents based on performance, scent (during and after laundering), overall design, and cost, a couple of formulas were the top contenders. At the end of our testing period, one bottle was nearly empty, making it crystal clear which formula we favored most.
Our Shopping Checklist
Nelson describes the best eco-friendly laundry detergents as those that don’t contain irritating ingredients, toxins, or harsh chemicals. Most notably, you can use them without contributing to water pollution. 9 Elements carries the EPA Safer Choice Label (clearly denoted on the bottle), meaning each ingredient has passed a thorough EPA review to ensure that it’s safer for buyers; workers who manufacture the products; pets; fish; and the overall environment.
While our testing proves that the vinegar odor doesn’t stick around throughout the wash cycle, 9 Elements uses 100 percent essential oils for a slightly scented experience. The formula has a low pH level that also enhances its overall cleaning power. One note to keep in mind, though: You’ll want to avoid washing bamboo or rayon textiles with this detergent because the acidity will damage the fabric. 9 Elements is compatible with both standard and HE machines, as well as septic systems; just be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for proper use.
While most of our picks for the best eco-friendly laundry detergents come in compostable or biodegradable packaging, 9 Elements comes in a plastic container. It is, however, 100 percent recyclable. The easy-to-grip handle and plastic screw-off cap make it a breeze to measure out enough for each load without any noticeable spilling.
As mentioned, 9 Elements is available in two scents, but the fragrance doesn’t overpower or linger far too long after the laundry cycle. After the vinegar odor dissipated, we only noticed a slight hint of the eucalyptus scent remaining in our laundry, which had completely vanished after the clothes were dried. For those with keen noses or anyone who wants a soft, nature-inspired scent, 9 Elements is an ideal pick. Looking for fragrance-free? Opt for Blueland’s tablets.
Q: Which ingredients help decrease skin sensitivity issues?
“Look for detergents that say hypoallergenic or those that contain plant-derived ingredients and enzymes,” Nelson suggests. She also recommends using liquid detergents to reduce the likelihood of residue, which can also create or exacerbate existing skin issues.
The Last Word
To find the best eco-friendly laundry detergents, we prioritized hypoallergenic, biodegradable formulas that didn’t require us to use extra or run the wash multiple times. Our research led us to plenty of options with more sustainable packaging, but we appreciate the effective, no-muss-no-fuss approach to the cleaning power of 9 Elements. And while we’re certainly sold on the formula’s cleaning power, the reasonable price point is an undeniable perk.