How to Select an Environmentally Friendly Laundry Detergent

Selecting an environmentally friendly laundry detergent is an important way to reduce your environmental impact. Many conventional laundry detergents contain harsh chemicals that can pollute waterways and harm wildlife. Eco-friendly detergents get clothes clean using plant-based, biodegradable ingredients that are safer for the planet.

Follow this guide to learn how to identify truly green laundry detergents and find the best option for your needs. We’ll cover what to look for on labels, tips for safe and effective cleaning, and review some top eco-friendly detergent picks.

Ingredients to Look For

When evaluating eco-friendly laundry detergents, start by checking the ingredients list. Look for these environmentally friendly ingredients:

Plant-Based Surfactants

Surfactants help lift dirt and stains from fabrics. Many conventional surfactants are derived from petrochemicals, but green detergents use gentler plant-based alternatives like:

  • Sugar-based surfactants – Derived from corn and coconut oils, these break down easily without toxins.
  • Saponins – Naturally derived from the soapbark tree, saponins are biodegradable sudsing agents.
  • Coco glucoside – This gentle coconut-based surfactant is readily biodegradable.

Plant-Based Enzymes

Enzymes help breakdown soils and stains. Look for detergents with natural enzymes like:

  • Protease – Removes protein-based stains like grass, blood, and sweat.
  • Amylase – Breaks down carbohydrate and starch soils from food and drinks.
  • Lipase – Attacks fat and grease stains from cooking oils or cosmetics.
  • Cellulase – Breaks down cellulose fibers for lint and pill removal.

Essential Oils

Some green detergents use antimicrobial essential oils like tea tree, eucalyptus, and lavender for light disinfecting power and natural scents. These plant extracts are biodegradable and non-toxic.

Plant-Derived Cleaners

Eco-friendly detergents may use plant-based soapberries, yucca extracts, or coconut cleaners instead of harsh sulfates. These natural ingredients gently lift soils.


The main ingredient in any green laundry detergent should simply be water! Harsh solvents and added perfumes are avoided in natural formulations.

Ingredients to Avoid

It’s also important to check that the detergent is free of harmful ingredients like:

Optical Brighteners

These synthetic chemicals make clothes appear brighter, but can be toxic and pollute waterways when washed down the drain.

Artificial Fragrances

Added perfumes can contain hundreds of undisclosed chemicals. Natural green detergents rely on essential oils for light scents instead.

Chlorine Bleach

Chlorine bleach and bleach alternatives containing peroxide can be toxic to aquatic life. Look for an oxygen-based detergent for whitening.


Phosphates enhance cleaning but also pollute lakes and streams. Eco-friendly detergents skip these and use plant-based cleaners instead.


This byproduct of petrochemical processes is a suspected carcinogen that can contaminate laundry products.

By choosing plant-based ingredients and avoiding harsh chemicals, green detergents protect water quality and the environment.

Identifying Truly Eco-Friendly Products

With more brands marketing themselves as “green” or “natural”, it can be tricky identifying which are truly eco-friendly. Here are some tips for spotting authentic environmentally friendly detergents:

Check Certifications

Look for certifications from environmental groups like Green Seal, EWG Verified, or Safer Choice. These standards prohibit toxic chemicals and validate green claims.

Read the Fine Print

Vague terms like “biodegradable formula” and “natural cleaners” don’t guarantee a safe product. Look for specific plant-based ingredients and certifications instead.

Consider Scent

Highly scented detergents likely contain synthetic fragrances, even if branded as natural. Opt for lightly scented or fragrance-free options.

Know the Brand

Research brands to find ones with long-standing environmental commitments and transparent sourcing and production.

Question Vague Claims

Terms like “non-toxic” and “hypoallergenic” aren’t regulated so require scrutiny. Specific ingredient information is more reliable.

With so many choices lining store shelves, a little sleuthing goes a long way in determining a laundry detergent’s true eco-friendly credibility.

Tips for Effective Eco-Friendly Laundry Cleaning

Using environmentally friendly ingredients is a great first step, but you also need your green detergent to actually get clothes clean! Follow these tips for effective cleaning:

Pre-Treat Stains

Eco-friendly detergents are gentler than conventional ones, so you may need to spot treat stubborn stains either before or during washing for best results.

Wash in Cold Water

Most plant-based detergents work well in cold water, saving energy. But for heavily soiled loads, warm water can boost cleaning power.

Use the Right Dose

Follow the recommended amount for average loads. Using too little detergent won’t get clothes clean, while too much is wasteful and doesn’t improve cleaning.

Let Soak In

For very dirty clothes, let them soak for 30 minutes to give the detergent time to penetrate soils before agitating or rinsing.

Add Vinegar

For extra brightening and deodorizing, add 1/2 cup white vinegar to the rinse cycle. Its acidity helps liftresidue without harsh chemicals.

Air Dry When Possible

Line or rack drying avoids energy consumption from dryers and prevents fading from heat.

With a couple extra steps like pre-treating or line drying, eco-friendly detergents can tackle any laundry pile effectively.

Top Environmentally Friendly Laundry Detergent Picks

Now that you know what green detergents should – and shouldn’t – contain, here are some recommended products to consider:

Puracy Natural Laundry Detergent

  • Certified by Green Seal and EPA Safer Choice
  • Powered by plant-based enzymes and cleaners
  • Free of chlorine, phosphates, and optical brighteners
  • Lightly scented with essential oils

Seventh Generation Free & Clear Detergent

  • EWG Verified and USDA Certified Biobased
  • Unscented and dye-free for sensitive skin
  • Hypoallergenic and dermatologist tested
  • Made with plant-based surfactants

Meyer’s Clean Day Laundry Detergent

  • Biodegradable and vegetarian-friendly
  • Made with plant-derived soaps and oils
  • Light honeysuckle scent from essential oils
  • Cruelty-free and not tested on animals

Greenshield Organic Laundry Detergent

  • Certified USDA Organic
  • Uses biodegradable coconut-based cleaners
  • Contains antibacterial essential oils
  • Free of chlorine, phosphates, and optical brighteners

Ecos Laundry Detergent

  • Certified cruelty-free and vegan
  • Powered by plant enzymes and vegetable-based cleaning agents
  • 100% plant-derived biodegradable ingredients
  • Light meadow scent from essential oils

By choosing one of these highly rated eco-friendly brands, you can keep your laundry fresh and clean while also being gentle on the planet. Refer to our guide anytime you need a refresher on what makes a truly green detergent. With a few simple adjustments to your laundry routine, you’ll be on your way to more sustainable living.

Frequently Asked Questions

What makes a laundry detergent environmentally friendly?

Environmentally friendly laundry detergents are made with plant-based, biodegradable ingredients like plant enzymes and essential oils instead of harsh petrochemicals. They clean using natural, non-toxic processes.

Are green detergents as effective as regular detergents?

Yes, eco-friendly detergents can clean just as effectively as conventional ones, though you may need to pre-treat stains or use warmer water for heavily soiled laundry. Overall, they are just as capable at lifting dirt and odors when used properly.

Do green detergents contain fragrance?

Some contain light natural scents from essential oils and plant extracts. But most avoid synthetic fragrances, which can contain toxic chemicals. Unscented options are best for sensitive skin.

Can you use eco-friendly detergents in HE washers?

Yes, most plant-based detergents are designed for all washing machines, including high-efficiency models. Just be sure to use the recommended amount to avoid oversudsing issues.

Are natural detergents affordable?

While they sometimes cost a bit more than conventional brands, green detergents are becoming more competitively priced as the technology improves. Coupons and store brands also help make them economical options.

How do I know if “natural” products are really environmentally friendly?

Check for specific plant-based ingredients and legitimate third-party eco-certifications. Vague claims about being “natural” or “green” require further investigation to confirm environmental benefits.

Can green detergents whiten clothes?

While they do not contain bleach, eco-friendly detergents lift stains and many contain natural whitening agents like hydrogen peroxide or sodium percarbonate to safely brighten laundry.

Where can I buy environmentally friendly laundry detergent?

Most major grocery stores, warehouse clubs, and online retailers now carry green detergent options from brands like Seventh Generation, Method, Ecover, and Mrs. Meyer’s.


Choosing an eco-friendly laundry detergent is one of the easiest ways to immediately reduce the environmental impact of your household. By avoiding toxic chemicals and selecting plant-based cleaners and enzymes instead, green detergents protect water quality and wildlife while still washing clothes effectively. Take time to check labels for authentic environmentally friendly ingredients and cleaning power. Your sustainable lifestyle change can make a real difference for the planet.