There’s really nothing like the fresh scent of newly washed laundry, so it’s too bad that many of the products we use to get our clothes clean are downright scary. Many detergents are petroleum-based and can contain a whole slew of potentially toxic chemicals, and most dryer sheets are made with tallow (or other animal fat). While some companies can voluntarily tell consumers what’s in their products, technically they’re not required to do so even if consumers ask. So, how do you choose the best eco-friendly laundry products from a shelf that is increasingly laden with new, eco-friendly products? That’s why we’re here to help: check out a few of our favorites below!
Homemade Laundry Detergent
The best way to ensure that your laundry detergent is 100 percent eco-friendly is to make it yourself, so grab a big bowl and start mixing! The recipe is pretty simple, but it does include the natural cleaning agent borax; a substance that comes from a volcanic stew and needs to be mined (clearly a very non-eco-friendly process).
Seventh Generation’s laundry products contain no optical brighteners, dyes, fragrance, or phosphates. They’re safe for septic and gray-water systems, and don’t contain any animal-derived ingredients. Seventh Generation also discloses all ingredients used in their products. Also on offer is a concentrated baby laundry product, but although the fragrance-free formulation works well, its earthy scent might not appeal to everyone.
Biokleen products are tough on dirt and gentle on the earth. They’ve been around since 1989, offering a wide range of laundry products including laundry powder, liquid, chlorine-free oxygen bleach, and super-concentrated citrus liquid detergent for stain removal. You won’t find them in the cleaning aisle at just any store though: Whole Foods typically carries them, but otherwise you have to go to specialty stores to find them. Luckily, you can also buy them online and have them shipped directly to your laundry room.
Then there’s new Method Laundry with Smartclean technology. The San Francisco company basically kicked off the ultra-concentrated “small and mighty” detergent trend, which has since caught on worldwide. They disclose all of their ingredients, and package their products in surprisingly small but nonetheless swanky recycled bottles. The new formula is 95 percent plant-based and highly concentrated: 4 pumps equals one 1 load of laundry! It uses dramatically less water than other brands, and the revamped packaging uses about 36 percent less plastic than the previous form and is made from 50 percent post-consumer recycled plastic.
Maggie’s Pure Land Soap Nuts
This detergent actually does grow on trees. The dried fruits of the Chinese soapberry tree contain saponin: a natural cleaning agent that the native Indians used for generations before detergents came along. Pop a few nuts into a cotton sack and drop them in the machine for clean, chemical-free clothes and linens. The soap nuts naturally brighten colors, act as a fabric softener, are completely hypoallergenic, and 100 percent biodegradable. Eco-launderists concur that these little bad boys really work.
Homemade Fabric Softener
Again, if you’re the DIY type, make your own fabric softener. This way you know exactly what goes into it: just vinegar and baking soda. If you’d like a scented version, you can add a few drops of your favorite essential oil for a natural perfume.
Vegan Static Eliminator Dryer Sheets
If you don’t like the idea of tossing your clean laundry into the dryer with chemically-scented animal fat, then try out vegan-friendly, reusable Static Eliminator Dryer Sheets. These leave no chemical residue on your clothes and are made from hypoallergenic 99 percent polyester/1 percent nylon sheets which can soften over 500 loads.
Mrs. Meyers Natural Dryer Sheets
Mrs. Meyers uses a vegetable-derived softener in these biodegradable sheets in a great variety of garden-fresh scents like basil, lavender, lemon verbena, and geranium. For greenies who still love the perfume of fresh laundry wafting through the house, this is a great alternative. Better yet, Mrs. Meyers is readily available at major retailers like Linens n’ Things, Bed Bath and Beyond, and Target.
Attitude Fabric Softener
From the Great White North comes Attitude’s vegan-friendly fabric softener made with soy-based surfactants. This product is free of tallow, enzymes, carcinogens, color dyes, and artificial fragrances, and is as great for kids’ clothes as it is for adults with sensitive skin. While not yet available on shelves at any of the major mainstream retailers, you can buy directly from the website, in person at Whole Foods, and online through Amazon.
Nellie’s All Natural Dryer Balls
Then there’s Nellie’s all-natural products packaged in adorable throwback packaging from the fifties. Nellie’s PVC-free dryer balls are a great alternative to either liquid fabric softener or dryer sheets. The nubby balls lift and separate fabrics while relaxing fibers, creating less lint, fewer wrinkles, and of course, softer clothes. They tend to reduce drying time by up to 25 percent, which saves you in energy costs in the long run. They also last up to 2 years.
Keep in mind that you can also skip the dryer entirely and just hang your clothes and linens out on a line to dry: it’ll cut down your electricity bill, and nothing beats the breezy scent of laundry that’s dried in the sunshine. If you find that line-dried towels and linens are a bit stiff, just toss them into the dryer afterwards on the coolest setting possible, with some nubbly dryer balls to pummel them soft.