How To Choose A Non-Toxic Laundry Detergent (& Our Faves!)

There’s nothing quite like the smell of fresh, clean laundry, but that comforting scent can come at a high cost to our health. Common laundry detergent products can contain some of the worst chemical ingredients among cleaning products when it comes to toxicity and adverse health effects. This is pretty crazy when you consider we wash our clothes to protect us from harmful germs, bacteria, and viruses! Liquid detergents are particularly difficult to protect from bacterial growth, so they often contain antimicrobial ingredients that can then be absorbed into our skin. Cap it off with fragrances and scent-preserving phthalates and you’ve got some pretty powerful and toxic chemicals going on. Wearing clothes treated with toxic chemicals is always a bad idea, but it’s particularly important to protect children from these substances because they’re disproportionately vulnerable to the toxic effects of cleaning chemicals due to their small size and rapidly developing bodies! If you think the FDA or another governing body is testing these chemicals, think again: of the over 62,000 chemicals approved for use in the US, only about 300 have been tested for safety!

Top Ingredients to Avoid for a Non-Toxic Laundry Detergent

Here are some of the worst-of-the-worst ingredients to look out for as well as some of the worst-rated products to avoid from the Environmental Working Group (EWG), the authority on product & environmental safety, which rates almost 70% of laundry detergents a D or F (their highest safety concern). Here’s our Non-Toxic Laundry Detergent Product Guide and a few products we’re currently loving.

1. Bleach & Brighteners: Bleach, or sodium hypochlorite, is extremely toxic and dangerous. This chemical should not be used around children or those with respiratory conditions, can cause severe skin burns and eye damage, trigger dangerous allergy and asthma reactions, cancer and organ damage, and is extremely toxic if inhaled or ingested.

Optical brighteners are chemicals that remain on the surface of your clothes, minimizing yellow tones by absorbing UV light so that clothes appear brighter. The EWG recommends avoiding optical brighteners because of skin irritation and environmental safety concerns, and the EPA has said that these are potentially toxic. These ingredients aren’t always listed, so a helpful rule of thumb is that if the product is labeled as biodegradable, it probably doesn’t contain optical brighteners.

2. Fragrances & Phthalates: Laundry detergent manufacturers, like other cleaning product manufacturers, aren’t required to show their full ingredient lists. So, when a label uses the term “fragrance,” that one word can mask a cocktail of dozens of toxic ingredients! Fragrances in laundry detergents are designed to stay in clothing after washing, which means you should definitely be concerned about their safety. Fragrance chemicals can pass through the skin and enter the bloodstream. They are often manufactured from petroleum and coal tar and are classified as carcinogens, hormone disruptors, neurotoxins, skin, and respiratory irritants.

Phthalates are often found when fragrances are present and are commonly used in laundry detergent – but you won’t find them listed on labels. They’re typically associated with fragrances (they make scents last), so here is yet another reason to avoid fragrances. Across multiple studies, phthalates have been shown to cause hormone disruption. The Centers for Disease Control reported that phthalates can be found in the blood of most Americans, and the greatest quantities are in women. They can also be found in some plastic containers, so avoid detergents with recycling codes 3 & 7.

Even more irritating:  Don’t be tricked by the phrase “fragrance-free” or “unscented”. You also have to check the ingredient list, because sometimes companies use masking fragrances to cover the chemical smells of their products. Also watch out for products labeled as “natural” or “natural fragrance,” because there are no standard criteria for what these words mean.

3. Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES):  Sodium lauryl sulfate has been linked to skin & eye irritation, organ toxicity, reproductive toxicity, neurotoxicity, endocrine disruption & ecotoxicology. The manufacturing of these also leads to a highly toxic & carcinogenic by-product called 1,4 dioxane. Nixing the SLES can go a long way in your quest for a non-toxic laundry detergent.

4. Methylisothiazolinone & Benzisothiazolinone:  These are preservatives to watch for & both are common in detergents labeled as “natural”. Methylisothiazolinone is linked with inhalation toxicity, dangerous allergic reactions, and possible neurotoxicity. Benzisothiazolinone is an antimicrobial agent. It’s notorious as a skin, eye, and lung irritant, and it’s also an environmental pollutant that’s toxic to fish.

Non-Toxic Laundry Detergents We’re Loving Right Now

Our Top Pick: Force of Nature Laundry Detergent Sheets.

Made without fragrances, dyes, phosphates, optical brighteners, bleach, phthalates, parabens, VOCs or plastic, our eco-friendly, biodegradable laundry sheets will be your new trusty, no-waste sidekick. One little strip is packed with ultra-concentrated odor and stain removal power that cleans, freshens, whitens, and brightens. In fact, our space-saving sheets means you can fit over 600 loads worth of Force of Nature sheets in the same space as a single 100 load jug of traditional detergent. Our sheets dissolve quickly in hot or cold water for a brilliant clean on whites and colors, and they work in high efficiency (HE), regular, top and front loader washing machines. They’re also hypo-allergenic and safe for sensitive skin.

If You Must Have Liquid: Aspen Clean Laundry Detergent, Unscented

This unscented laundry detergent is the first product to have been independently tested and verified by the Environmental Working Group with their top rating for safety – “EWG Verified.” AspenClean Laundry Detergent, Unscented is fragrance-free and made with organic ingredients, is eco-friendly, baby-safe, hypoallergenic, and nontoxic. Because it contains no fragrances or toxic chemicals, it’s perfect for babies, people with sensitive skin, those with allergies, or simply those who just want an unscented laundry detergent. Made only from plant and mineral-derived ingredients – no harmful chemicals or toxins will be left behind in your clothes to irritate your skin or affect your health. It’s highly effective on dirt, grime, and grease and suitable for all water temperatures in standard and HE machines, as well as is Ecocert certified and Vegan.

Nobody’s Perfect: Other offerings from this brand are scented and we think it’s important to note that even natural fragrances (like those from essential oils) can trigger allergies and aren’t necessarily safer.

Learn More

At Force of Nature, we’re real humans and parents, so we do a lot of laundry! Our revolutionary cleaning system, Force of Nature, is a powerful stain-fighter and deodorizer, and is as effective as bleach, yet gentle enough to use around your children and pets. For even more great info, check out this post on stink-causing laundry habits you need to break right now and 20 surprising uses for Force of Nature. Happy laundering!


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