Laundry detergents, much like all other cleaning and consumer products, can be filled with all sorts of bad ingredients – even when they claim to be “natural” or “green.” These claims are confusing to me and unfortunately, no one or a particular part of our government is checking to make sure these claims are actually true. This leaves many consumers (myself included) thinking we’re making good choices when in fact, we’re not.
These are the only laundry detergents I’m using now and here’s why – they all hit my criteria of “good for you, good for the environment, and good for the pocketbook.” Earlier this year, when we switched out all of our cleaning supplies and laundry detergents (because I was feeling completely duped!), I thought I’d be concocting my own detergents or shredding bars of laundry soap to make our laundry detergents.
What I found was this: most all ingredients to make laundry detergent (and the recipes you’ll find in books or by searching Google), aren’t good for our health or good for the earth. They may be inexpensive but my goal was to hit all three criteria:
Good for you, good for the environment, and good for the pocketbook…
The Environmental Working Group (EWG), which is an online, independent resource for consumer health products, lists all of the ingredients in our laundry detergents. They also share which ingredients have been banned in other countries, but not here. They rate the products based on their ingredients. I think it’s important to note that the EWG does not endorse any products or brands.
“EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning is an online safety guide for household cleaning products, launched in 2012 to help people find safer products that fully disclose their ingredients and contain fewer ingredients that are hazardous or that haven’t been thoroughly tested. The database combines product ingredient lists gleaned from product labels, company websites and worker safety documents with information in more than 16 standard toxicity databases and extensive searches of peer-reviewed scientific literature. The database provides easy-to-navigate safety ratings for more than 2,000 cleaning products.”
These are the questions EWG used to rate cleaning and household products:
- Does the product contain hazardous substances?
- Do we know about all the ingredients?
- Do other factors come into play?
- How does this product rate overall?
The list below is all we use and I’m endorsing these products. We’re not using full-of-fragrance detergents, dryer sheets, fabric softeners, or anything. Our clothes are clean without lots of chemicals or fragrances, the costs are low, and what’s going down the drain is not harming the environment.
Laundry Detergents to Use and Why
- Sal Suds by Dr. Bronner – This is what my husband and I use on our laundry. It comes in liquid form and in a big bottle or jug. I bought the 32-ounce size and a pump that screws on the top of the bottle. With the pump (purchased at a restaurant supply store), we squirt it directly into the wash. It has a fresh, faint pine smell and works well in both hard and soft water. Sal Suds is completely biodegradable and is very cost effective. I use about 1-Tablespoon for a large wash load. (EWG’s review is here)
- Baking Soda – This is what I add to the wash when using the Sal Suds. Liquid alone needs a little friction so 1-Tablespoon to 1/4-cup depending on how dirty things are is enough to kick up the clean on the Sal Suds. (EWG’s review is here)
- Seventh Generation Natural Laundry Detergent – Free and Clear – Powder – This is what my kids use for doing their laundry. Because our teenagers have done their own laundry for years and have their own opinions about the laundry products they want to use, I buy this and keep quiet. I would rather skip buying this detergent because I think the Sal Suds and baking soda mixture is fine – but really – why would I complain here? When my grocery store mails me a coupon for Seventh Generation products and it’s on sale, I stock up. I placed a mark with a permanent pen on the scoop so that the kids are using less detergent than what is called for on the box. (EWG’s review is here)
- Super Washing Soda – Laundry Booster by Arm and Hammer – This is what we all use for stinky, smelly stuff that needs a little extra cleaning. With sports, running, and working out happening, clothing is smelly and detergents need a boost – you know what I mean. If I’m soaking really dirty clothing in the washing machine, this is what I add to wash to get it extra clean. This laundry booster can be added to the Sal Suds or the Seventh Generation Laundry Powder. Again, I marked the scoop so that we’re measuring out less than what the box recommends adding to a washer load. (EWG’s review is here)
- Non-Chorine Bleach from Seventh Generation – This is what I use probably 2 times per month on our whites. I put all the whites in the washing machine and let them soak overnight. Remember I said I was a big time soaker? Whites get soaked overnight weekly. (Note: even though our kids do their own laundry, our household only does 1 load of whites per week. If your whites get placed in the washer by Saturday night, I wash them. If they don’t, you’re out of luck.) I use about 1/8-cup to 1/4-cup. (EWG’s review is here)
- Rinse Cycle Additive: White Vinegar – Again, white vinegar to the rescue! Much like the dishwasher, if I want to use a rinse agent, white vinegar is the best choice and what I use. Be sure to add the white vinegar during the rinse cycle and not at the beginning with the Sal Suds and baking soda otherwise they cancel each other out. If you have a front loader machine, add it to the spot where you would normally add fabric softener. I use about 1/4 cup. (EWG’s review is here)
Note: not every product by each of the above companies gets an “A” from EWG – (or from me). Make sure to check every individual product and don’t assume all of them are “A” products.
Got stains? Welcome to the club!
Sal Suds is what I use to “pre-treat” stains. Here’s my method: In an empty spray bottle, place 1-teaspoon of Sal Suds in a in a 16-ounce container and fill the rest with water. Shake and then spray on garment to wet it. You can also rub in some baking soda mixed with water to really keep the stain from setting. The sooner you can get to a stain the better. Adopt wearing aprons at your house. Often times, we all don aprons to sit down and eat at the dinner table – especially when eating salads. They work well as “adult size bibs.”
The biggest tip for getting stains out of clothing? Do not put them in the dryer. There’s nothing that sets a stain better than a hot dryer. If there is a clothing item that is stained and I’m not sure if it came out or not, I let the garment hang dry completely and then inspect it.
What I end up purchasing the most of when it comes to our laundry detergents is baking soda and white vinegar. Costco has the best price on both baking soda and white vinegar (you get 2 each 1-gallon jugs) and I buy them about every other month.
How does your laundry detergent rank on the Environmental Working Group’s website?
Go Gingham related links:
Sort of homemade dishwasher detergent – 2 ingredients make up the new mix!
Natural rinse aid alternative for the dishwasher – it’s in your pantry already
The mop cover is a re-purposed t-shirt: how to make a mop cover
My workout routine involves laundry, too – hanging laundry to dry
Cute and clean for the kitchen: make a baking soda shaker for soaking those stubborn pots and pans
The sweet spot: frugal and green living
Disclosure: I have not received any compensation for writing this post and have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the FTC’s guidelines.
6 thoughts on “Laundry Detergents to Use and Why”
This is such a super-helpful and thorough post. Bookmarking for later use. Thank you for assembling this information!
You’re so welcome, Rita. It really has saved us and I’m not talking about just in the pocketbook! 🙂
Excellent timing for this post. I have been using fewer and greener cleaners recently and have really been impressed with the results of using mostly baking soda, vinegar, and Dr. Bronner’s soap. It’s been very challenging to switch from really effective, scented commercial brands of laundry detergent though. My husband isn’t a fan, and I’ve found it harder to keep whites clean. However, I’m committed to finding eco-friendly alternatives. Thanks so much for the recommendations and the EWG website. I’m anxious to try the Sal Suds and non-chlorine bleach.
Rebecca, I agree – it’s a hard transition to go from overly-scented products to these. It helps to go with unscented or free/clear conventional products to sort of ease the way into this routine.
I forgot to add that hanging whites in the sunshine is a great way to whiten them naturally. Mother nature works wonders!
Good luck with your husband on this. It took some getting used to around here, too. 🙂
Good advice! I pinned this to my start menu. Is Dr. Bronner’s at any store?
It is at several stores around but I’ve only been able to find the Sal Suds at Peoples’ Co-Op. One container lasted us about 8 months and I use it other cleaning as well.
My plan is to get New Seasons, Whole Foods, and Fred Meyer to carry this product. They all carry Dr. Bronner’s so it should be easy enough. 🙂
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