Over the past couple of decades, a number of eco-friendly laundry detergents have bubbled up out of the suds, promising to clean your clothes without harming the environment.
But with so many green labels promising plant-based this and carbon-offset that, it can be hard to separate facts from marketing speak. That's why we cut through the greenwash and put eco-friendly detergents to the test at our laundry labs in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
We spent three weeks evaluating 15 of the most popular soaps—from plant-based soap nuts to "hybrid" liquid detergents—on how well they remove stains, how affordable they are, how many plant-based ingredients they include, and how transparent they are about all of the ingredients they contain.
Since the first incarnation of this roundup—we initially tested 10 detergents in 2016—we've upgraded our labs with new washers, a new photospectrometer, and improved methodology. As a result, the rankings and our conclusions about the various detergents have changed, we believe, for the better.
With its amazing stain removal and recyclable bottle, the Tide Purclean(available at Amazon) still reigns supreme. However, if you’re looking for a detergent that’s made by a company with a long track record of environmental advocacy, we’d suggest checking out Seventh Generation Free & Clear (available at Amazon).
But before we get into the rest of the results, it's important to acknowledge that there's no such thing as a perfectly "green" detergent. For instance, the harvesting and processing of some plant-based ingredients can contribute to a more significant overall carbon footprint than traditional, petroleum-derived alternatives. And some detergents may be all-natural, but don't get clothes very clean.
These are the best eco-friendly laundry detergents we tested, ranked in order:
Seventh Generation Free & Clear Laundry Detergent
Method 8X Free & Clear Laundry Detergent
Tru Earth Laundry Strips
The Laundress Sport Detergent
Method 4X Concentrated Laundry Detergent
Defunkify Active Wash Laundry Detergent Powder
Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day Laundry Detergent
Common Good Laundry Detergent
Biokleen Laundry Liquid
Indigo Wild Zum Clean Laundry Soap
Ecos Free & Clear
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Seventh Generation Free & Clear Laundry Detergent
How We Tested
What You Should Know About Eco-Friendly Laundry Detergents
Our testing showed that Tide Purclean came out on top, removing the most amount of stains.
Tide Purclean is a brand-new detergent with a familiar name and a reduced environmental impact. It claims to clean as well as conventional Tide, and our tests proved that claim to be 100% true. In fact, it's far and away the best-cleaning eco-friendly detergent we tested.
However, there are two drawbacks: cost and content. Tide is typically considered a big name brand, and Purclean is no different. Tracking its price overtime on Amazon, we can see that it’s one of the more expensive detergents we’ve tested.
Purclean can be described as a hybrid detergent—only 75% of its ingredients are plant-based, and some of the rest are petroleum-derived. Compared to Mrs. Meyers and Seventh Generation—each 97% plant-derived—it's less green. But if you want to do Mother Earth a small favor without sacrificing performance, Purclean is the best choice for clean laundry.
Best cleaning eco-friendly detergent
75% of ingredients plant-based
Higher cost than most other eco-friendly detergents
Seventh Generation is one of the most popular eco-friendly brands on the market, producing everything from facial tissue to diapers. The company’s Free & Clear detergent impressed us with both its primarily plant-based ingredients and stain removal.
In our original roundup, this detergent did not claim the top spot. However, in our retest, we gave more weight to the corporate culture surrounding these detergent companies—Seventh Generation and its Free & Clear scored top marks. Not only does the detergent pack above-average stain-fighting power, Seventh Generation is committed to the eco-friendly cause.
The detergent bottle itself is made of 80% recycled plastic, and the ingredients inside are 97% biological and plant-based. Seventh Generation also has a good track record with transparency and environmental advocacy. It’s a certified B-Corporation, and partners with the Rainforest Alliance and Forest Stewardship Council.
We tested the Free & Clear version of the detergent. Our testers remarked at the near lack of scent—a smell that has nearly universal appeal. During the stain-removal rounds, this detergent came in third overall. We found that it removes 5% fewer stains than traditional Tide, which is impressive considering the Seventh Generation contains fewer chemicals.
Hey, I’m Jon Chan, the lab manager here at Reviewed, specializing in floor care and laundry products. Over the years, I’ve tested tons of detergents, ranging from sport detergents to those for sensitive skin. When it came to eco-friendly detergents, I specifically wanted to find a product that did not have any optical brighteners or synthetic fragrances.
To test stain removal, we pitted all detergents against standardized cloth test strips coated with carbon, body oils, blood, cocoa, and red wine. We put them through a Normal cycle in the Maytag MVWC565FW top-load washer—along with eight pounds of towels, pillowcases, and sheets—closely following each manufacturer's instructions for a medium load.
After waiting 12 hours for the stain strips to dry in a dark room, we used a piece of lab equipment called a photospectrometer to determine exactly how much of each stain had been lifted.
Aside from effectiveness, we also looked at the companies that made each detergent. We looked for companies that practiced what they preached in terms of caring for the environment, and created a detergent that could get your clothes clean for a good price. So while Seventh Generation Free & Clear did not take first place in the stain removal contest, the company has demonstrated exceptional environmentally friendly policies.
Its relative cost-effectiveness also gave it a lot of points. Detergents like Method 8X and Laundress Sport removed more stains, but they cost way more per load.
What You Should Know About Eco-Friendly Laundry Detergents
Testing eco-friendly detergents can be a minefield. One reason is that it’s tough to define what eco-friendly actually means and what’s more a case of greenwashing. For example, a company may tout an ethanol-based detergent that could actually have a greater environmental impact than petroleum-based soaps until better technologies emerge.
Also, coconut and palm oil may be renewable, they may encourage deforestation. And the green practice of making a biodegradable or recyclable bottle may be offset by the transportation costs of moving a more watery detergent.
Aside from testing the product itself, we also reviewed the corporations that created them. The detergents we tested got points if the companies that made them were B-types or use LEED-certified facilities.
Other Detergents We Tested
Method 8X Free & Clear Laundry Detergent
We really liked how the Method ultra-concentrated detergent came in a no-mess bottle. You just aim the nozzle at your washer's detergent dispenser, press the pump four times, and you're good to go. By design, it keeps you from overusing detergent, which is good because overused detergent can build up on clothes and make colors look dingy.
In terms of stain removal, this ethanol-based detergent came in third. On the eco-friendliness front, 85% of the listed ingredients are plant-based and biodegradable. On the downside, Method is a little pricey and can wind up costing you more money if you're prone to using too much. However, the bottle's unique design may end up saving you money in the long run.
Tru Earth is a laundry strip that you simply tear and toss into the washer. It combines the convenience of a detergent pod while being easier to transport and less enticing to children. As a stain fighter, we found these strips to be on par with some of the top contenders on this list. Tru Earth removed about 63.7% of our testing stains, allowing it to tie for fourth place in our roundup.
The recommended dose for a medium-sized load is only two-by-four inches and weighs just a fraction of what liquid competitors recommend. The whole package weighs just 2.5 ounces, so it takes a lot less energy to transport. Combine that with the fact that the packaging we received was plastic-free, Tru Earth Laundry strips ended up pretty high on our list.
If Method's 8X detergent is too expensive, the 4X formula might seem like a better idea. But you'll lose the no-mess pump bottle and some stain removal power. That's because the 8X primarily uses ethanol, while the less-concentrated 4X lists water as its first ingredient. This change in the formula translates to only a 4% difference in the amount of stains removed, but in the detergent world, it's a war of inches.
Even though a less-concentrated detergent wastes energy in the shipping process by moving water, at least 4X is somewhat environmentally sound. By our count, nearly all of the contents in the bottle are either biodegradable or plant-derived. Even the container itself is made from 100% recycled plastic.
Environmentally sound, nearly all ingredients biodegradable or plant-derived
Defunkify defied our expectations. After testing, this is our favorite fragrance-free detergent in this roundup. In terms of overall cleaning ability, it came in the middle of the pack. However, its ranking rose shapely when we looked at the sweat and blood stain removal scores.
Defunkify is an activewear wash that advertises getting out post-workout grime. We like the fact that this detergent lived up to its name and got the funk out of our test laundry.
We also liked the fact that this detergent is relatively affordable. Being a laundry powder means you don’t need to pay for shipping water, a heavy substance that most detergents contain.
It turns out that Thelma A. Meyer—the real person behind Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day cleaning products—really knows her stuff. The liquid laundry detergent that bears her name came in sixth overall. Since you can buy Mrs. Meyer's in bulk, it's more cost-effective than traditional detergent. Although it's more expensive per bottle, our calculations show that Mrs. Meyer’s has a lower cost per wash.
The only thing our testers didn't love about Mrs. Meyer's is the scent it left on laundry. Some of our reviewers were fans of the lemon verbena scent, but others thought it smelled like citrusy shampoo. You may prefer one of the seven other scents, but you won't find a perfume-free option.
In our original roundup, Mrs. Meyer's took the top spot. Since retesting with our upgraded equipment, we found several other eco-friendly detergents that remove more stains.
Common Good detergent is unique in that it relies on refill stations located throughout the country. This means you can reuse the recyclable bottle over and over again. The detergent itself is made from 100% biodegradable compounds.
On the cleaning front, Common Good was on the weaker side, leaving behind 5% more stains than Tide Purclean. Also, at 35 cents a load, it's pretty expensive—especially if you have to go out of your way to refill it.
Biokleen touts its Citrus Essence Laundry Liquid as 100% plant-based, and its citrus-scent is like a tall glass of Florida orange juice. Most of our reviewers loved both the scent and the price: just 11 cents per load.
However, in our stain removal tests, it couldn't stand up to the best "green" suds or traditional detergents that use harsh chemicals. It had a particularly tough time with grease stains. That being said, it's important to remember that most clothes just aren't that dirty. If you work in agriculture or construction, you might want to steer clear, but this could be a fine choice for folks who just need to spruce up their laundry and enjoy smelling like oranges.
Greenshield Organic has changed since our initial roundup.The company has since revamped its look and commitment to sustainability. They’ve ditched the plastic bottle and have gone to one made of biodegradable sugarcane.
While the outside has gotten an upgrade, our testing shows the inside hasn’t gotten the same treatment. This detergent removed 11% fewer stains than original Tide Purclean. We did find the lavender scent appealing. It has a light floral scent made from essential oils.
Charlie's Soap—the only powdered detergent in our roundup—came third-to-last in the overall rankings. We think it's a great alternative for cleaning clothes in the great outdoors—think extended camping trips—but far from the best bet for your laundry room.
At 20 cents a load, it wasn't the cheapest we tested, and it had real trouble removing any of the stains it faced. But to be fair, we skipped some of Charlie's more onerous suggestions, like pretreating laundry overnight in a water-and-detergent-filled bucket.
Indigo Wild Zum Clean Laundry Soap had the strongest scent of any detergent we’ve ever tested, including Gain. Made with frankincense and myrrh, Zum had a very distinct odor that was hit or miss with our testers.
In the cleaning tests, Zum fell a bit flat. It came in nearly dead last, removing 63% of the testing stains. That’s not a terrible score, but you can get much better cleaning from an eco-friendly detergent that’s about the same price.
Look at the ingredient list for Boulder Clean Natural Laundry Detergent and you'll see just 10 items. It's made of things like citrus oil and salt. The only compound we found suspect was methylisothiazolinone, a synthetic preservative. While it's found in many types of mouthwash and cosmetic products, there is a concern that it may lead to contact dermatitis in individuals who are allergic.
While Boulder Clean is weaker than regular Tide Purclean, it's way more cost-effective. It's a good trade-off since this detergent uses no artificial perfumes—it just smells refreshing.
Although popular on Amazon, Ecos Free & Clear was the weakest of the liquid detergents we tested, struggling to remove every kind of stain. On the plus side, it contains coconut oil, so it smells pretty good.
But a good smell and built-in fabric softener weren't enough to win us over. Our verdict? Skip Ecos in favor of something else.
Popularized on “Shark Tank,” Eco Nuts are about as natural as a detergent can be. Each box is full of dried soapberries, which contain a soap-like substance that foams up in the wash. They're also reusable and exceptionally affordable.
Unfortunately, they don't clean as well as other detergents, leaving 15% more stains behind than Tide. In fact, they were pretty much obliterated by all the other detergents we used.
Jonathan Chan currently serves as the Lab Manager at Reviewed. If you clean with it, it's likely that Jon oversees its testing. Since joining the Reviewed in 2012, Jon has helped launch the company's efforts in reviewing laptops, vacuums, and outdoor gear. He thinks he's a pretty big deal. In the pursuit of data, he's plunged his hands into freezing cold water, consented to be literally dragged through the mud, and watched paint dry. Jon demands you have a nice day.
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