When it comes to skin care, laundry detergent often gets overlooked. When you wash your laundry, it's easy to assume all the detergent is getting washed out during the rinse cycle—but that isn't the case. While the exact amount remaining will differ depending on the size of the load, washer, and detergent used, a nonzero amount won't wash out. Think about it, between towels, clothes, and bedding, you come in contact with small amounts of detergent all day, every day.
If you’re interested in a detergent that strips out all the dyes and perfumes, we’ve got you covered. Our labs have a ton of experience testing laundry detergents, ranging from the eco-friendly to those that specialize in cleaning bathing suits.
But what about laundry detergents for people with sensitive skin? We put those to the test as well, comparing each free laundry detergent’s ability to remove stains, as well as any known irritants they may contain. While we did research on what makes each detergent hypoallergenic, for the purpose of these tests, we trusted the claims and clinical trials, which are better suited to investigate more in depth.
Testing revolved around cleaning clothes, specifically the ability to remove common household stains like chocolate and red wine. After weeks of doing laundry, Persil ProClean Sensitive Skin(available at Amazon) rocketed to the top of our rankings for superior stain removal performance.
These are the best detergents for sensitive skin we tested ranked in order:
Persil ProClean Sensitive Skin came out on top in our cleaning tests. The results did not surprise us as Persil also currently holds the number one spot in our best laundry detergent roundup.
In fact, we actually like this version of Persil over the regular ProClean. One of our major complaints about the original Persil was its cloying aroma. When we popped open the Sensitive Skin bottle, we mercifully found a very mild scent. We also appreciate the fact that it is formulated to work in cold water.
Those who like to cook will enjoy that our testing showed Persil did best against red wine and protein stains. Overall, it removed about 76.8% of all testing stains, 1.5% more stains than Tide Free and Gentle. That might not sound like much, but over the course of 64 loads—the amount inside a single bottle—it really adds up.
While testing showed that it’s a great cleaner, we did have some concerns over some of the ingredients. Most notable was the usage of Sodium Borate, also known as borax, which can cause skin irritation. There is also some concern about Propylene Glycol, prolonged exposure to which could cause contact dermatitis. Persil Sensitive Skin sits on the fence between hypoallergenic laundry detergents and the standard set we’ve been familiar with for years. In exchange for having more harsh chemicals than most free-and-clear detergents, you’re getting a superior clean.
I’m Jon Chan, the senior lab technician at Reviewed. It’s my job to test and write about products ranging from coolers to laundry detergents. When it came to testing detergents for sensitive skin, I wanted to find a product that balanced non-irritating ingredients and stain removal performance.
We tested all the detergents in the Maytag MVWC565FW, a high-efficiency washing machine, on the Normal cycle with warm (not hot) water. To ensure that our test results were consistent, we used mechanically dyed swatches that are covered in common household substances like sweat, oil, pig’s blood, red wine, and cocoa.
All stains are carefully sourced—for example, all the red wine is made in the same vineyard and all the blood comes from the same breed of pig.
We placed our stain swatches into standardized loads of laundry, each consisting of eight pounds worth of pillowcases, towels, and bedsheets. We made sure all of our test laundry was free from any fabric softeners since such chemicals change the way laundry, especially towels, interact with water. We then repeated this process with swatches set in designated places inside of the washing machine. For example, the first towel goes on the left side of the agitator followed by a bedsheet on the right.
After we ran the Normal cycle, we let each strip dry overnight before analyzing them with a photospectrometer—a device designed to detect changes in color. This allowed us to assign an empirical number to how much of each stain the detergent lifted.
Finally, we compared the ingredients of all the detergents we tested using the Environmental Working Group database. We felt that EWG has a proven track record of collating information about a comprehensive list of chemicals.
What is the Difference Between Free-and-Clear and Regular Detergent?
The term “free-and-clear” has no legal standard, but there are some differences between them and their more traditional counterparts. The first thing you’ll probably notice is the color. Most free-and-clear detergents are milky white rather than the usual blue. In regular detergents, the blue color comes from dyes used to help fight yellowing in clothing.
Another major difference is the smell. Most of the detergents we tested had the scent of rubbing alcohol because, in many cases, ethanol was used as a cleaning agent.
Will Fragrances Irritate Sensitive Skin?
By law, manufacturers are not required to list the ingredients in their fragrances. So it can be difficult to know if you’re allergic to certain products. Even products labeled “unscented” can contain fragrances.
However, companies like P&G have vowed to be more transparent with what goes into making the scents of its products. If you’re worried about fragrances, look for products that have the EPA’s Safe Choice seal.
What Does Hypoallergenic Mean?
All the products we tested for this roundup have phrases like “free-and-clear'' and “hypoallergenic.” On the surface, hypoallergenic translates to products low in allergy-causing compounds.
However, according to the FDA, these terms have no legal meaning. A study done at Northwest University showed that out of the 100 top-selling moisturizers labeled “hypoallergenic,” 83% contained potential allergens. While this isn’t exactly the same as detergents, our research into various ingredients of the detergents in our roundup yielded similar results.
“Free-and-clear” typically refers to a lack of dyes and perfumes, which can cause irritation. It also usually means that the detergent lacks any optical brighteners. We frown on the addition of optical brighteners because they use an actual trick of the light to make clothes look cleaner without removing any stains.
Are Free-and-Clear Detergents Safe for Babies?
You should consult a pediatrician about what products are and are not suitable for your child. However, our experiments with brands that tout themselves as safe for young children have fewer ingredients than average. For example, Molly’s Suds has only five ingredients and mostly made of baking soda and washing soda—a substance that makes grease and dirt more likely dissolve into water.
Other Detergents For Sensitive Skin We Tested
All Free & Clear
Ingredients of concern: Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Sodium Dodecylbenzenesulfonate
All Free Clear is probably the most popular brand in our roundup. In fact, All claims it is the number one recommended brand by dermatologists and pediatricians.
We also found that it is one of the detergents with the highest user ratings, with thousands of five-star reviews across multiple online retailers. Going over the ingredients, we can see why.
Of all the detergents we researched and tested, All had the second-fewest skin irritating. The major cleaning agents are C12-15 Pareth-9 and Sodium Laureth Sulfate. Pareth-9 has been labeled non-irritating by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review panel—a consumer safety group that includes dermatologists and toxicologists.
Sodium Laureth Sulfate, sometimes known as SLES, is of bigger concern. Multiple studies have shown it to be a known irritant that can cause allergic reactions.
On a more positive note, our testers found that it also has one of the most neutral scents. If you’ve ever found the smell of detergent to be overwhelming, All has you covered. On the stain removal front, it fell into the middle of the pack, removing an average of 71.8% of all stains. It did exceptionally well against protein stains, but lagged behind when it came to oil.
The results show that All did not ace all of our tests. However, it did well enough across metrics to clinch the top spot. Our testing and research tell us that consumers looking for dye-free and perfume-free detergent should start with All first.
Ingredients of concern: Alcohol Ethoxylates (C12-16)
Charlie’s Soap Liquid Laundry is a true original. Of all the detergents we’ve tested, it’s probably the most hypoallergenic, containing mostly washing soda. It also has the EPA’s Safe Choice seal—an award given to products that are environmentally sound and contain no harmful chemicals.
While did find some evidence that Alcohol Ethoxylates (C12-16)—one of three active ingredients in Charlie’s Soap Liquid Laundry—can cause skin irritation, the concentration is very low in this detergent.
The major downside of Charlie’s Soap is in simplicity. In many cases, companies use harsh chemicals because they clean better so it’s not a big surprise that Charlie’s Soap is weaker than the competition. In our testing, it removed 65% of testing stains, which is almost a full 10% less than Persil, the detergent with the best cleaning power.
On the other hand, Charlie’s Soap firmly stands in the hypoallergenic camp. If you’ve found every other soap to be irritating, you should check out this simple detergent.
Ingredients of concern: Sodium Borate, Propylene Glycol
Tide Free and Gentle gives you similar stain removal performance to that of Tide Original. It is also one of the most distinguished products in our roundup, winning a seals of recognition from the National Psoriasis Foundation and the National Eczema Association.
On the cleaning front, Tide Free and Gentle was outdone only by Persil. It removed, on average 73% of the stains we presented, doing particularly well against sweat and protein stains.
For consumers who are used to using Tide, Tide Free and Gentle is a solid alternative.
We think Target, as a retailer, is on top of its game, especially with its in-store brand Up&Up. We tried out its Free Clear detergent and found that it can stand toe-to-toe with the big name brands.
This detergent came in third place in the cleaning tests. On average, Up&Up removed 72% of all stains. When we dig a little deeper, we found that this detergent had a good showing against sweat, protein, and red wine stains.
While Up&Up didn’t claim the top spot, it did provide great value. Of all the detergents we tested, it had one of the lower costs per wash.
Ingredients of concern: Methylisothiazolinone, Enzisothiazolinone, Laureth-6
Seventh Generation, a company that does not test on animals, is a brand best known for its green approach. It has backing from the Forest Stewardship Council, and it partners with the Rainforest Alliance. The detergent itself is also very eco-friendly. The USDA has certified that 97% of the ingredients are derived from plants and other renewable agricultural, marine, and forestry materials.
Aside from having eco-friendly practices, Seventh Generation Free & Clear also did pretty well on our cleaning tests. On average, it removed 71.84% of our testing stains, with the strongest showing on protein and sweat stains.
Dropps Sensitive Skin HE Natural Laundry Detergent Pods
Ingredients of concern: Alcohol Ethoxylates (C12-16)
You may have seen ads for Dropps, an all-natural alternative to regular detergent pods. For the most part, they live up to the hype. Our testers found that they were really easy to use and were not prone to popping or leaking.
Cleaning-wise, the Dropps fell into the back half of the pack. We used the recommended one pod per load and it removed about 68% of our testing stains. It did relatively poorly across the board.
However, Dropps as a company presents a very eco-friendly attitude with policies like carbon-neutral shipping and promoting environmental causes.
Arm & Hammer is a well-known brand with a storied tradition of using washing and baking soda to solve everyday problems. The company’s free and gentle detergent is no different. Washing soda is the second active ingredient after SLES.
Our testing showed that this detergent couldn’t stand up to the competition. It removed about 67% of all the testing stains, a full 7% behind the leader. And you should also be wary that there is a version of this detergent, in a similar looking bottle, called Sensitive Skin plus Hypoallergenic Fresh Scent that contains fragrances.
Ingredients of concern: Anionic Surfactants, Nonionic Surfactants
We had a major issue while testing and researching this detergent from Solimo, Amazon’s in-house brand. First off, we could not find a complete ingredients list. All that’s listed on the bottle is that it contains Anionic and Nonionic Surfactants. Basically, Solimo Free and Clear contains soap, and that is all that is publicly listed.
As stated above, the terms “free-and-clear” and “hypoallergenic” are mostly marketing terms. Our best guess is that many manufacturers make detergent under this label and therefore they don’t have a very consistent formula.
Our other issue is with the cleaning performance. It came in sixth place overall, struggling with chocolate and red wine stains. This was surprising because the label indicates that Solimo has a super concentrated formula.
The price and delivery times also disappointed us. We imagined that an Amazon-branded detergent would be much more competitively priced or would arrive more quickly than the other brands on this list. However, Solimo comes in at a very average cost per wash and at the time of writing this guide it was not eligible for Amazon Prime.
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.
Our team is here for one purpose: to help you buy the best stuff and love what you own. Our writers, editors, and lab technicians obsess over the products we cover to make sure you're confident and satisfied. Have a different opinion about something we recommend? Email us and we'll compare notes.