The 5 Safest Laundry Detergents You Can Buy

Detergent keeps your clothes clean... but how clean is your detergent?

Colorful laundry bottlesDenise Lett/Shutterstock

The primary goal of laundry detergent, of course, is to keep your clothes clean. Since those clothes go on your body, it’s worth making sure the detergent you’re using isn’t going to irritate your skin in any way. With that in mind, what makes a laundry detergent safe… or unsafe?

“The main thing you want to focus on is the extent to which artificial ingredients, which can irritate skin, have been added,” says Dan Miller. Miller has been president of Mulberrys Garmet Care, a toxin-free laundry service, since 2009. Especially if you have sensitive skin, avoid detergents that contain fragrances and colored dyes. These ingredients can cause skin irritation and even trigger allergic reactions.

You also want to stay away from phosphates and petrochemicals. Phosphates are chemicals that are not biodegradable and contribute to pollution in natural bodies of water. In 2014, detergent manufacturer Procter & Gamble, the manufacturers behind Tide and Gain, set out to eliminate phosphates from its detergent products. Today, adding phosphates to detergent is banned in the United States—fortunately, they’re not very common anymore, but you still want to watch out for them. Petrochemicals, on the other hand, are a more common detergent ingredient that can have adverse effects on both your skin and the environment. (Petrochemicals are chemicals derived from petroleum and other fossil fuels, and they’re a common ingredient in detergent fragrances.) “They aren’t great for the natural environment, and also aren’t great for your skin,” Miller says. Here are some chemical-free ways to make cleaning more environmentally friendly.

So the next time you shop for detergent, look for detergents that contain biodegradable ingredients and are free of dyes and fragrances. Unfortunately, many well-known detergents don’t excel at these standards. The safest detergents are ones whose names you may not have heard of before. “They don’t have any fragrances to them, they don’t put any dyes in them, and they don’t [use] any phosphates or…petrochemicals,” says Miller.

With that in mind, these are the safest laundry detergents you can buy (and make). Plus, learn the signs you’re using too much laundry detergent.

Type 1: Ecover
Type 3: Planet
Type 4: HEX Performance—this detergent is specifically designed for sportswear. Learn how you’ve been washing your athleisure all wrong.
Type 5: Make your own. The only way to truly know everything that’s in your laundry detergent is to make it yourself. While this may seem like a challenging chore, it couldn’t be easier—and it’s inexpensive! You only need three ingredients: soap, borax, and washing soda. Kelsey Allan, a home safety expert from SafeWise.com, recommends using Fels-Naptha laundry soap. (Check out the full recipe.)

Meghan Jones
Meghan Jones is a Staff Writer for RD.com who has been writing since before she could write. She graduated from Marist College with a Bachelor of Arts in English and has been writing for Reader's Digest since 2017. In spring 2017, her creative nonfiction piece "Anticipation" was published in Angles literary magazine. She is a proud Hufflepuff and member of Team Cap.