As with most eco-friendly cleaning supplies, determining which laundry detergents are better for you and the environment is easier said than done. Though some companies promote their cleaning products as eco-friendly, “green” or natural, there are no specific criteria detailing what these designations mean.
Learning what to look for and what to avoid when shopping for eco-friendly laundry detergent can help you choose the best product for your needs. With that in mind, we talked to experts about how to shop for eco-friendly laundry detergent and rounded up a handful of options that meet their guidance.
Our top picks
- Editor’s pick eco-friendly laundry detergent pod: Dropps Unscented Stain & Odor Detergent
- Top rated eco-friendly liquid laundry detergent: 9 Elements Eucalyptus us Liquid Laundry Detergent
- Top rated eco-friendly powder laundry detergent: Charlie’s Soap Natural Powder Laundry Detergent
How we picked the best eco-friendly laundry detergent
To highlight the best eco-friendly laundry detergents, we considered the following factors:
Ecolabels: Ecolabels are icons on product packaging that help shoppers identify which products meet “specific environmental performance criteria and are therefore deemed ‘environmentally preferable,’” according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Ecolabels are usually run by third-party governmental or advocacy groups — the top to prioritize when shopping are EPA’s Safer Choice Standard and the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Verified mark, according to our experts.
Type: Laundry detergent is available as a liquid, powder or in pods. Weigh the pros and cons of each before choosing one.
Scent: Some people prefer scented laundry detergent so their clothing and linens have a fragrance once they’re clean. Others, however, opt for unscented options. Note that the EPA distinguishes between fragrance-free and unscented.
The best eco-friendly laundry detergent
With expert guidance in mind, we recommended eco-friendly laundry detergents that meet the EPA’s Safer Choice Standard, earned the EWG Verified mark or both. We highlighted products across scent and laundry detergent type to give you an overview of your options. All the laundry detergents below are also HE safe, meaning they’re compatible with HE washing machines.
I’ve used Dropps laundry pods for years. They thoroughly clean my clothing, linens and pet beds, and I was impressed by how well they remove odor from sweaty activewear. Each pod contains 9 grams of laundry detergent and is designed to be added directly into your washing machine. You can purchase the pods as needed, or you can subscribe and have them delivered every one to six months at a discounted price. The pods come in a recyclable box.
Ecolabel: EPA Safer Choice Standard | Size: Sold as sets of of 64, 128 or 192 pods | Scent: Unscented
This liquid laundry detergent from Tide is made from 75% plant-based materials including coconut oil, soy and corn. The container (which has a measuring cap) is made from recycled plastic and can be recycled after use, according to Tide.
Ecolabel: EPA Safer Choice Standard | Size: 46 or 69 fluid ounces | Scent: Fragrance-free
Seventh Generation’s laundry packs are filled with detergent and come in a recyclable plastic pouch. You can drop the packs directly into your laundry machine — the brand recommends using two packs for large loads or heavily soiled items. The laundry packs are made from 94% plant-based ingredients, according to Seventh Generation.
Ecolabel: EPA Safer Choice Standard | Size: Sold as sets of 45 or 75 detergent packs | Scent: Fragrance-free
9 Elements’ laundry detergent is formulated with vinegar to help get rid of residues and odors on your clothes. The liquid detergent gets its eucalyptus scent from essential oils, and it comes in a recyclable plastic bottle with a cap that doubles as a measuring cup.
Ecolabel: EPA Safer Choice Standard | Size: 46, 65 or 92 fluid ounces | b: Eucalyptus
Blueland’s laundry detergent comes in what the brand calls “dry-form tablets” — they’re similar to laundry detergent pods but don’t have a lining around them. The Laundry Starter Set comes with 60 laundry tablets and a steel Forever Tin, which you can use to store the tablets. You can order additional detergent tablets separately, or subscribe to get refill tablets at a discounted price. The refill tablets come in a compostable paper pouch.
Ecolabel: EWG Verified | Size: Sold as sets of 60, 120 or 240 tablets | Scent: Fragrance-free
Dirty Labs’ laundry detergent comes with a cap that’s labeled with lines to help you measure how much liquid you’ll need. The bottle, cap and spout are all recyclable.
Ecolabel: EPA Safer Choice Standard and EWG Verified | Size: 8.6 or 20 fluid ounces | Scent: Fragrance-free
Attitude’s liquid laundry detergent gets its scent from plant-based ingredients and comes in recyclable plastic bottles. Instead of tossing a bottle when you use up what’s inside, you can reuse it and purchase detergent refills as needed, or subscribe to get them at a discounted price.
Ecolabel: EWG Verified | Size: 35.5, 67.6 or 135.3 fluid ounces | Scent: Wildflower
This powder laundry detergent from Charlie’s Soap can be added directly into your washing machine. It comes with measurement instructions on the back of the package so you know how much to use. The detergent’s pouch is recyclable after use, and you can purchase the detergent as needed or subscribe to get it at a discounted price.
Ecolabel: EPA Safer Choice Standard | Size: 1.3 , 2.64 or 8 pounds | Scent: Fragrance-free
AspenClean’s laundry pods are formulated with essential oils that give them their scents. The pods — which you can add directly to your washing machine — come in a recycled paper package that’s compostable. You can purchase pods as needed or subscribe and save to get the detergent at a discounted price.
Ecolabel: EWG Verified | Size: Sold as sets of 36 pods | Scent: Eucalyptus
Defunkify’s liquid laundry detergent is composed of 87% bio-based ingredients. It's sold as a pack of two bottles, which are made from recycled plastic packaging. The detergent gets its fragrance from essential oils.
Ecolabel: EPA Safer Choice Standard | Size: 37.7 fluid ounces | Scent: Lavender
Grove Collaborative’s detergent is designed to be poured into the brand’s reusable detergent dispenser to help you measure out how much liquid you’ll need. In addition to buying pouches of detergent as needed, you can subscribe to get the detergent at a discounted price. To recycle the detergent’s packaging, you can email the brand and get a prepaid return label (more details on the product page).
Ecolabel: EPA Safer Choice Standard | Size: 24 fluid ounces | Scent: Lavender and rosemary
Laundry detergents that advertise whitening or brightening capabilities often contain chemicals, according to our experts, so they recommended adding an eco-friendly laundry booster to your load instead. Boosters can help make the detergent more effective, especially if you’re cleaning items that are stained or have an odor, like workout clothes. Branch Basics’ Oxygen Boost is free from bleach, ammonia, dyes and fragrances. It comes with a reusable plastic scoop.
Ecolabel: EWG Verified | Size: 4 pounds | Scent: Unscented
How to shop for eco-friendly laundry detergent
Shopping for eco-friendly laundry detergent involves many of the same considerations you’ll want to make when purchasing any type of laundry detergent. Experts say to think about whether you hand-wash or machine-wash laundry, and what type of washing machine you use. They also recommend considering what temperature you typically wash your laundry in and what type of material you’re cleaning. For eco-friendly laundry detergent specifically, there are a few additional considerations.
“You don’t need to be a chemist or scientist to become your own product advocate,” says Marilee Nelson, consumer chemical expert and co-founder of Branch Basics. Let ecolabels do the work for you. Ecolabels are the best way to ensure that a product is actually designed to be safe for the environment to some degree, as well as better for human health. A product earns an ecolabel after a third party — like a government agency, nonprofit or other private group — evaluaes that item and comes to its own conclusions about its eco-friendly claims based on criteria it sets.
Though any ecolabel is a good option, experts primarily recommend looking for the following two when shopping for eco-friendly laundry detergent. Both evaluate products' ingredients against what our experts called strict standards and require products to disclose ingredients to consumers, a practice that’s not required by law nationwide.
The EPA’s Safer Choice Standard, which covers all-purpose cleaners. The EPA says it conducts annual audits once a product meets the Safer Choice Standard to verify that standards are being upheld over time.
The EWG’s Verified mark, which is run by the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit activist organization that evaluates products and assigns hazard ratings for a variety of cleaners and ingredients, plus rates cleaning products according to its own standards. Makers of products with the EWG Verified mark agree that the organization can randomly test products to ensure they continuously meet its criteria.
These are not the only two eco-labels you’ll see when shopping, however. You may also come across laundry detergents with ecolabel certifications like Green Seal, Ecologo and Cradle to Cradle. Retailers like Amazon and Target have also developed their own standards and partnered with ecolabels to highlight eco-friendly products they sell. For example, you can browse laundry detergents that meet Amazon’s Climate Pledge or Target’s Clean standard online.
So how do you decide which ecolabel to pay attention to? It’s a matter of personal preference, experts told us. Different ecolabels evaluate products according to different criteria, so experts recommended finding one that aligns with what’s important to you and then using that ecolabel’s database to browse products that meet its marks.
The primary ingredients in most laundry detergents — standard, eco-friendly or otherwise — are enzymes, which break down stains, and surfactants, which lift dirt and grime away from clothing, experts told us. One of the main ingredient groups people tend to focus on is fragrance — many want their clothes, linens and other items to have a nice scent after being washed. However, if a detergent advertises being heavily scented or having brightening abilities, it’s a good indicator that the product contains chemicals and other artificial ingredients you want to avoid, says Alexandra Wojenski, a sustainable cleaning expert at Grove Collaborative. These include preservatives like parabens, phthalates and formaldehyde, as well as phosphates, which can adjust the pH level of a product.
Eco-friendly laundry detergents are generally free from synthetic fragrances, which means they’re usually either unscented or get their fragrance from essential oils or botanical (plant-derived) extracts, Wojenski says. She noted these natural scents will not be as strong and may fade faster compared to detergents made with artificial fragrances. However, experts told us eco-friendly detergents clean items just as well as other options, even though you may not be able to necessarily smell it.
It’s also important to keep in mind that the EPA distinguishes between fragrance-free and unscented. If a product says it's fragrance-free, it means that it does not contain any fragrance material or masking scents, while unscented, “generally means that the product may contain chemicals that neutralize or mask the odors of other ingredients.”
If your detergent comes in a paper, plastic or tin container, check to see if it can be recycled or is made from recycled (or compostable) materials — better yet, seek out a recyclable and fillable container. When it comes to laundry pods, pay attention to what the pod itself is made from — they usually contain a polyvinyl material (a type of plastic) that’s not very eco-friendly, though some brands make pods from plant-derived ingredients.
Meet our experts
At Select, we work with experts who have specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training and/or experience. We also take steps to ensure that all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and with no undisclosed financial conflicts of interest.
Marilee Nelson is a consumer chemical expert and co-founder of Branch Basics.
Alexandra Wojenski is a sustainable cleaning expert at Grove Collaborative.
Why trust NBC Select?
Zoe Malin is an associate updates editor at Select who covers home care products like laundry detergent, dish soap and more. For this piece, Malin interviewed two experts to gather their tips and product recommendations, and researched eco-friendly laundry detergent on the market with their guidance in mind.