Eco-friendly detergents keep harmful chemicals out of the waterways and won’t irritate sensitive skin
Mainstream laundry detergents may be cheap, but they’re often full of nasty synthetic chemicals, such as bleach, phosphates, dioxanes, and chlorine. When we run our washing machine with these detergents, those nasty chemicals get into the water system and can be hugely damaging to ecosystems.
In addition, these chemicals can be extremely irritating if you’ve got sensitive skin or have young children in the house. You may have experimented with eco products in the past and not been particularly impressed, but these products have improved massively in the last few years. There are now a lot of great choices on the market, in all the formats you’d expect, whether it’s powder, liquid, capsules, or sheets.
But, with all the choice, it can be difficult to know where to start, so we’ve put together our list of the best eco-laundry detergents, with different formats included. You’ll also find a handy buying guide below, telling you more about eco-friendly laundry detergents.
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How to choose the best laundry detergent for you
What makes a laundry detergent eco-friendly?
Laundry detergents that are eco-friendly are better for the environment. They will be free from any of the previously mentioned harmful chemicals, such as bleach, phosphates, dioxanes, and chlorine. And eliminating these chemicals immediately makes a greener detergent. The absence of chemicals is also a godsend for young children and adults with sensitive skin, as eco-friendly laundry detergents will be kinder on the skin and far less likely to cause an allergic reaction.
Many eco-friendly laundry detergents will also be suitable to use at lower temperatures, with some even formulated for cold water. Using cold water for laundry saves energy, which saves CO2 – if you washed 4 or 5 loads with cold water, you’d save about 864lbs of CO2 per year, which is the equivalent of planting 0.37 acres of trees.
Because the UK is primarily made up of chalk and limestone, around 60% of homes in the UK have a hard water supply. Laundry detergents don’t work as well in hard water as they struggle to lather up as much. In general, if you live in a hard water area, you’ll need to use slightly more detergent. And it’s also vital to remember to run an eco-friendly limescale remover through your washing machine on a regular basis.
Types of eco-friendly laundry detergent
As with mainstream detergents, you’ll find eco-friendly laundry detergents in a number of different formats. These are the most common:
- Capsules – Capsules are very simple – you just pop one directly into your washing machine with your clothes and the capsule dissolves into the wash to form soap suds. Some capsules can struggle to dissolve at lower temperatures, so check that the one you buy is suitable for the temperature you intend to use.
- Sheets – The latest innovation in detergents is laundry sheets. These dissolve in the washing machine like capsules, but most can be used at low temperatures.
- Liquids and gels – These are great for everyday washing and, like capsules, go into the washing drum either in the lid of the bottle or a specially designed capsule.
- Powder – Powder tends to be the cheapest option, generally coming with a small scoop to measure it into the detergent drawer. But powder can clog the drawer over time, so make sure to keep your machine clean.
- Washing balls – These contain a replaceable capsule to clean your clothes and are again put in the main washing drum with your clothes. They’re one of the most inexpensive ways to clean clothes, with one capsule lasting multiple washes.
How we test eco laundry detergents
Every laundry detergent on this list is tested in a hard water area on a number of full washes, which include everything from underwear to towels. While it’s tricky to assess exactly how well our favourites cleaned our clothes, we compared them to our standard detergent to note the differences. The detergents are also assessed on smell, how gentle they claim to be on the skin and how eco-friendly their ingredients are. Finally, we consider how thick, or thin, they are to try and ascertain how many loads you can get for your money and whether the claimed number of washes is accurate.
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The best eco-friendly laundry detergents you can buy in 2023
1. ecoegg Laundry Egg: Best budget buy
Price when reviewed: £7.49 | Check price at Amazon
The ecoegg Laundry Egg is a complete replacement for detergent and fabric softener in one handy egg-shaped product. Instead of detergent, the ecoegg uses mineral pellets placed inside the egg to clean your clothes. The pellets are free from harmful chemicals and are ideal for sensitive skin – the egg has won awards from Allergy UK.
The ecoegg is available in two scents – Fresh Linen and Spring Blossom – as well as a fragrance free version. The manufacturers say that you’ll get 70 washes out of the original egg and 50 washes from the refills, which works out as costing just 10p a wash. We haven’t had a chance to test the egg with quite this many washes yet, but after several dozen the egg shows no signs of slowing down.
The fragrances in the ecoegg are incredibly subtle, so don’t be surprised if they’re not detectable on your laundry. The egg works well at lower temperatures, but don’t expect to get as many suds as you would with a detergent.
Key details – Size: N/A; Number of washes: 70 / Refills: 50; Type: Laundry Egg
2. Smol Laundry Capsules: Best capsules
Price when reviewed: £7 | Check price at Sainsbury’s
Smol do a range of laundry capsules, including bio, non-bio, and sensitive non-bio (ideal for babies and toddlers and their delicate skin). The capsules avoid using plastic altogether and arrive in recyclable packaging made from FSC cardboard.
You can order a nine-wash trial for free (bar a £1 charge for postage) at Smol’s website, or pick a box up with your shopping at Sainsbury’s. Smol also offer a postal subscription, where you can choose how frequently the capsules arrive.
We found the capsules worked a treat, with the bio version being particularly good at removing even the toughest stains. This is particularly impressive without the addition of harsh chemicals. We also felt it kept whites looking white as well and the capsules dissolved well, with no lumps left in the machine.
One tiny thing – the packaging is a bit fiddly to open and we would advise you watch the video on how to do so rather than tearing into it!
Key details – Size: N/A; Number of washes: 27; Type: Capsules
3. Savon De Marseille: Best for multiple uses
Price when reviewed: £7 | Check price at La Simple Maison
Marseille soap (Savon De Marseille) has been produced for around 600 years and is a multi-purpose soap made from a combination of (amongst other things) vegetable oils and sea water. This version, from La Simple Maison, contains a minimum of 72% vegetable oil and is free from fragrances, preservatives, additives, and dyes. It’s not tested on animals and it’s entirely plastic free.
This is a truly eco-friendly product as it has so many uses around the home – it makes an excellent dishwasher, it cleans floors and surfaces, and it can even be used to remove stains. In addition to all this, it also makes effective laundry detergent which can be used either in the machine or for handwashing.
To make up laundry detergent you simply grate 30g of the soap and mix it with 500ml of hot water, then add another 500ml of hot water before a final mix. 100ml of liquid will wash 5kg of clothes, so it’s incredibly good value for money, and you can keep the rest of the detergent for later use. You can also add other products to the soap, such as essential oils for perfume (wait until the mixed liquid has cooled before doing this), or a tablespoon of bicarbonate of soda if you’re doing a white wash. The soap produces great results and it’s particularly purse-friendly.
Key details – Size: 600g; Number of washes: 200; Type: Soap
4. Bio-D Fragrance Free Non-Bio Laundry Liquid: Best eco-friendly detergent
Price when reviewed: £6.12 | Check price at Bio-D
Accredited by Allergy UK, Bio-D’s detergent is gentle on skin but still cleans clothes very effectively. Surprisingly for a liquid, it’s also effective at lower temperatures and can be used to handwash delicates.
As it’s a concentrated formula, a litre bottle will give you 25 washes. In keeping with its eco-friendly approach, Bio-D is also suitable for vegans and is cruelty free, while the bottle is made from 100% recycled materials.
You can buy Bio-D directly from their website, but it’s also stocked at a number of independent shops around the country, many of which also offer a refill service to reuse the packaging. The laundry liquid is also available with natural lavender or juniper scents, if you prefer a fragrance with your detergent. We were really impressed with how well Bio-D performed, plus it’s one of the best environmentally-friendly detergents out there.
Key details – Size: 1l; Number of washes: 25; Type: Liquid
5. Clean Living Laundry Strips: Best laundry sheets
Price when reviewed: £15 | Check price at Clean LivingThese eco-friendly laundry sheets are incredibly convenient – simply pop one on top of your laundry and it will dissolve completely without leaving any lumps – and you can use them in hot or cold water.
The sheets are biodegradable, free from plastic, and don’t contain any harsh chemicals, plus the packaging is also recyclable. We were impressed by their performance at low temperatures, where they still did a good job of removing stains. The sheets have a slight fragrance, which may not be to everyone’s taste, but it isn’t particularly strong.
You can order refills on a subscription to save money although, as you’ll get up to 60 washes from a single packet, the strips are already good value for money. We were also impressed by how soft clothes were after a wash – you shouldn’t need to even add fabric softener to these.
Key details – Size: N/A; Number of washes: 60; Type: Sheets
6. Dylon Colour Catcher Sheets: Best for reducing the number of washes
Price when reviewed: £5.25 | Check price at Waitrose
Colour catchers are a brilliant invention that allow you to cut down on the number of washes you have to do, and what could be more environmentally friendly than that?
Pop a single sheet in your wash and it will trap colours that would otherwise bleed into the wash, potentially staining your other clothes. This means that you can mix different colours and fabrics together in a single wash, without having to do separate loads. The proof is definitely on the sheet when you finish a cycle – you’ll be able to see the colours it has trapped in its fibres.
These colour catchers are made from biodegradable, naturally-derived fibres and are FSC certified, so they won’t do any harm to the environment once you’ve finished with them.
Key details – Size: N/A; Number of washes: 40; Type: Sheets
7. Ecover Zero Delicate Laundry Liquid: Best for delicate fabrics
Price when reviewed: £6 | Check price at Amazon
Ecover have been making eco-products since 1979 and are widely available in most major supermarkets. Their delicate laundry liquid is ideal for wools and silks, plus it’s kind to sensitive skin.
Free from chemicals, the liquid uses plant-based ingredients and is formulated without fragrances or colourings. We did think the liquid had a slight scent to it, which may not be to everyone’s taste, but it didn’t linger on the washing. You can use the liquid on cold washes, as well as in the machine at temperatures of 30-40°C.
Ecover’s liquid does a great job of cleaning your delicates and it’s good value for money. The only slight disappointment for an eco-product is that although the bottle is widely recyclable, the cap may not be, depending on your local recycling services.
Key details – Size: 1l; Number of washes: 22; Type: Liquid