So what, exactly, constitutes a better-for-you laundry detergent? Those will also be the best laundry detergents for sensitive skin. Here's the thing: When it comes to cleaning products, finding the safest option isn't always as simple as just reading labels. As Well+Good Council member and non-toxic living expert Sophia Gushée points out, brands aren't required to list all of their ingredients, so it's hard to know for sure what's really inside the bottle.
In general, many laundry detergents contain certain types of stabilizers, colors, preservatives, surfactants, solvents, and brightening agents linked to negative health effects. (Think respiratory issues, hormone disruption, skin allergies, and even cancer.) Other common laundry detergent ingredients, like phosphates, can create harmful algal blooms that disrupt the ocean ecosystem.
What to look for in a laundry detergent for sensitive skin
If there's one thing Gushée always avoids, it's "fragrance"—a vague, unregulated term that can actually hide many different chemicals—aromatic and not—under its umbrella. "Fragrance can contain an unknown number of potentially threatening ingredients, some of which could contribute to cancer, reproductive and developmental toxicity, allergies, and skin irritation," says Gushée, author of A to Z of D-Toxing: The Ultimate Guide to Reducing Our Toxic Exposures.
If this freaks you out, there are plenty of brands now making fragrance-free suds—or choosing to disclose exactly what's in their fragrances—which makes that part of the equation, at least, a little easier to navigate. Bonus: They're also great laundry detergents for sensitive skin types, which can be especially triggered by scents.
Not all laundry detergent ingredients have a strong correlation with skin reactions. However, some ingredients to look out for, says board-certified dermatologist Erum N. Ilyas, include cleansing agents (also known as surfactants), which pull soil off fabrics and can irritate the skin if clothes are not completely rinsed out. "Benzyl benzoate has been added to some laundry detergents to particularly target dust mites that have been demonstrated to not completely be removed by the laundry cycle. This ingredient has been associated with skin reactions," she says.
The ingredients that come up most frequently in allergy testing are fragrances and preservatives like formaldehyde. If the detergent is not completely rinsed out of the clothing, the actives in detergents such as the surfactants and enzymes can be left behind on the clothes, says Ilyas. "When sweating these can impact the skin directly and trigger irritant contact dermatitis. Preservatives in detergents may be left behind on textiles from incomplete rinse or they may even be meant to do so to help retain the fragrances in the product after the wash."
Below are a few clean laundry detergents that score high marks for people and the planet, according to the guidelines established by the Environmental Working Group (EWG)'s Guide to Healthy Cleaning and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)'s Safer Choice standards. They also rate highly for effectiveness, as far as online reviews go. Because let's be honest, opening the washer to find not-so-clean clothes is stressful—and stress isn't exactly good for you either.
Best laundry detergents for sensitive skin
This concentrated laundry detergent has a built-in fabric softener, and is color safe and fragrance-free. It’s made of 100 percent natural, plant-based ingredients, and has no toxic chemicals, so it’s tough on dirt but easy on your skin. The detergent comes in a pack of two, so you don’t have to worry about running out as quickly.
Made for sensitive skin, this Seventh Generation laundry detergent is hypoallergenic, made with 96 percent made with plant-based ingredients, and is free of fragrances, dyes, and artificial brighteners. The concentrated formula means you can do more loads (around 53 medium loads) with a smaller bottle.
Method’s concentrated laundry detergent has plant-based stain lifters to keep your clothes looking bright and new. The detergent is biodegradable, hypoallergenic, and cruelty-free. It’s also free of fragrances and dyes, making it gentle on the skin.
Grove. Co’s laundry detergent is made of 98 percent plant-derived ingredients and uses no harsh chemicals, fragrances, or dyes. You can also say goodbye to bulky containers; the detergent comes in a recyclable bag, and you can also pick up a reusable, auto-dosing dispenser to get rid of some of the single-use plastic in your home.
Mix up your laundry routine with a powder detergent that only has four ingredients, and a long list of things it doesn’t have, including synthetic fragrances, dyes, formaldehyde, petrochemicals, and more. Each bag can clean up to 120 loads of laundry.
If you love Tide PODs but want a gentler alternative, this free & gentle version gives you the convenience without any harsh ingredients. It’s hypoallergenic, dermatologist-tested, and free of perfumes and dyes. The PODs are also designed to work in cold water, helping you saving money on your energy bills.
Another pod option, Grab Green’s laundry detergent is eco-responsible, plant- and mineral-based, hypoallergenic, and fragrance-free. They have a 3-in-1 function — concentrated detergent, stain remover, and brightener — and works in all water temperatures.
Biodegradable and hypoallergenic, this detergent is gentle enough for people with chemical sensitivities as well as babies. The ingredients are from plant-based sources and there are no added fragrances, dyes, or synthetic preservatives. Each bottle can handle up to 32 loads, and you can buy a pack of four bottles.
This Arm & Hammer laundry detergent is hypoallergenic and dermatologist-tested to be gentle for sensitive skin, and has no perfumes, preservatives, or dyes. It has a 100 percent rating by SkinSAFE, meaning it excludes all of their topmost considered skin allergens.
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