What is the best natural baby detergent? If I had a nickel for every time a reader asked me this question! Finding the best nontoxic baby detergent (that actually gets those week-old ketchup stains out) is no easy task.
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New parents do a TON of laundry! Dirty onesies, cloth diapers, and those store-bought untouched baby clothes that must be washed before your baby even wears them… it’s tough enough to keep up while at the same time worrying if the products that touch your baby’s skin are safe.
Further, the supermarket aisles are lined with a plethora of options, many of which falsely claim to be “baby-safe detergent” and use greenwashing trigger words like “natural” and “organic”. Popular natural baby detergent brands like Dreft Active Baby Detergent, Babyganics Laundry Detergent, and Vaska Baby Laundry Detergent all have received an “F” rating from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) for reasons cited as environmental, respiratory, and/or reproductive toxicity concerns. Let me remind you these are products marketed specifically to be safe for our babies!
If you haven’t already guessed it, today we are talking about nontoxic baby detergent. Why should you consider switching to a natural baby detergent in the first place? And what is the best natural detergent for your baby on the market? At the bottom of this article we are chatting about all the ingredients you need to avoid PLUS how to choose a really good baby detergent too! But first...
Why consider switching to a natural baby detergent?
Is it necessary for babies to use natural laundry detergent? I would say yes.
Conventional laundry detergents contain dangerous chemicals; fragrances, synthetic dyes, surfactants, bleach, phosphates, and the list goes on… Some of these ingredients are designed to even stick to your clothing. Petroleum distillate, for example, is a surfactant commonly found in laundry detergent and has been linked to lung inflammation, asthma, and even cancer. Babies have such sensitive skin and fragile immune systems that are not fully mature so choosing baby detergent formulated for sensitive skin is critical.
Beyond physical health, there are also environmental reasons to consider non-toxic baby detergent. The packaging of most common laundry detergents is made of plastic derived from fossil fuels, a known contributor to climate change. The detergent itself also contains petroleum-based ingredients, dyes, and other chemicals that don’t fully degrade once the detergent enters our waterways.
Our top recommendations for natural laundry detergent for babies
So, now that we know what to look for, what is the best natural baby detergent? While it can be challenging to find one detergent that hits the mark on every point mentioned above, these ones below come pretty darn close!
Dr. Bronner's Pure-Castile Liquid Soap is a fan favorite with 5/5 stars on amazon and an “A” rating on EWG. It's made with 90% organic ingredients, with over 70% of those being fair trade certified. It’s also free of synthetic preservatives, detergents, or foaming agents. The packaging is also 100% post-consumer recycled which is a plus. And, it comes in 8 scents including scent-free!
Review: This stuff is super-concentrated so don’t use too much. I recommend between 80-120 mL for a larger load. If you are using an HE washer then use 40-60ml. This is great for onsies, blankets, nappies/diapers, and other stained items. It will leave your little ones’ clothing smelling so good. Castile soap is incredibly versitile and can be used to make just about any DIY cleaning recipe.
Attitudes baby laundry detergent is a good one. They are cruelty-free, ECOLOGO certified, and you can choose an unscented option. They are also made in Canada which is great news for our Canadian readers, they ship to both USA and Canada. Attitude is probably one of our favorite natural cleaning brands, we've featured them before, in our guides on natural laundry detergent, popular dishwashing tablets, refillable cleaning products, eco-friendly cleaning products that disinfect, natural fabric softener, and even zero waste deodorant.
Review: Like all of their products, the Nature laundry detergent lives up to the hype. If you are concerned natural products can’t hold up to their conventional counterparts, they will prove you wrong every time! This detergent will leave your kid’s clothing with a light and clean scent-they have three scents to choose from – without being overpowering. This is a great choice for babies who have sensitive skin.
Free of synthetic fragrance or dyes (they use essential oils), Grove. Co has super affordable detergent options for your family. I also like that once you are done with their detergent, you can email them and they will send you a prepaid return label and will recycle the packaging for you! Grove is featured in a number of our guides including zero waste razors, dishwashing tablets, and even body wash.
Review: This made-in-the-USA laundry detergent comes in a pouch that you use in conjunction with the Auto-Dosing Reusable Laundry Dispenser. It’s very easy to use, you simply add the contents to the dispenser, I suggest you take a look at the full instructions. Great on grassy stains, it’s got a light scent and you can use it to wash your delicates too (hello eco bras) and your soiled baby stuff!
This detergent also has an "A" rating from EWG! Their original detergent powder is free of petrochemicals, fragrances, dyes, formaldehyde, phosphates, dioxane, and optical brighteners! Phew. What's impressive is the 100,000 glowing reviews on their website of people praising how well this stuff works. Molly's is all about creating great products that are effective and safe for families and ecosystems. You can also bundle certain products to help save some cash. Get 120 loads!
Review: If you like to wash in hot water, this is the brand you should try, especially for poop stains. It’s conveniently formulated to work in all machines and when partnered with the oxygen Whitner, watch those stains disappear. I particularly like that you can buy both liquid and powdered detergents.
Another "A" rating! This laundry powder is made in the USA (in Chicago to be exact) and is also free of fragrances, dyes, preservatives, and brighteners. It comes in a cute tin that can be reused over and over again. Choose from unscented, Lavender, Lemon, or Lemon-Lavender-Clove scented options. All scents are made from Certified Organic essential oils; no fragrance blends that contain undisclosed ingredients. The Laundry Powder canister contains 128 HE (64 Standard) Loads.
Dropps pods are free of all the toxins that you would find in conventional laundry detergent. They also never test on animals and come 100% unscented so you won’t have to worry about any skin rashes or reactions. All of their packaging is also compostable. What's really appealing about this brand is you can buy various amounts of it, they offer packs (this is how many loads you will get) of 36, 64, 160, and 240. They are a tad on the pricey side but they are super effective in removing stains, so you most likely will not have to spend money on extra products. They also offer a subscription plan, which helps the pocketbook as well. Dropps offers carbon-neutral shipping too.
Review: These pods are used best when your hands are dry and on smaller loads, don’t overpack the drum with too much clothing. I found it a really great option for all my pet’s blankets too! I’ve also noticed less smell around the rubber in my machine.
Move over optical brighteners! Branch Basics oxygen boost has no bleach, ammonia, fragrances, or dyes and is the best natural baby detergent option for brightening clothes. It is also non-GMO, biodegradable, and not tested on animals (and an "A" rating on EWG doesn’t hurt either). Branch Basics is all about less is more with their lineup of fantastic highly concentrated household cleaning products. Replace dozens of toxic cleaners with one Concentrate that can do it all. The bottles are refillable so they’re better for the environment and your wallet!
Review: LOVE! Not only was this super-effective on the dirtiest of diapers, which only cost 0.27 cents per load. The kit is an essential helper in the laundry room, you will be surprised how little goes such a long way. For heavy stains, soak overnight for best results.
Choosing a natural baby detergent can be tricky - Here’s what to look for:
When choosing the best natural baby detergent, the first step is to look for certifications that you know are going to steer you in the right direction. The Environmental Working Group and ECOCERT are good places to start.
Ingredients to avoid:
We also need to be on the lookout for what toxins are on the ingredient list to avoid when choosing a nontoxic baby detergent.
Fragrances are one of the most common toxins found in cleaning products, (including laundry detergent). Be on the lookout for "unscented" vs. "fragrance-free" on labels, too! The FDA does little to provide an official, legal definition to resolve the confusion around the labeling of the two so I will set the record straight. Unscented products have fragrances to mask the chemical smell of other ingredients in the product while fragrance-free means there is no fragrance in the formula at all.
Phosphate, which is added to laundry detergents to help soften clothes and suspend dirt, is a known contributor to algal blooms and lake eutrophication. It’s also linked to cardiovascular diseases as well as osteoporosis.
Skip the fabric softener! Most fabric softeners are petroleum or animal-fat-based. These days, most detergents do a great job at keeping your clothes soft. And if fabric softener is a must, try my DIY eco-friendly recipe!
The EPA and the U.S Department of Health and Human Services have both listed 1,4-dioxane as "likely to be carcinogenic to humans”. And while we need more research to determine the exact amount that we can safely be exposed to, there is currently no federal limit on how much of this toxin is allowed in cosmetics (yes, that includes laundry detergent).
Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium Laureth sulfate (SLES)
These surfactants help to break down oil and give that foamy lather we are used to seeing during the wash cycle, but they are also toxic to aquatic life and human health! In fact, SLS/SLES has been linked to skin and eye irritations in concentrations greater than 1%.
TSC is a preservative that can also help to prevent and mask odors due to its antibacterial properties – making it a favored ingredient for laundry detergents. However, TSC is classified as a skin and eye irritant in the EU and it has been proven to react in the environment to form dioxins which then bioaccumulate.
Blue dyes are added to laundry detergents to give them that “clean” look and help whites appear whiter (think of those colorful laundry pods). Like the substances listed above, synthetic dues have also been linked to hormonal problems and cancer.
Chlorine bleach and optical brighteners
Chlorine bleach is a dangerous skin and lung irritant that we should remove from our laundry routine, especially for our babies’ clothes. Optical/UV brighteners aren’t much better. They coat the clothing with a substance to reflect visible light so you don’t notice stains, but they are also known eye, skin, and lung irritants.
Once your natural baby detergent has passed the certifications and ingredient checks, we can start to ask ourselves the tough questions!
To meet our standards here at the Eco Hub, we look for…
Is it local?
This is when we think about how far a product has traveled to reach the shelves at the store. The farther an item had traveled to get to us, the higher its carbon footprint. It’s best to choose items that were manufactured closer to us - choose local! That also includes products that are made using ingredients that are sourced locally or nearest to their place of fabrication are also best.
Is it made of natural ingredients?
We always favor natural ingredients that will not go on to harm us or the planet once we are finished with them. Natural baby detergent should contain plant-based ingredients that will biodegrade when released back into the environment.
You can also CLEAN your washing machine with natural ingredients! I love to strip my laundry with vinegar and then clean my machine with vinegar and baking soda. If you don’t want to use vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, and citric acid will also do the trick. I have tons of green cleaning tips here at the Eco Hub!
Is it certified organic?
In this instance, we want to try to reach for brands that are certified organic. This is just a way of verifying that brands are doing what they say they are doing. It can be expensive to be certified organic so some brands might not have certifications to back up their claims. In those cases, we look for other sustainable practices that might speak to their ethics.
Is it vegan?
For those who are vegan, we also check whether brands use any ingredients that are derived from animals. Whether it's honey, beeswax, milk, or cochineal (aka carmines) we’ve got your back.
Is it palm oil-free?
Palm oil is not terrible in and of itself (though it may clog your pores in some instances like in face wash). The thing is that palm oil is still largely sourced unsustainably where entire forests are being destroyed to meet global demand. That’s why we check for it. Where it is present, we look for certifications that speak to ethical sourcing practices.
Are the ingredients sustainably sourced?
Again, we want to make sure that all the ingredients in the things we use are sustainably sourced and that no undue harm is caused to people or to the planet. Some brands go the extra mile to offer information about where all their ingredients come from, and we love them all the more for it.
Does the company use environmentally conscious packaging?
As inconvenient as it can be, the packaging of your detergent is a huge deal. Plastics are clogging up our waterways and oceans–and both fish and seabirds are turning up with bellies full of it. Reaching for blue beauty products or products that are more mindfully packaged is super important. That’s why, wherever possible, we go for products with environmentally conscious packaging that can either be recycled, reused, or composted. Some brands take responsibility for the entire lifecycle of the products they make by offering take-back programs, so we always look out for that too.
Check out these zero waste laundry detergent brands for more inspo!
A final word on the best natural baby detergent
rue eco-friendly baby detergent has packaging that is made up of recyclable and/or biodegradable materials, and detergent that is from naturally derived ingredients. When in doubt, check for the certifications and labels we talked about today. And if you are looking for more tips and tricks on living that “zero waste baby lifestyle”, check out these links below: