My favorite all natural laundry detergents

October 19, 2014

The quest to find the best all natural laundry detergent has been a long and tedious one. I have tried, failed, and possibly ruined a few pieces of clothing during the journey. Nonetheless, I kept trying and have a brand that is working for us at the moment.

Nellies 10.17.14

1. Nellie’s All Natural Laundry Soda.

Coconut Oil Based Surfactants – can cause respiratory issues, irritate the eyes and lungs, along with increasing cell division rates (well, this is just awesome)

Sodium Carbonate (Soda Ash or Washing Soda) – is rated an A on the EWG. This is a stronger version of baking soda and occurs when you heat baking soda in the oven at 200°F over an hour. By doing this, it will release carbon dioxide and water which then turns into sodium carbonate. This will change the PH of the water, making it more alkaline. It is a water softener, pulling the calcium out of your water.

Sodium Metasilicate – fusing sodium carbonate with silica sand (see more). This is typically non toxic when made into detergents.

Fatty Alcohol Ethoxylate – rated a C on the EWG as there are some concerns with respiratory, developmental and reproductive activity

Sodium Chloride – salt (of course rated an A!)

Nellie’s states that their product is free of SLS, SLES, Gluten, phosphates, fragrance and chlorine. It claims that its “highly concentrated formula will leave your clothes soft and fresh, rinsing residue free”. I really agree with this statement as our clothes feel great and don’t have that residue feel.

Most of the stains come out really well and it works wonderfully on the cloth diapers. If I need that extra boost I throw in a scoop of the Nellie’s Oxygen Brightner (more on this in a future blog). I also tend to wash most of our clothes in cold water to save money – Diapers and whites are washed in hot water and towels in warm.

The only downside to Nellie’s or really any all natural laundry detergent, is that it does not have any scent and does not make your whites white (more on this in a future blog). I typically get the tin for 100 loads around $17.09 on (When you click on my link you will receive up to $10 off your first order! Yippee!). This would be $.17/load. 

Now as I am writing this post I am realizing that Nellie’s still has some chemicals that I don’t want around my family. The GoodGuide rates it a 10, but they are missing some partial data. So, the search might still be on!

2.  Making my own – it was messy, a long process, and I felt it did not really get our clothes that clean. Plus, many of the recipes that I found required ingredients that were not really that natural.

country save 10.17.143. Country Save – powder detergent that is fragrance & dye free, biodegradable, 100% phosphate free, and no optical brighteners. This was not bad, a little better than the Eco Me, but I tend to be more biased towards the powder detergents as I feel that they clean the clothes a little better than liquid. This could be totally psychological, though.

Sodium Carbonate – Washing Soda — You can get this at many grocery stores. This is a stronger version of baking soda. It changes the PH of the water, makes it more alkaline. It is a water softener, pulling the calcium out of your water. If you wet it and put it on sensitive skin it can burn, an alkaline burn. Since it rinses out pretty easily there should be no residue (also see above).

Sodium Sulfate – rated an A on EWG. This will keep the detergent dry and also a filler to add weight to the bag. This is pretty safe when wet, but not good to breathe. This is acidic and can be dangerous to inhale in a powder form but dissolves and washes away really easily.

Sodium Percarbonate – also rated an A on EWG. This is a laundry booster and works when it reacts with water to create hydrogen peroxide and sodium carbonate. It’s antibacterial and will also help to whiten stains. When this is mixed with water and dissolved, it returns to water, oxygen, and sodium carbonate. Oxyclean — hydrogen peroxide can cause some damage in full concentration, but it is converted to water pretty quickly, so would not stay in the clothes.

Sodium alkyl aryl sulfonate – this is a type of surfactant. This is how you get the bubbles while helping to get rid of all that dirt.

Linear alcohol ethoxylate – rated a C on EWG as it is a surfactants. There is small concern that it can cause cancer; developmental, endocrine, and reproductive effects; and damage to DNA.

Sodium Borate: This is Borax which is a natural mineral. This is rated an F as it shows evidence of developmental, endocrine, and reproductive effects; skin irritation, allergies, and damage; also respiratory effects. There is the argument that there are no medical studies to really show any clear problems or that it is unsafe in detergents. It’s not safe to inhale, or to use on your skin directly.

Coconut Diethanolamide. — coconut based surfactant.

I am not so sure that I would try this product again. You can buy country save on iherb for $9.25 for 40 loads (top loader) which is $.23/load or $.12/load for 80 loads (front loader).

eco me 10.17.144. Eco Me – I purchased the lavender liquid detergent and it did  not do a bad job. I did feel as if our clothes were not as bright as they could be. This feeling could also be biased, in the fact, that I did not yet know that all natural detergents do not have those “brightners” in them.

Water –  a wonderful ingredient!

Coconut Oil Soap – Potassium Cocoate is rated an A and a natural soap derived from coconut oil

Olive Oil Soap – Potassium Olivate is ranked a 0 (had to look under the cosmetic ingredient list on EWG) and a natural soap derived from olive oil.

Jojoba Oil – Potassium Jojobate is ranked a 0 and  a natural soap derived from jojoba oil.

Rosemary Oil Extract – ranked a 0

Aloe – ranked a 0

Plant-based Solubilizer – Caprylyl Capryl Glucoside is rated a B. It is a mild, solubilizing non-ionic surfactant that is obtained from renewable vegetable origin.

Vegetable Glycerin – is rated an A

Plant Essential Oils – no details on this one

Overall, sounds like Eco Me is a pretty safe product. They are not listed on the EWG but if you breakdown the ingredients it seems to be pretty safe. The best deal that I see is on Iherb for only $9.74 for 64 loads or $.15/load! I definitely think I will be giving this one another shot.

eco-me 10.17.145. Soap Nuts – I used the Eco Nuts brand forever and actually liked it. They are pretty amazing little berries that actually clean your clothes since they contain a natural soap. They did pretty well even with our cloth diapers and are really as all natural as you can get!

Eco Nut – dried berry shells from the Sapindus mukorossi (soapberry) tree in Asia that have cleaning abilities and have been used for centuries to clean clothes.

You can buy Eco Nuts on iherb for $9.07 for 100 loads or .09/load

Many of the laundry manufacturers that are out there use pretty deceiving terms like hypoallergenic, free and clear, all natural, etc.; they are anything but. If you look at all the laundry products on the EWG website, 39% are ranked an F and only 5.4% are ranked an A.

One example that blew my mind is Dreft. It scored an F on EWG’s Guide, an F!!!! This is supposed to be made especially for our babies. Not even a C or D, but literally an F. It has Alcohol Ethoxylates (C10-C16) Sodium Salt which causes some concern for respiratory effects, developmental/endocrine/reproductive effects, nervous system effects, digestive system effects, damage to vision, and cancer. Alkyl Sulfates causes some concern with general systemic/organ effects along with aquatic toxicity; to name a few.

Dreft is on Amazon at $20.40 for 62 loads or $.33/load. Since I don’t shop for more commercial detergents I also looked at Tide on Amazon which is listed at $33.86 for 64 loads or .53/load. 

Another example is All 2X Ultra Concentrated Laundry Detergent, Free & Clear. You would think that Free and Clear would be good, think again, folks! This one is rated an F, big..fat…F. This product has Stabilizers which have a high concern of developmental, endocrine, and reproductive effects. Some Concern with skin irritation, allergies, and respiratory effects. Other ingredients are Buffers, and Alcohol Ethoxylates (C12-15) (which has moderate concerns of chronic aquatic toxicity and some concerns with cancer, developmental, endocrine, reproductive effects, damage to DNA, respiratory effects, nervous system effects, digestive system effects, skin irritation, allergies, and damage to vision). Yikes!

All 2X free and clear is $14.45 (plus shipping) for 66 loads .22/load (excluding shipping). So not only are the more natural laundry detergents healthier but less expensive. 🙂

Many of the companies don’t put the ingredients down on the bottles. That always makes me wonder why they do that, what do they have to hide? Obviously a lot!

What you will find in many detergents is that you must have the soap or surfactants and the modifiers, like the Sodium Carbonate. Most detergent on the market is made with washing soda and a surfactant, along with a filler. This is probably because it works the best. Some of the all natural detergents leave out one or the other because they are worried about that ingredient (I don’t blame them). But, if you leave the basic ingredients out will you even get your clothes as clean?

A good rule of thumb is that if the ingredients are not listed, have a fragrance, or make clothes brighter, stay away from them. Think about it this way. We wear clothes all day, everyday, other than a quick shower. That means that these chemicals are always on our bodies, being inhaled by our kiddos, and touching our skin.

I am really OK with fact that my whites are not as bright as everyone else’s or that my clothes don’t smell like Tide (will touch on the scent in a future blog). We definitely make some sacrifices by going to a more all natural route, which has not been easy at all, but by knowing that my family is a little healthier, I think I can deal with it!

The information provided came from a few different sources – EWG guides (cosmetic and laundry), a blog called gimmethegoodstuff that helped me navigate my all natural laundry ways, and post on helped with a lot of the Country Save information.

Please keep in mind to take those extra minutes to research what you are ordering. I obviously did not do as much research as I should have or I would have seen that Nellie’s does not have the type of “safe” ingredients that I would like. Stay tuned as I try a few more laundry detergents to see if we can find the magic one! Please leave a comment to let me know what you are using.

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  • Reply Maria Arefieva March 18, 2017 at 7:12 pm

    I can’t believe many people find smell of Tide “fresh” and appealing. It us so synthetic and so strong – it just disgusting to any normal nose 🙂

    Thanks for all the info. Have been using soap nuts, but trying to find a safe way to keep whites ..well if not super white, at least not ugly greyish-yellow :))

    • KatharineRosemary
      Reply KatharineRosemary March 19, 2017 at 10:12 pm

      I totally agree!

      The whites are the hardest. I still tend to use a bit of bleach, which I know is not the best, but only way to get them white. I am going to try to use lemon juice and line dry the whites this summer to see if that will work!

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