Transitioning to zero waste can be overwhelming, so many people tackle it one room at a time. Your laundry routine is an excellent place to start, and finding the best zero waste laundry detergent for you is a significant first step.
The washing and drying of your clothes, dryer sheets, and laundry detergent are the most significant areas of waste. Dryer sheets and the dryer itself can be avoided through line drying, but laundry detergent (not laundry soap) is something you’ll always need.
Fortunately, there is an abundance of great zero waste laundry detergents available. Let’s look at what our typical laundry care routine looks like and how to create an Earth-friendly routine in its place.
13 Best Zero Waste Laundry Detergents for a Green Clean
I've tested some of the leading eco-friendly laundry detergents out there and put together a list of my favorites. You're sure to find something you'll love!
1. Tru Earth Laundry Strips
Avoiding plastic waste can seem difficult, but Tru Earth makes laundry detergent in the form of simple, easy to use laundry detergent strips you place in your washer. The sheets dissolve completely into your washer (unlike some pods) and wash just as well as commercial laundry detergent.
Made with soy vegetable glycerin plus a coconut-oil based foam booster, you don’t have to worry about any harmful chemicals.
They help the environment both by eliminating plastic waste and by making shipment of the product lighter. These laundry strips have had rave reviews by many different clients, and they have also gone on to give away millions of strips to needy families. It's one of the best zero waste laundry detergents we tried.
2. Elva's All Naturals
Elva's laundry detergent is all-natural, containing only 100% biodegradable ingredients, herbs, and plant extracts. The formula is highly concentrated, requiring only 1-2 tsp. per load. Plus, there's a lavender and an unscented form.
It's low-waste and cost-effective, with their 1.5 liter home refill box doing up to 150 loads of laundry. If you don't want a whole box, you can also try it out in a 500 ML amber glass bottle.
3. The Unscented Co.
This Canadian brand has so many refillable products. But we're here to talk about laundry, and their detergents don't disappoint. They offer a vegan and laundry-free detergent in a 10 L refill box and a 4 L jug. Or, you can purchase their laundry tabs.
Their eco friendly laundry detergent is biodegradable, color-safe, and works just as well in cold water. It's made with plant-based ingredients and is safe for cloth diapers and anything else you need washed.
I love their refill options. Being able to purchase the 10 L refill box saves so much on shipping, plus emissions.
4. The Bare Home
Another Canadian brand that offers "eco-sustainable natural cleaning products that are safe for you, your home and the earth." The Bare Home sells a biodegradable and beautifully scented laundry detergent in a 1 L glass bottle and a 3 L refill box.
The concentrated detergent formula is safe for both HE and standard washers. And it's safe for use with cloth diapers, scrubs, and even works well in cold water.
Long before zero waste became “trendy,” Dropps was becoming a solution for many laundry troubles. This unique, natural laundry detergent was developed to wash expensive sweaters that couldn’t stand up to traditional laundry detergents of the time.
This natural solution has grown since then, becoming the same environmentally soap in an even friendlier plastic free laundry detergent package. Dropps comes in easy-to-use laundry pods shipped in a compostable cardboard box made from 50% post-consumer recycled material, so being plastic free is as easy as tossing a pod in the wash and starting your laundry.
They’re made of non-toxic polyvinyl alcohol (PVOH), which works in cold temperatures and leaves no microplastics behind. Plus, it comes in many different varieties, including sensitive skin detergent, stain and odor specific sustainable laundry detergent, plus lavender and eucalyptus scents.
6. Soap Nuts
If you want something so natural it’s fresh off the tree, you may find Eco Nuts an interesting laundry detergent. Rather than being an actual detergent, soap nuts are literally a berry off of a tree from the Himalayas that are de-seeded.
When one of these soap nuts is tossed into a load of laundry, they release Saponins, a natural cleansing agent. They’re super gentle, making them perfect for sensitive skin. Just toss a few berries into a small bag and toss them in the washer. They can be reused up to 10 times before you need to replace them.
The packaging they come in is also plastic-free, making this an all-around very eco-friendly option.
One look at the plastic bottle this comes in may send eco lovers scurrying, but they’re designed to be refilled! Pure is available in bulk, so you can reuse the jug forever after the initial purchase as you get refill after refill. They sell a 10L refill box, plus refilleries typically carry this detergent.
If you love liquid laundry soap and need something to replace it, Pure is a great eco-friendly solution. The closed-loop nature of the business model cuts down a great deal on the energy required in production and plastic waste because the bottles will be used again and again.
The eco friendly laundry detergent itself is ultra-concentrated and made with biodegradable ingredients. The natural formula works well in cold water and is safe for sensitive skin.
There is no shortage of laundry detergents for your washing machine, but what about handwashing?
Ethique is a well-known brand when it comes to zero waste products. They have a wide selection of products ranging from dog shampoo bars to lotions and even face serums. Because of this, Ethique is one of New Zealand’s highest performing B corps.
Their laundry bars are super concentrated and designed to replace several plastic bottles before they disappear without a trace. Made with 100% biodegradable ingredients and packaged in a compostable sleeve, they’re excellent at brightening and removing stains.
Their Flash! Bar is not for the washing machine—in fact, it isn’t recommended for traditional loads of laundry. Instead, grate a small amount of this into your water for handwashing to help clean your delicates as gently as possible. Consider this a replacement for woolite rather than a replacement for your laundry jug.
9. Bestowed Essentials
If you prefer powdered detergent, Bestowed Options is another eco-friendly option that gets the job done. On top of eco-friendly packaging in the form of a compostable paper bag, Bestowed Essentials is vegan and all natural. Because it’s a powder, it has a lower carbon footprint than traditional detergents.
You can purchase the laundry powder in a 3 lb bag or a 40 lb plastic pail that they take back! You only need one tablespoon per average load of laundry, so it’ll last a long time.
10. The Soap Works
Another laundry powder, this time made from a Canadian company that focuses on low waste essentials. Their affordable zero waste laundry detergent comes in a compostable paper bag, much like Bestowed Essentials.
It's completely biodegradable, although it does contain Borax, so if you have a sensitivity, you'll want to avoid this option. It uses natural alternatives to sulfates to deeply clean your clothes. You only need 1/4 cup for your average load.
11. Zero Co.
Zero Co. is an Australian company that has a unique refill business model. You purchase a starter kit with plastic bottles made from recycled ocean plastics and refill pouches filled with product. With these items, you also get a postage-paid envelope. You empty the pouches into the plastic bottles and then send them back to be refilled.
At no time during the process are single-use plastics considered. This is great for the environment and also great for you if you prefer a liquid laundry detergent.
Closed-loop is thought to be the method that we should be heading towards, as not only are you avoiding plastic packaging, but you’re also avoiding packaging waste in the first place.
The laundry detergent itself is made with plant-based, biodegradable ingredients, including a coconut-based sulfate. It’s designed to clean your clothes just as well as traditional brands in all waters.
Although Happi.Earth it not completely zero waste, it does reduce 99% of the plastic involved in the process. Happi.Earth also plants a mangrove tree for every purchase. Mangrove trees are essential because they protect shorelines and are an essential environment for many animal species.
Happi.Earth is a super-concentrated liquid that is good for up to 400 washes. It reduces plastic waste by removing all unnecessary water from the detergent, and the bottle itself is made from sugarcane, a renewable resource.
It’s also much praised as being an excellent cleaner and smelling great. This is a good option if you want to reduce plastic waste but aren’t ready to leap into refilleries or pods.
These laundry tablets come in a "forever tin" you only buy once. After that, you can buy the refill pack for a discount. Blueland is non-toxic and doesn't use fossil fuels.
Many people prefer Blueland (and laundry tabs in general) because they can see exactly how many loads of laundry they have left before they need to order more. And as an added benefit, not only is it a sustainable zero waste laundry detergent, but it costs less to ship because it’s so light.
Ingredients to Avoid In Your Plastic Free Laundry Detergent
- Phosphates: These are chemicals that cause eutrophication, which is mineral poisoning that kills off marine life.
- Formaldehyde: A carcinogen that, when it comes into contact with your skin, could increase your risk of cancer.
- Dyes: These don’t affect the function of laundry detergent. They are known irritants for many people.
- Chlorine bleach: An irritant that could cause blindness as well as respiratory problems.
- Optical brighteners: Whenever you wash your clothes, optical brighteners are going down the drain. They don’t break down and are toxic to marine life.
- Fragrance: Artificial fragrances are made of synthetic ingredients like phthalates that can cause allergic reactions.
These are some of the main ingredients used in conventional laundry detergents that are bad for you, for marine life, and for the planet. The laundry detergents below are free of these and are great eco-friendly alternatives.
What Makes a Good Zero Waste Laundry Detergent?
With so many options, it’s tough to narrow down which of these products is the best eco-friendly laundry detergent for you. Let’s take a look at what you should expect from all eco-friendly laundry detergents.
One would think that being non-toxic is something all laundry detergents have in common—your washing clothes for babies and for things that will be touching your skin for long periods of time. Yet many laundry detergents contain harsh chemicals and even known carcinogens.
Steer clear of phosphates, phthalates, and dioxanes. These are all common ingredients that are proven irritants.
Ideally, laundry detergent should be vegan as well. Animal byproducts aren’t great for the environment. Even when animals are kept in the best possible conditions, animal feed takes up double the planting space of a vegetable crop used for humans.
Detergents can be derived from a large variety of different sources, including plant oils. There’s no need for animal byproducts in your detergent.
This goes without saying, but a product that can be made without harming the people or animals involved in the process is better than one that does. The more we care about the people and animals that surround us, the better the world will be.
Dermatologists can test a product without animals to determine its safety, and we know enough about most chemicals to know whether they are safe or not. Opt for cruelty-free and end the practice of animal testing for things like detergents.
Ethical Sourcing & Manufacturing
It’s not just animals that can be harmed during the making of a product. Often, the creation of a product is outsourced to countries where there aren’t laws protecting workers. Workers can end up being forced to work long hours, be exposed to unsafe chemicals, and be paid unfair wages.
Ethical sourcing and manufacturing can help to change that, and a great laundry detergent certainly shouldn’t endanger human life. If your laundry detergent is ethically made, it means the people making it were treated well and paid well.
When palm oil first became available, it was touted as a sustainable oil. Unfortunately, it has developed into an industry that is not sustainable at all. To make room for more palm oil plantations, vast amounts of rainforest are destroyed.
The quickest way to do this is to set it on fire, which can lead to the deaths of endangered Orangutans. It’s much better to discourage this practice by sourcing palm oil free when ever possible.
Creating the Best Zero Waste Laundry Routine
There are quite a few things to consider in your laundry care routine besides the detergent. While detergent can be a source of plastic waste, your carbon footprint and water waste also contribute to environmental stress.
Consider these factors when creating your laundry routine:
Wash Clothes Only When Necessary
A good laundry care routine starts before you put your clothes in the hamper. The first question you should ask yourself is whether your laundry is really dirty or not.
Many types of clothes aren’t meant to be washed after every use, and doing so can actually cause them to deteriorate quicker. If your clothing doesn’t smell or have a visible stain, the most environmentally-friendly thing you can do is not wash it. Simply air it out and hang it back up.
A good rule of thumb is to wash your underwear, socks, and workout clothes after each use. With everything else, use your judgment.
Ditch the Dryer Sheets
Dryer sheets are made of polyester and coated in chemicals known as softening agents. The reality is that these are a type of single-use plastic that don’t biodegrade.
Swapping to wool dryer balls won’t only save you time, but it’ll save you a ton of money. You can use wool dryer balls thousands of times before composting them. They’re great at reducing time to dry and keeping your clothes wrinkle-free.
Wash with Cold Water
It’s a misconception that you need to wash your clothes in hot water for them to be truly clean. Most laundry detergents are made to work in cold water.
Up to 90 percent of the energy your washer uses goes into heating water. By using cold water, you’ll be saving a ton of electricity.
Consider Line Drying When You Can
Consider line drying, either outside or on a drying rack in your home. If you can, this cuts an enormous amount of energy from your routine—but it’s not always possible in every climate.
Some areas are too limited in space or have poor weather that makes line drying impractical. In other areas, line drying is flat-out illegal. If this is the case in your area, using your dryer as gently as possible can cut emissions.
Set your dryer for the lowest setting possible. The less heat needed to get your clothes dry, the less energy it takes. Only dry your laundry long enough to get the job done.
A zero-waste laundry detergent can be a great step toward ditching plastics and making the world a better place. Remember that you don’t have to be perfect to make a difference. When people become aware of their own waste and how much they generate, the urge to become perfect all at once is often overwhelming.
Even one small change makes a big difference over time. It’s important to be kind to yourself as you go through a zero waste journey.