The Truth About Mainstream Laundry Detergent

Updated: Sep 19

Do you know what's truly lurking in the laundry detergent you're buying for yourself, your family, babies and even pets? Most of the ingredients, that are advertised as "baby-safe," aren't even adult-safe, let alone safe at all.

Did you see Good Housekeeping's article 12 Best Laundry Detergents To Buy In 2021, According To Cleaning Experts published in 2021? This article featured 12, mostly mainstream laundry detergents ranging between $0.12 and $0.57 per load, but do you know what's really in these top laundry detergents? What about the dangers associated with those ingredients? We are going to take a closer look into each of these specific laundry detergents and their ingredients. Then we will take an even closer look at why these ingredients are toxic to us.


12 Best Laundry Detergents To Buy In 2021, According To Cleaning Experts

Toxic Ingredients Found in Mainstream Laundry Detergent

Safer Alternatives to Mainstream Laundry Detergent

All-Natural Laundry Detergent Recommendations

 

"12 Best Laundry Detergents to Buy In 2021, According To Cleaning Experts"


I want to start by saying, getting the ingredient lists for each of these brands was not easy. Laundry detergent companies are not required to list the ingredients on their product, and most were not even listed on the brand’s website; I had to go to a whole different website to find the ingredients. When you look at these ingredient lists, you will finally understand why they don’t disclose what is in the product directly on the packaging.


1. Tide 3-in-1 Laundry Detergent Pods ($0.25 per load)

Ingredients: MAE-LAS, MAE-Laureth Sulfate, Propylene Glycol, Water, MAE Salts of C12-18 Fatty Acids, Glycerin, C10-16 Pareth, PEI Ethoxylate, PEG-136 Polyvinyl Alcohol, MAE-Citrate, Pentasodium Pentetate, Sodium Bisulfite, Disodium Distyrylbiphenyl Disulfonate, Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Calcium Formate, Phenylpropyl Ethyl Methicone, Simethicone, Trimethylsiloxysilicate, Subtilisin, Amylase Enzyme, Mannanase Enzyme, Styrene/Acrylates Copolymer, Denatonium Benzoate, Polyoxyalkylene Substituted Chromophone (Violet), Polyoxyalkylene Substituted Chromophore (Cyan), Polyoxyalkylene Substituted Chromophore (Yellow), Fragrances.


My Overall Rating: 1/10; horrible ingredients, brimming with toxins and unnecessary fillers.


2. Persil ProClean + Stain Fighter Liquid Laundry Detergent ($0.40 per load)

Ingredients: Water, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Laureth-12, Sodium C10-16 Alkylbenzenesulfonate, Sodium Citrate, Sodium C12-18 Alkyl Ether Sulfate, Propylene Glycol, C12-18 Fatty Acid Sodium Salts, Aziridine, Sodium Metaborate, Fragrance, Trisodium Ethylenediamine Disuccinate, Alcohol Denatonium, Tetrasodium EDTA, Caprylamidoprpyl Betaine, Capramidopropyl Betaine, Sodium Formate, Disodium Distyrylbiphenyl Disulfonate, Protease Enzyme, Amylase Enzyme, Dimethicone, Silicone Emulsion, Cellulase Enzyme, Pectate Lyase Enzyme, Polymeric Colorant-Blue, Mannanase Enzyme, Cellulase Enzyme.


My Overall Rating: 1/10; horrible ingredients, brimming with toxins and unnecessary fillers.


3. Tide Plus Bleach Powder Laundry Detergent ($0.24 per load)

Ingredients: Sodium Sulfate, Sodium Carbonate, Sodium C10-16 Alkylbenzenesulfonate, Sodium Carbonate Peroxide, Sodium Polyacrylate, Sodium Silicate, Water, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Zeolite (Sodium Silicoaluminate), Sodium Phenylnonanoate Sulfonate, Sodium C12-15 Alkyl Sulfate, Silica, Fragrance, Fluorescent Brightener 71, Organosilcone Copolymer, Subtilisin, Amylase Enzyme, Lipase, Acid Blue 9.


My Overall Rating: 1/10; horrible ingredients, brimming with toxins and unnecessary fillers.


4. Kirkland Signature Ultra Clean Liquid Laundry Detergent ($0.12 per load)

Ingredients: 2-Bromo-2-Nitropropane-1,3-Diol, Colors, Galaxolide, Alcohol Ethoxylates (C12-15), Aziridine, Homopolymer, Ethoxylate, Disodium Distyrylbiphenyl Disulfonate, Fragrance, Methylchloroisothianzolinone, Methylisothianzolinone, Hexyl Cinnamal, Alpha-Cyclohexylidene Benzeneacetonitrile, Lilial, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Alkylbenzenesulfonic Acid (C10-13), Triethanolamine Salt, Linear Alkylbenzenesulfonate Sulfonates (C10-16), Tetrasodium Iminodisuccinate, Sodium Methacrylate/Styrene Copolymer, Benzene, Mono-C10-13-Alkyl Derivs, Cyclamen Aldehyde, Gamma-Undecalactone, Benzyl Saliicylate, Anisaldehyde, Alpha-Isomethyl Ionone, Methyl Anthranilate, Benzyl Acetate, Ionone, 1-(1-Hydroxypropoxy)Propan-1-Ol (Dipropylene Glycol), Benzyl Acetone, Acetylcedrene, Tetramethyl Acetyloctahydronaphthalenes, Acetoxydihydrodicyclopentadiene (Mixtrue of Isomers), Rose Ketone-3, Octahydro-Tetreanethyl-Methano-1-Naphyhol, D-Limonene, Hexyl Salicylate, 2,4-Dimethyl-3-Cyclohexene Carboxaldehyde, Orange Essence, Hexahydro-Methanoindenyl Propionate, Linalool, 4-Methyl-3-Decen-5-Ol, 2-T-Butylcyclohexyl Acetate, Guaiene, Coumarin, Methyl Beta-Naphthyl Ether, Methylcyclohexenylpropyl-Cyclopentanone, Pogostemon Cablin (Patchouli) Oil, Subtilisin, Amylase, Alpha-, Beta-Mannanase, Water, Ethanol, Sodium Citrate, Sodium Cocoate, Propylene Glycol, Calcium Chloride, Ethanol and Alcohol Denatured, Anionic Surfactants, Nonionic Surfactants, Enzymes.


My Overall Rating: 1/10; horrible ingredients, brimming with toxins and unnecessary fillers.


5. Tide Hygienic Clean Heavy Duty Power Pods ($0.57 per load)

Ingredients: MEA-LAS, MEA-Laureth Sulfate, Propylene Glycol, Water, MEA Salts of C12-18 Fatty Acids, Glycerin, C10-16 Pareth, PEG-136 Polyvinyl Alcohol, PEI Ethoxylate, MEA-Citrate, Pentasodium Pentetate, Sodium Bisulfite, Disodium Distyrylbiphenyl Disulfonate, Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Calcium Formate, Phenylpropyl Ethyl Methicone, Simethicone, Trimethylsiloxysilicate, Subtilisin, Amylase Enzyme, Mannanase Enzyme, Styrene/Acrylates Copolymer, Denatonium Benzoate, Polyvinyl Alcohol Polymer, Polyoxyalkylene Substituted Chromophore (Cyan), Polyoxyalkylene Substituted Chromophore (Yellow), Fragrances.


My Overall Rating: 1/10; horrible ingredients, brimming with toxins and unnecessary fillers.


6. Dreft Newborn Liquid Baby Laundry Detergent ($0.31 per load)

Ingredients: Water, C10-16 Pareth, Sodium C10-16 Alkylbenzenesulfonate, Sodium Salts of C12-18 Fatty Acids, Propylene Glycol, Sodium Citrate, C10-16 Alkyldimethylamine Oxide, Sodium Borate, Polyethyleneimine Alkoxylated, Sodium Cumenesulfonate, Fragrances, Subtilisin, Cellulase Enzyme, Sodium Formate.


My Overall Rating: 1/10; horrible ingredients, brimming with toxins and unnecessary fillers.


7. Woolite All Darks Liquid Laundry Detergent ($0.22 per load)

Ingredients: Triethanolamine, Fragrance, Methylisothiazolinone, CI 61585, Hexyl Cinnamal, Lilial, Laualdehyde, Amylcinnamaldehyde, Cinnamal, Dodecylbenzenesulfonate, Alcohol Ethoxylates (C12-16), Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Pyridine, Ethenyl-, 1-Oxide, Homopolymer, BHT, Benzisothiazolinone, Sodium Dodecybenzenesulfonate, Phenylacetaldehyde, Undecylenal, Benzoic Acid, Alcohol Ethoxylates (C10-C16) Sodium Salt, Water, Sodium Hydroxide, Coconut Fatty Acid, Sodium Chloride, Surfactants.


My Overall Rating: 1/10; horrible ingredients, brimming with toxins and unnecessary fillers.


8. Tide Bleach Alternative Liquid Laundry Detergent ($0.20 per load)

Ingredients: Water, Sodium and MEA Laureth Sulfate, Sodium and MEA C10-16 Alkylbenzenesulfonate, Polyethyleneimine Alkoxylated, Propylene Glycol, Sodium and MEA Citrate, Alcohol, Sodium Borate, Sodium and MEA Salts of C12-18 Fatty Acids, Sodium and MEA Lauryl Sulfate, Pentasodium Pentetate, C10-16 Alkyldimethylamine Oxide, Fluorescent Brightener 71, Phenylpropyl Ethyl Methcone, Calcium formate, Sodium Cumenesulfonate, C10-16 Pareth, Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Subtilisin, Ethanolamine, Simethicone, Amalase Enzyme, Trimethylsiloxysilicate, Polyoxyalkylene Substituted Chromophore (Cyan), Polyoxyalkylene Substituted Chromophore (Violet), Mannanase Enzyme, Fragrances, Sodium Formate.


My Overall Rating: 1/10; horrible ingredients, brimming with toxins and unnecessary fillers.


9. Gain Botanicals Plant-Based Laundry Detergent ($0.26 per load)

Ingredients: Water, Propylene Glycol, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, C12-16 Pareth, Sodium Citrate, Sodium Salts of C12-18 Fatty Acids, C10-16 Alkyldimethylamine Oxide, PolyethPolyethyleneimine Alkoxylated, Fragrances, Sodium Borate, Sodium Formate, Alcohol Amylase Enzyme.

10. Seventh Generation Free & Clear Laundry Detergent Packs ($0.27 per load)

Ingredients: Sodium citrate (plant-based), Sodium Cabronate (Mineral-Based), Laureth-6 (Plant-Derived), Sodium Sulfate (Mineral-Based), Polyvinylalcohol (Synthetic), Hydrated Silica (Mineral-Based), Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) (Plant-Derived), Gylcerin (Plant-Derived), Amylase (Plant-Derived), Mannanase (Plant-Derived), Cellulase (Plant-Derived).


My Overall Rating: 1/10; horrible ingredients, brimming with toxins and unnecessary fillers.


11. Hero Clean Liquid Laundry Detergent ($0.21 per load)

Ingredients: Water, Ethoxylated Alcohols, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Linear Alkylbenzyl Sulfonate, Enzymes (Protease, Amylase, Lipase, Pectinase, Mannanase, Cellulase), Citric Acid, Caustic Soda, Fragrance, Monoethanolamine, Polyetherimine, Sodium Polyacrylate, Tetrasodium Iminodisuccinate, Optical Brightener, Isothiazolinone Preservative, Calcium Chloride, Dye.


My Overall Rating: 1/10; horrible ingredients, brimming with toxins and unnecessary fillers.


12. Total Home Advanced Laundry Detergent Packs ($0.29 per load)

Ingredients: Anionic Surfactants, Nonionic Surfactants, Enzymes.


My Overall Rating: 1/10; horrible ingredients, brimming with toxins and unnecessary fillers.


Toxic Ingredients Found in Mainstream Laundry Detergent

  • Formaldehyde goes by several names, including Formalin, Formica Aldehyde, Methaldehyde, Methyl Aldehyde, Methylene Oxide, Methanal, Oxymethylene, Quaternium-15, Diazolidinyl Urea, DMDM Hydantoin, Imidazolidinyl Urea, 2-Bromo-2-Nitropropane-1,3-Diol, and Tris Nitromethane (1). Short-term exposure to formaldehyde has been linked to coughing, headaches, dizziness, nausea, eye, nose, and throat irritation, while long-term exposure to formaldehyde may cause certain types of cancer (2).

  • Fragrances are derived from petrochemicals. These chemicals include benzene derivatives, aldehydes, phthalates, and a slew of other known toxins capable of causing cancer, congenital disabilities, nervous-system disorders, migraine attacks, asthma attacks, and allergies (3). To learn more regarding The Truth About Fragrance, click here.

  • Sodium Lauryl Sulfate & Sodium Laureth Sulfate/Sodium Lauryl Ether Sulfate (SLS/SLES) is the main ingredient you’ll find in mainstream laundry detergents. Still, they’re also linked to skin, eye, and lung inflammation (4) along with internal organ damage (5) as well as acute skin and eye irritation (6). Additionally, the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database considers SLS a "moderate hazard" and has been linked to endocrine disruption (7).

  • Phosphates refer to a wide variety of chemical compounds, including but not limited to; Orthophosphates, Pryophosphates, Polyphosphates, Sodium Tripolyphosphate (STPP), Tetrapotassoim Pyrophosphate (TKPP), Trisodium phosphates (TSP), Tetra-Sodium Pyrophosphates, Potassium Pyrophosphates, and Sodium Potassium Pyrophosphate (8). Exposure to phosphates has been linked to cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and even death (9). Additionally, phosphates are linked to endocrine disruption (10). If your health isn’t enough to convince you to make a switch, what about the aquatic life that suffers mineral poisoning that results in the death of many native marine animal species (11)?

  • Although it doesn't work very well, optical Brighteners/UV Brighteners are what mainstream laundry detergent companies use to treat stains. Instead of removing stains, this ingredient reflects visible light so you can't see the stain, making it more of a bandaid for the problem than an actual solution. This ingredient has been linked to eye, skin, and lung irritation, as well as a potent toxin for aquatic life (12).

Learn more about toxins found in your laundry detergent and other household cleaners in Earthley's free guide download, which I co-wrote and designed.

Safer Alternatives to Mainstream Laundry Detergent


Washing Berries

Washing berries are dried shells (or husks) from the soapberry nut. These soapberries come from the Sapindus Mukorossi tree, a unique species of trees found in both the eastern and western hemispheres but is native to the tropical conditions of India and Nepal. Although they're often called a nut, they're dried berries making them 100% safe for those with a nut allergy.


You may be wondering why it's called a soap nut or washing berry; you're about to learn the reason. Washing berries have become an alternative in many households (including mine) to mainstream, toxin-filled laundry detergents and are safe to use on:

  • Laundry

  • Baby clothes

  • Whites

  • Colors

  • Camping stuff

  • Wool

  • Silk

  • Wetsuits/swimsuits

⚠️ Warning: I do not suggest using this for cloth diapers or cloth pads as it is not a detergent and will not correctly clean bodily fluids. I recommend a toxin-free laundry detergent for that.


The shells of the washing berry contain a natural soap called Saponin, and when the nutshell absorbs water, the Saponin is released and creates a soaping effect. Saponin is 100% natural and biodegradable, making them hypoallergenic and environmentally friendly. Plus, it's excellent for sensitive skin, eczema, and even psoriases (11).


Simply take 4-6 berries and put them in a washing bag (muslin bag), and reuse the same berries several times. You'll know it's time to change your berries when they become soft and grey. Be sure to take the berries out to hang dry instead of putting them in the dryer.


All-Natural Laundry Detergent Recommendations

  • Earthley's Laundry Detergent (as low as $0.30 per load) is pure, eco-friendly, and safe for the whole family. This powder detergent is tough on dirty clothes with absolutely no harsh chemicals and gentle on the skin. Using plant-based ingredients, your clothes will be thoroughly cleaned and smell naturally fresh!

  • Molly's Suds Laundry Powder (as low as $0.16 per load) is a super-power with active enzymes and earth-derived ingredients that are designed to tackle your dirtiest laundry — all while remaining super-safe both for people and the planet.

What's your go-to natural laundry detergent?


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