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Five Earth-Friendly Laundry Detergents That You Can Use With Less Guilt

Graphic: Shep McAllister
5 Neat Things5 Neat ThingsJolie Kerr is a cleaning expert, advice columnist and the host of the podcast “Ask a Clean Person.” Each week, she’ll round up five essential cleaning products, tools and organizational systems to help you live your tidiest lives.

There are lots of ways to cut down on the impact a cleaning product has on the environment, from using less water in formulations, to cutting back on packaging and, of course, by using biodegradable chemicals rather than the ones that hang around in our waterways for eons. As a consumer, if you’re looking for a laundry detergent that will be gentler on our great green earth, here are some to consider.

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Dr. Bronner’s

Dr. Bronner’s is a do-it-all cleaning product, which means you don’t need to buy as many other bottles of products. Its all-natural formulation is also as eco-friendly as soap gets.
Graphic: Shep McAllister

We love-love-love Dr. Bronner’s for so many reasons, one of which is very specifically that Dr. Bronner’s is excellent at eliminating very strong or very odd odors in clothing. But it’s also a fantastic earth-friendly detergent for everyday use. And, because it can also be used as a household cleaner in the bathroom and kitchen, switching to Dr. Bronner’s allows you to use fewer products — which means using less plastic packaging, less water and, if you’re a person who buys online, less shipping.

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Tide Powder Laundry Detergent

Powdered detergent is a great way to cut back on water and packaging. And since it’s a lot lighter than liquid detergent, it has a smaller carbon footprint between the factory and your home.
Graphic: Shep McAllister
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A great way to cut back on water and packaging use is to switch from liquid laundry detergent to powder. When making the move, it’s also worth considering whether you’ll be happy with a scent-free detergent, as free and clear formulas are gentler on the earth since they don’t contain added fragrances and dyes.

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Seventh Generation

If you want to use liquid detergent, Seventh Generation is fragrance and dye-free, making it a more eco-friendly choice than most alternatives.
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If you don’t want to switch away from liquid laundry detergent, but you still would like a more eco-friendly option, the Seventh Generation line of products is a good one to check out. Generally speaking, any free and clear, i.e., fragrance- and dye-free, will be a more eco-friendly choice. And the Seventh Generation detergent is ultra concentrated, so less water is used in its manufacturing.

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Soap Nuts

Soap nuts are all-natural and biodegradable. Just toss the recommended number into the included bag, and put the bag in the laundry. Each nut is good for multiple washes.
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Soap nuts are weird and fun! They come from the lychee family, so they’re not actually nuts, for those of you with allergies.

(Speaking of allergies! They’re a good choice for people with skin sensitivities.)

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Here’s how they work: They come with a small muslin bag, and you’ll put them in the bag (the number used per bag varies from brand to brand, so follow the manufacturer’s instructions for specifics), tie it closed, and toss the bag in the wash. Soap nuts contain a surfactant called saponin that’s released when agitated in water, and they can be reused in multiple washes.

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Soak

Soak is a detergent that doesn’t require you to rinse your clothes, meaning you waste less water. A win all around.
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Since cutting back on water usage is a big part of making personal choices that are less impactful to the earth, it’s worth mentioning no-rinse detergents. Soak is the best of the bunch, and if you hand-launder regularly, or even just from time to time, it’s a good investment. Because it’s a no-rinse formula, it requires less water than other detergents when it comes to washing by hand.

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About the author

Jolie Kerr

Jolie Kerr is a cleaning expert, advice columnist and the host of the podcast Ask a Clean Person