zero waste laundry detergent beginners guide

Beginner’s Guide – Bigger Better Days I Lifestyle Blog

As I’ve mentioned before, over the next several months I’m going to be releasing a TON of toxin free zero waste guides for you guys. 

When I first started Bigger Better Days I was focused on living a toxin free life. The more time I spent researching and seeing other influencers as inspiration I realized living toxin free is only part of the equation.

The environment is the other.

There are a ton of *great* toxin free products that come in terrible packaging. But it’s 2020, and we’re going to start demanding better.

I started this series with the simplest of products. Dish soap! Check out the Beginner’s Guide to Zero Waste Dish Soap to learn more.

Today we’re moving on to another simple, but so so important product. This time we’re tackling zero waste laundry detergent.

We’re going to dive into the scary ingredients found in common laundry detergent brands you regularly see at the store, and then talk about the alternatives.

Keep reading to find out how to transform your laundry routine into a toxin free, zero waste experience that’s safe for your family, AND the environment.

Is Laundry Detergent Really Dangerous?

Unfortunately, like many products we are going to tackle in these toxin free, zero waste guides, your typical laundry detergent is packed full of potentially dangerous chemicals.

Why exactly does this matter?

Well…

Laundry soap touches all of the clothes we wear every day, the bedding we sleep on every night, and the towels we use on a daily basis
Your skin can absorb toxic chemicals from the clothing it comes in contact with
Laundry detergent manufacturers are not required to show their full ingredient list
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) rates almost 70% of laundry detergents as a D or F due to safety concerns
Chemicals and toxins used in laundry detergents are heading out into the water systems after your clothes have been washed

Laundry detergents are supposed to help make our clothes clean. In reality, we may be making things worse.

Still not convinced? Check out some of these ingredients commonly found in laundry detergent.

Toxic Ingredients Commonly Found in Laundry Detergent

Fragrances

Fragrance is a dangerous “ingredient” in any type of product. Manufacturers do not have to list what makes up their “fragrance” therefore it’s commonly used as a way to hide other toxic ingredients they don’t want to list elsewhere. Why is this allowed? Fragrance is considered trade secrets so they are not required to be disclosed.

Fragrance in laundry detergents specifically are designed to stay in clothing even after you’ve washed that. They can pass through your skin and even enter your bloodstream. Yikes!

What’s worse is that fragrances can be manufactured from scary stuff like petroleum and coal tar. These types of ingredients are classified as carcinogens, hormone disruptors, neurotoxins and irritants.

If a brand was using a truly natural fragrance, there is no reason they would want to hide that under a general “fragrance” label. In fact, what I’ve noticed is that brands that are making high quality toxin free products are happy to tell you exactly which ingredients they use.

Phthalates

You may not see phthalates on the ingredients list, but there is a pretty good chance they’re in your detergent. Phthalates are usually associated with the fragrances label because they help make scents last. They’re known to cause hormone disruption and it’s also been reported that they can be found in the blood of most Americans.

Side note, phthalates can also be found in plastic containers. You may see plastic containers or products like water bottles with the label “phthalate free.” Our advice is to avoid buying plastic at all!

Bleach

Bleach, or sodium hypochlorite, is known to have all sorts of safety risks. It can cause severe skin burns, eye damage, trigger dangerous allergy and asthma reactions, and is even linked to cancer and organ damage if inhaled or ingested.

Brighteners

Ah, good old brighteners. Ever wonder how those actually work?

Brighteners leave chemicals behind on your clothes that absorb UV light and minimize yellow. This helps the clothes visually appear brighter. It also leaves a bunch of chemicals on your clothes. Nice! 

It can be hard to tell whether a product has brightener ingredients. One good rule of thumb recommended to us was to check and see if the product is biodegradable. If it is, it likely does not contain optical brighteners.

Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodiium laureth sulfate (SLES)

SLS and SLES have been linked to all sorts of concerning problems. Think anything from organ toxicity and endocrine disruption to skin and eye irritation. To make matters worse, the manufacturing of these creates a highly toxic by-product (1,4 dioxane) as well.

Methylisothiazolinone & Benzisothiazolinone

You can find these preservatives in tons of “natural” laundry detergents. I was actually using the Seventh Generation detergent for quite some time. However, when a family member came to visit she was having terrible skin reactions at our home. After several trips and much frustration we determined it was possible it was this particular preservative. I’ve since switched my detergent. And of course now, I use a toxin free AND zero waste option!

These preservatives are linked to many other health issues, and are an environmental pollutant that’s toxic to fish as well.

How these ingredients affect the environment is important because as we learned in our latest zero waste feature, most water treatment plants can’t remove these types of chemical ingredients completely from water supplies. So after they cycle through our home, they are unfortunately heading back out into the world, and back into our homes as well.

So where do we go from here?

The great news is, laundry detergent seems to be one hot area where there has been all kinds of innovation. There are plenty of toxin free zero waste laundry detergent options to choose from so you can find exactly what’s right for you!

Zero Waste Laundry Detergent Solutions

zero waste laundry detergent solutions

The good news is, there are literally tons of both toxin free and zero waste laundry detergent options. Oddly enough, laundry seems to be one area where there has been quite a bit of innovation.

It’s not just choosing from different brands, you can also choose from different formats. Pods, powder, strips, nuts. Yes, I said nuts!

Let’s dive into your toxin free zero waste laundry detergent options. These products will help you create a cleaner healthier environment for your family, without harming the environment outside your home!

Meliora Laundry Powder

meliora cleaning products laundry powder review bigger better days

You can buy Meliora Laundry Powder in a reusable can, and order refills as you need them. The laundry powder is dye-free, preservative-free, palm-oil free, cruelty-free, and synthetic fragrance-free.

It also comes in multiple fragrance options. You can choose:

Unscented
Lemon
Lavender
Lemon-lavender-clove

At checkout you can choose a completely plastic-free experience by selecting “no scoop.” Or you can buy the scoop the first time, and then keep using it time after time.

I personally opted for no scoop and chose to use an extra metal measuring spoon we already in the kitchen.

One neat thing I learned during the factory tour is that they switched the no plastic shipping version to be the first on the website to encourage more customers to select no scooper and go completely plastic free. Smart!

You can learn more about the Meliora brand by reading our Meliora Cleaning Products: An Honest Review article, or by watching our Meliora Cleaning Products Factory Tour Video. 

Nellie’s Laundry Powder

zero waste laundry detergent nellies laundry soap

Nellie’s Laundry Soda is another great less waste alternative. You purchase a reusable tin of Nellie’s Laundry Soda the first time, and then you just get the refills. Nellie’s uses metal packaging because iron and steel are the world’s most recycled materials, and amongst some of the easiest materials to reprocess.

Nellie’s cleaning products are made of simple striped down ingredients. For example, the laundry soda only has four ingredients total. As you can guess, none of the scary stuff covered above, and no mysterious fragrances.

It doesn’t seem that the Nellie’s laundry process is entirely zero waste. The laundry soda comes in a plastic bag inside the tin, and it comes with a plastic scoop (similar to Meliora). When you order the refill bags they also seem to be in a plastic package. However, Nellie’s is a pretty responsible company so I’ll be reaching out to them to get more answers and report back here with an update when I have it!

Nellie’s products are also all biodegradable and never tested on animals (they are Leaping Bunny certified).

Nellie’s also makes a great point on their marketing materials that most liquid detergents are made up of at least 50% water. This means you’re paying for water, and sometimes paying money to ship water around the world. That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense does it?

If you can’t fathom getting rid of your brightener product, Nellie’s also has a clean version of a Oxygen Brightener Powder you can check out.

Butter Me Up Organics Laundry Soap

zero waste laundry detergent butter me up organics

If you want the true zero waste experience, Butter Me Up Organics is no joke. They’re a conscious brand that takes zero waste and quality products serious.

They have a great Butter Me Up Organics Organic Laundry Detergent Powder. It’s great for sensitive skin, with a very light scent. A 1 lb. bag puts out about 35 washes (double that if you’ve got HE), and you guessed it, the powder comes in an eco-friendly brown lined kraft bag. PS. They’re shipping is all eco friendly too.

More about Butter Me Up Organics? They’re organic, completely cruelty-free, a zero waste company, completely all natural and safe, free of sulfates, phthalates, parabens, synthetic dyes and fragrances. Plus, everything is made with love.

Butter Me Up Organics offers a lot more than laundry soap, so be sure to check out their full line of products!

Tru Earth Laundry Strips

zero waste laundry detergent truearth laundry strips

Tru Earth Laundry Strips are an innovative solution to the laundry waste problem. Instead of a powder or liquid they come in compact strips. Each strip contains a pre-measured amount of detergent powder that works in both regular and HE washers.

The product has all sorts of certifications including: paraben-free, phosphate-free, free of added dyes, free of chlorine bleach, free of 1,4-dioxane, readily biodegradable, hypoallergenic, and vegan (no animal-based testing by Tru Earth or their ingredient suppliers).

How do the strange little strips work? They are simple as tearing off a strip, throwing it directly in the wash, and then adding your clothes. Think of them similar to a detergent pod, but in a strip format.

They come in unscented or linen smell, and you guys. I am not usually a scent person. Walking through a perfume section of a department store is literally my nightmare. BUT, I love this linen smell. When I opened my Tru Earth package I was so pleasantly surprised.

One of the coolest parts of the True Earth laundry detergent strips is that they have a much smaller eco-footprint than other detergent options.

Their packaging uses zero plastic, and their incredibly light weight uses much less transportation fuel consumption. They report that these strips use 94% less fuel consumption and global-warming carbon emissions than leading liquid and powder brands. This data comes from the fact that a load of today’s “leading” liquid detergent weighs around 40 grams, and True Earth strips weigh only 3 grams (94% less).

CleanCult Laundry Detergent Pods

zero waste laundry detergent cleancult laundry pods

CleanCult has a bunch of zero waste toxin free cleaning solutions, but the one we’re highlighting here is CleanCult Laundry Tablets.

Think of them as a cleaner, better version of the infamous Tide Pods.

CleanCult laundry tablets are biodegradable, dissolvable tablets that work with any water temperature and machine type. They’re unscented, and all of their simple ingredients are listed right on the CleanCult site.

What makes them eco friendly besides the lack of chemicals? You buy the first glass container and then just get refills.

The reusable glass containers are dishwasher safe and have a simple clean design that includes slip grip.

Refills are sent via eco eco-conscious packaging in paper-based milk cartons and 100% plastic-free paper mailers.

Dropps Laundry Pods

zero waste laundry detergent dropps laundry pods

Another laundry detergent options is Dropps. Dropps zero waste laundry detergent pods are compatible with all machine types, naturally formulated, and even safe of delicates.

The detergent pods are made without unnecessary chemicals (free of dyes, chlorine, phosphates, enzymes and optical brighteners, and use natural scents from essential oils and botanical extracts. The Dropps zero waste laundry detergent pods are also biodegradable and hypoallergenic.

You can find a full list of ingredients for all products right on their site.

Dropps laundry pods ship to your door in 100% recyclable, repulpable and compostable cardboard boxes. 

What about the pod itself?

The Dropps pod membrane is a water soluble film that dissolves in your washer. It’s made of polyvinyl alcohol (PVOH) which is capable of being broken down to water and carbon dioxide in water treatment plants.

To use, you simply place the Dropps pod directly in your washer and run like you normally would. Just like Tide Pods, it’s important to keep this product sealed and out of reach of children.

Eco Nuts Organic Laundry Detergent

zero waste laundry detergent eco nuts

Alright, this is where stuff starts to get a little crazy. Eco Nuts Organic Laundry Detergent is an organic zero waste laundry detergent and fabric softener that uses soap berries to clean your stuff.

Soap berries?! Yes I had the exact same reaction.

Soap berries are one of nature’s most powerful fruits, and one of the most sustainable laundry options there is. Eco Nuts uses ethically harvested soap berries to create this unique detergent. Insects naturally find soap berries unappetizing, so growing them requires no pesticides, chemicals or fertilizers. 

How do soap berries work?

When soap berries are agitated in water they release saponin, which is a natural cleaner that lifts stains and leaves dirt suspended in water to be rinsed away.

You put soap berries in a reusable bag inside your washing machine. You can use the same berries multiple times. Soap berries work in all water temperatures, but do provide more soap when in warmer water.

Once you’re done with them, throw them in the compost! Shells of soap berries, or nuts, are 100% biodegradable.

Zero waste laundry detergent isn’t the only smart laundry hack you can make. There are tons of other great eco friendly, toxin free laundry products. From wool dryer balls to zero waste stain sticks, we’ve got a lot more to cover!

Stay tuned for even more zero waste beginner guides where we dive into all the products that make your home, and the environment, a healthier and happier place.

Other guides in the zero waste series: