Whether itchy skin is getting you down or you’re trying to live a more ethical lifestyle, swapping your regular laundry detergent for a more eco-friendly alternative could be a household move worth making.
Though cheap and convenient, many mainstream detergents are brimming with synthetic chemicals like phosphates, chlorine and bleach that pollute our waterways, damaging delicate ecosystems, and may irritate sensitive skin.
Happily, there’s no need to sacrifice washing performance for green credentials, as non-toxic detergents from brands such as Ecover and Method can be just as effective at freshening up your clothes. These eco formulas have improved considerably since the Good Housekeeping Institute first started tested them back in the 1980s and 1990s, so if past experience has put you off, it’s time to try again!
What’s the best eco-friendly laundry detergent?
The Good Housekeeping Institute tried and tested 10 products to find the best that balance cleaning power with ethics. Read on for our buyer’s guide and full verdicts, or snap up one of our eight top picks right now:
Best eco bio laundry detergent: Ecover Concentrated Laundry Detergent
Best eco non-bio laundry capsules: Smol Non-Bio Capsules
Runner-up eco bio laundry detergent: Method Concentrated Laundry Detergent
Best eco non-bio liquid detergent: Splosh Non-Bio Laundry Detergent
Best eco non-bio detergent for sensitive skin: M&S Gently Does It Sensitive Non-Bio Laundry Liquid
Best value eco bio laundry detergent: Persil Bio Biological Liquid Detergent
Best for eco packaging: Seventh Generation Ultra Concentrated Bio Laundry Detergent
Best eco non-bio packaging: BioD Concentrated Non-Bio Laundry Detergent
What makes laundry detergent eco-friendly?
‘Eco-friendly’ can mean many things, but these detergents are free from harsh and potentially harmful ingredients. They usually feature only natural colouring and fragrance, if any.
Look for products that are phosphate-free, cruelty-free, biodegradable and packaged in recyclable bottles made from recycled plastic. Some will have been certified by trusted environmental bodies like the Soil Association or The Vegan Society.
Consider buying a concentrated detergent to save water and the energy involved in shipping heavy volumes. If it’s proven to be effective at lower temperatures, then even better, as you’ll also be using less energy to wash your clothes. In fact, according to Cold Water Saves, if your household switched to cold water washing for a year, you’d save enough energy to charge your iPhone over 30,000 times.
Which is better: washing liquid or powder?
The more choice, the harder it is to decide which product to buy. When it comes to laundry detergents, there are many choices, so let’s quickly run through your options…
The GHI has found that powdered laundry detergent is almost always the best at removing stains. That said, budget and personal preference should also play a role in your decision-making process.
Powder, though cheap, is messy to use and it can be tricky to know how much to measure out per wash. Liquids and gels dissolve more quickly and are bleach-free, meaning they are gentler on coloured clothes. On the flipside, this lack of a bleaching agent allows smells to build up in your washing machine, so you’ll probably need to clean it more frequently.
Keen to be as green as possible? You might wish to consider tablets and capsules, which minimise waste by providing you with the correct dose and dissolving more slowly, meaning less is lost down the drain.
Bio or non bio?
The difference between biological and non-biological detergent is that the latter doesn’t contain enzymes and is usually free from dyes and fragrances, too. The enzymes in bio detergents break down amino acids in protein-based stains like blood and egg, boosting cleaning power, but they can also be an irritant and fade coloured garments.
If you regularly find yourself washing muddy clothes or wanting to brighten whites, opt for bio. If you have sensitive skin or wash a lot of delicate materials, give non-bio a try. We’ve featured both in our roundup.
How we test
To find the best eco-friendly laundry detergents on the market, we stained a pile of cotton and polycotton clothes with common household stains such as tea, mud and makeup. We then ran a series of 40-degree cycles with each detergent, before assessing stain removal, whiteness retention and colour fading using a high-tech piece of lab equipment called a DigiEye.
The same 10 detergents were also handed out to a panel – their feedback was taken into consideration when awarding each product an overall score. You’ll find our eight favourites – four bio and four non-bio – below.
We’ve listed the eco claims of each product too, so you can prioritise what’s most important to you.
Best eco bio laundry detergent
Ecover Concentrated Laundry Detergent
If you care about the environment but are also faced with a mountain of grubby laundry, our winning eco bio detergent saves you from having to compromise. It banished 89% of stains from our polycotton clothes and proved particularly effective against baby food and sebum (the body oil that contributes to acne). It scored top marks for colour retention too, with only minimal colour fading after several spins in the machine, and it left all our white garments sparkling.
Tea stains got the better of it on both cotton and polycotton, but the majority of our panel said they would keep using it. Our only niggles involved the limited user guidance – we weren’t sure whether to dispense it into the drum or drawer – and the fact that the bottle doesn’t come with a handle and is therefore slightly tricky to grip.
Capacity: 1.5L or 42 washes
Eco claims: Plant-based, biodegradable ingredients, bottle made from 100% recycled plastic and widely recyclable, made in Ecover’s Zero Waste certified factory, certified cruelty-free
Best eco non-bio laundry capsules
Smol Non-Bio Capsules
Determined to go plastic-free? Try these non-bio capsules, which avoid it altogether. Buying them involves signing up for a postal subscription, but you can give the nine-wash trial a go first – it’s free, bar £1 postage. It’s up to you how regularly a box arrives through your letterbox and you can change the frequency at any time.
Not merely convenient, they also work a treat. They dissolved effectively and over 80% of stains disappeared from our cotton pile, including coffee, foundation and baby food. Once again, tea wouldn’t budge, and there was some colour fading after a few cycles, but whiteness retention was strong and most of the panel plan to use these vegan capsules again.
Capacity: 24 capsules
Eco claims: Lower levels of added chemicals per wash, 100% plastic-free and recyclable packaging, certified cruelty-free and vegan
Runner-up eco bio laundry detergent
Method Concentrated Laundry Detergent
This concentrated eco bio detergent comes in a choice of three fragrances, of which we tried peony blush. It smelled pleasant, but note that it’s not entirely plant-based, should you be adversely affected by perfume. In terms of effectiveness, it surpassed itself, removing 90% of stains from our polycotton pile and only struggling against tea and foundation.
There was next to no colour fading, which is impressive for a bio formula, and it didn’t drop a point for white retention on nylon. Our panel unanimously agreed that they would buy it again, but it’s fairly bulky to store and the lack of a handle makes pouring an accurate dose a touch perilous. We noticed some slight signs of greying on our white cotton and polycotton clothing, too.
Capacity: 5.6L or 39 washes
Eco claims: Naturally derived enzymes, 98% biodegradable ingredients, bottle made from 100% recycled plastic and is recyclable, certified cruelty-free
Best eco non-bio liquid detergent
Splosh Non-Bio Laundry Detergent
We love that you can avoid unnecessary plastic waste by buying refill packs for this liquid detergent – Splosh will even recycle them if you send back eight empty pouches. It made over 90% of stains vanish from cotton and polycotton, including famously pesky tomato puree, and scored top marks for colour retention.
Our white nylon clothes looked dazzling after washing but we noticed a grey tinge to our cotton and polycotton items. It’s unclear whether to dispense it into the drum or drawer and the seal in the lid looks like it should be removed, which breaks the dosing function. Still, the majority of our panel loved it and we like that it’s available either with a cotton fragrance or none at all.
Type: Non-bio (available in fragrance-free)
Capacity: 430ml or 23 washes
Eco claims: Refill pouches cut plastic waste by around 95% and they will re-use them if you send them back, certified cruelty-free and vegan
Best eco non-bio detergent for sensitive skin
M&S Gently Does It Sensitive Non-Bio Laundry Liquid
Depending on how much washing you do, there are two sizes of this non-bio liquid detergent to choose between. It’s hypoallergenic and the bigger bottle comes with a handle for easy pouring. It continued to impress throughout the wash, removing at least 90% of baby food, sebum, tomato puree and blood stains from polycotton.
It wowed us with its whiteness retention on cotton but disappointed in the same test on nylon and polycotton. It was excellent at retaining colour but foundation and tea stains proved tough to remove. Our only other niggle was that there’s no dispensing guidance on the bottle – meaning we were unsure of whether to put it in the drum or drawer.
Type: Non-bio (fragrance-free)
Capacity: 630ml or 21 washes (bigger size available for £5 for 1.5L or 50 washes)
Eco claims: Plant-based ingredients, 100% recyclable bottle, certified cruelty-free and vegan
Best value eco bio laundry detergent
Persil Bio Biological Liquid Detergent
This recyclable bottle’s handle made it the most comfortable to hold and easiest to use of every eco bio detergent on test. It triumphed over baby food, make-up and blood stains, fully erasing them from cotton and polycotton, and it did not fade our coloured items.
Unfortunately, our white cotton, nylon and polycotton clothes lost some of their brightness and we could still detect some tea stains after washing. Moreover, dosage caps have to be ordered separately. However, the price feels reasonable for an ethical offering, especially if you have a colourful wardrobe, but its quality could be better.
Capacity: 1.026L or 38 washes
Eco claims: Plant-based and biodegradable stain removers, bottle is 100% recyclable and contains recycled plastic
Best for eco packaging
Seventh Generation Ultra Concentrated Bio Laundry Detergent
Packaging doesn’t get much more planet-friendly than the cardboard shell – made with recycled fibres, no less – that houses this fragrance-free eco bio detergent. Though initially pricey at £12 a bottle, you get a lot of washes for your buck, making it a worthy investment. It removed stains fairly well from cotton and polycotton, but some other detergents were better at tackling stubborn dirt.
Its colour retention was flawless, so rest assured that your favourite yellow dress will emerge from the wash looking as bright and beautiful as ever. Our white garments were left dazzling, too. The measurement increments in the dosage cap proved hard to read, but that’s hardly a deal-breaker.
Type: Bio (fragrance-free)
Capacity: 1.47L or 66 washes
Eco claims: Packaging made from 100% recycled fibre, zero colourants or optical brighteners, certified cruelty-free, 96% plant-based ingredients
Best eco non-bio packaging
BioD Concentrated Non-Bio Laundry Detergent
This non-bio detergent’s bottle is made entirely from recycled material, earning it serious eco brownie points. Happily, it ticked many other boxes too. It delivered a flawless performance in our colour retention test and scored highly for whiteness retention too.
It picked up 71% of stains from cotton, which isn’t bad, but it could have been better at getting make-up smudges out of polycotton. The carton’s handle made it easy and mess-free to use, but we struggled to read the measuring stick inside the dosing cap.
Capacity: 1L or 25 washes
Eco claims: Bottle made from 100% recycled material, ingredients are naturally derived, made in the UK, certified cruelty-free and vegan
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