The Good, the Green and the Ugly: Laundry Detergents

The laundry room was once my Waterloo. Faced with three infants who refused bibs yet ate with gusto, an ancient machine that seemed to wash dirt into clothes, and brightly-colored somethings that inevitably found their way into my load of whites rendering them distinctly NOT white. Well, I finally waved the grayish-white flag of defeat.

But that was then!

These days, I’m armed with an energy-efficient, water-conserving yet beautifully functioning front-loader, a clothesline complete with whitening rays sunshine-scent, and a host of eco-cleaners that promise to elevate my status from laundry loser to honey launderer.

But will they deliver? Is it possible to clean green and still get whites bright? Let’s test the soapy waters.

Seventh Generation Natural Laundry Detergent (Blue eucalyptus and lavender)
Ingredients: Coconut-based surfactants, non-animal derived enzymes, borax, sodium gluconate, table salt, essential oils, preservative and water.
The Good: It’s getting easier to find. The jumbo container cleans 50 loads so you only have to lug it home infrequently.
The Green: Non-toxic; biodegradable, no optical brighteners; no petroleum-based cleaners; no dyes; no phosphates; safe for septic and greywater systems; ultra-concentrated.
The Ugly: The price tag is middle of the road.
The Verdict: Works quite well, even on tougher stains that some “eco” detergents can’t budge.

Arm & Hammer Essentials Powerful Natural Laundry Detergent (Mountain Rain scent)
Ingredients: Baking soda; coconut-based surfactants; natural water softener; water.
The Good: A mainstream brand that’s easy to find at a very affordable price.
The Green: The 2-times concentrated liquid also boasts one of the shortest ingredients lists; uses that super-eco-cleaner, baking soda.
The Ugly: That bizarre logo featuring an arm and hammer.
The Verdict: This stuff works great, costs pennies and I don’t have to go out of my way to find it. I’m not too fond of Mountain Rain scent (ever notice that cleaners never smell like what they say they smell like?), but the company offers a scent-free version.

Purex Natural Elements (Linen and Lilies scent)
Ingredients: The only one in the bunch that didn’t list all its ingredients on the label. The company responded to my query by noting that “Purex Natural Elements includes naturally-derived cleaning ingredients from renewable resources. In addition, natural additives include naturally softened water and natural fragrances extracts.” A request for a full list of ingredients was unanswered by press time.
The Good: Easy to find in any supermarket. About the same price as conventional laundry detergents. Absolutely yummy “clean” smell.
The Green: Biodegradable formula (within 28 days); concentrated formula; free of dyes; bottle made from 25 percent post-consumer recycled plastic.
The Ugly: Contains sodium laureth sulfate and Internet rumor says it also contains some petroleum-based cleaners.
The Verdict: I LOVE the smell of this one, but am a bit put off by the veil of secrecy surrounding Purex’s ingredients. So while this is a better choice than many conventional detergents that contain bleach, dyes and other undesirables, it’s not as green as they company might want you to think.

Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day Laundry Detergent (Geranium)
Ingredients: Anionic surfactants from plant-derived sources, cotton extract, borax, dirt-fighting enzymes, and essential oils.
The Good: Mrs. Meyer’s.
The Green: Cruelty-free; biodegradable; mostly natural ingredients.
The Ugly: Higher priced than many other brands.
The Verdict: My husband wrinkled his nose at the scent of his T-shirt and I was dismayed to see that stains were only slightly better than before the clothes went into the wash. While Mrs. Meyer’s might work fine for people whose children don’t end the day utterly filthy, it left me disappointed.

Ecover Laundry Wash
Ingredients: Water, rapeseed oil methyl ester ethoxylate, ethanol, sodium, laurate, sodium oleate, sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium citrate, citric acid, perfume, linalool, limonene, citronellol.
The Good: The Belgium-based Ecover has a long, illustrious history, including a number of awards and recognition.
The Green: Biodegradable; no optical brighteners; no animal testing; recyclable bottle and cap.
The Ugly: A few ingredients (sodium lauryl sulfate, for example) raise concern…
The Verdict: While Ecover did a good job of getting my clothes clean, I confess the ingredients list leaves me a bit uncomfortable. I’d prefer to see SLS out of there.

Give your laundry a Borax boost!
Even the best eco-cleaners can sometimes use a helping hand. For really dirty clothes (or if your duds are looking a bit tired, add a bit of Borax into the wash water. Borax is harmless (you likely already have a box for your cleaning jobs around the house) and has been the consummate multi-tasker for more than a century.

Add a 1/2 cup to your wash as a laundry booster, or soak clothes for 30 minute before washing for tough stains. It’s safe enough for your delicates, won’t harm septic systems and even helps soften hard water.

For more information or to subscribe at the introductory price of $10 a year, go to Positively Green magazine launched in 2008 as a quarterly women’s magazine that covers every aspect of green from eco-friendly vacations to green fashion to green health. With articles that don’t just explain the problems, they outline solutions for busy people who want to make the change but don’t have the time to research solutions.

By Leslie Garrett, Positively Green magazine


Magdalena J.
Past Member 4 years ago

Thank you!

Jessica T.
Jessica T5 years ago

I love Charlies Soap. It really works and you get value for money. One scoop really is all it takes. It is cruelty free and all natural. Great for people with sensitive skin or allergies. I use it on the whole families clothes, even our baby items.

Linda Babson
Linda Babson9 years ago

wow, such a list, I've been looking for years to find a good one in every way, so far haven't been able to find a complete product . Some day, some way, we will get together, have to have a little humor in life.

Jacob Herrmann
Jacob Herrmann9 years ago

What you should know....

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Use "LaundryPure" to remove MRSA from your clothing. Benzene is a highly toxic compound and carcinogen found in laundry detergent to brighten your families clothes. Exposure to these hazardous chemicals commonly known to cause cancer and allergic reactions when they come in contact with the skin, have a huge impact on the environment that endangers humans and wildlife. Never buy detergents, bleach, dryer sheets or fabrics softeners again. With no need to sort, your garments will come out whiter, brighter and fluffier.
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Phone: (518) 427-6437


I bought one of those WASH BALL in order to use no detergent for my did not WORK AT ALL.....could some of you,who use this ball,tell me if their laundry gets clean???? PLEASE HELP

Amelia Martinez
Amelia M9 years ago

The Arm and Hammer scent is so strong when you take it out of the dryer. Definitely get the unscented when you buy it!

Barbara D.
Past Member 10 years ago

Isn't Arm and Hammer's parent company one that tests on animals? Of the list, Seventh Generation is amazing, does a great job and is good all the way around.

Susan W.
Susan W10 years ago

Pam, You might try adding a little borax to the water when you wash your floors. Makes a huge difference!

Pam Rhia S.
.10 years ago

Thanks for the information and especially on Borax! I had thought about buying it to use in my laundry, but was not sure how it would do especially in colored clothes. But after reading this and seeing how many uses it has, and is much less expensive than other chemical cleaners, I will definitely pick some up and start using it around the house. I already use The Baking Soda Laundry detergent.

Kira Peters
Kira Wray10 years ago

I use charlie's soap and love it. It works wonderfully for my daughter's sensitive skin and her cloth diapers.