Best Baby Laundry Detergents 2019

Selecting the best baby laundry detergent is no easy task. As parents sift through piles of adorable onesies and footed-pajamas, they may wonder how to do laundry in a way that maintains the softness and sweetness in their child’s clothing. Well, wonder no more — we gathered some of the best rated baby laundry detergents, and we have been stain fighting and spin cycling for weeks. Collaborating with real parents who use these products and testing with parents looking for greener or gentler options, we have found the best sensitive baby laundry detergents on the market. Here are the top 5 baby laundry detergents of the year. Scroll down to see our full reviews of 10 different options!

Tiny humans create an inexplicable volume of dirty laundry. Between spit-up, breast milk or formula, and blowouts, the wash cycle is never ending! With all this laundering, new parents are often (rightfully) concerned for any potentially harmful ingredients that might be in their laundry detergent. Babies, especially newborns, have very delicate skin. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics observes, “Because newborns tend to have sensitive skin (and because you don’t know who has handled the clothing and with what before it made its way into your possession), it’s generally a good idea to wash clothes prior to using them.” With this in mind, exploring options for a gentle laundry soap is definitely in baby’s best interest to ensure all clothes are as clean and soft as they are stylish.

In addition to examining effectiveness results, we also reviewed the ingredients in each detergent and reflected on their ratings from the Environmental Working Group’s Healthy Cleaning database to assess possible chemical concerns included in each cleaner. The EWG Database rates each cleaning product for safety on a scale of A to F, with A being the least concerning and F being most concerning (just like a failing grade when you were in school). Additionally, they rate each individual ingredient in the products for deeper insight into potential human and environmental impacts.

Here are the Best Baby Laundry Detergents of 2019!

1. Mama Bear Baby Gentle Laundry Detergentbest baby laundry detergent mama bear gentle sensitive

Our Review: This detergent was our favorite formulation on this list. Clothes came out clean, even some of our older kids’ wash seemed brighter. Mama Bear is fragrance free, and there was no scent at all, but clothes were warm and soft with absolutely no residue. We also noticed clothes appeared wrinkle-free right out of the dryer. Mama Bear Baby detergent is one of the more affordable detergents on this list at $22.99 for two 40 ounce bottles. Each bottle 53 loads each bottle can clean up to 53 washes when measured for medium loads, making this 4x concentrated detergent just $0.22 per load. The detergent portion is small, so we appreciated the cleaning power this formulation packs without needing to put too much cleaner on baby clothes.  Mama Bear is formulated to wash in both hot and cold water cycles. contains 95% USDA certified bio-based content, is EPA Safer Choice approved, and never tested on animals. Our test parents were happy with this formula’s friendliness for sensitive skin and we felt safe using it for tiny newborn clothes.

Ingredients: water, laureth-6 (plant-derived cleaning agent), sodium lauryl sulfate (plant-derived cleaning agent), sodium citrate (plant-derived water softener), glycerin (plant-derived enzyme stabilizer), oleic acid (plant-derived anti-foamer), calcium chloride (mineral-based enzyme stabilizer), amylase, mannanase protease, pectinase (plant-derived enzyme soil removers), sodium hydroxide (mineral-based PH adjuster), sodium chloride (mineral-based viscosity modifier), benzisothiazolinone (synthetic preservative), methylisothiazolinone (synthetic preservative). Contains no phosphate.

Ingredient Safety: This detergent has only one ingredient ranking level D for high concern, three ingredients at risk level C, six at level B, and the majority at level A. Overall, this detergent is given a score of C for moderate concern with a high focus on environmental impact and some risk for asthma/respiratory and skin/allergy reactions for babies who are more sensitive.

2. Babyganics Baby Laundry Detergentbest baby laundry detergent babyganics sensitive

Our Review: Babyganics is a fragrance free detergent, formulated without optical brighteners, 1,4 dioxane, chlorine, phthalates, phosphates, sulfates, fragrances, or dyes. Our test parents appreciated the lack of fragrance for sensitive noses. However, like Puracy (below), this formula includes sodium borate as an enzyme stabilizer, and there is high concern for skin irritation for sensitive individuals. One of our test parents has been using Babyganics since his daughter was born (now over a year), and he loves it for its plant-based ingredients and powerful stain-fighting. He did note that tough stains (carrots and birthday cake) clean best when pretreated with a detergent soak prior to washing. In our tests, we observed no scent and clothes came out clean and noticeably fluffy. At $13.53 for one 60 ounce bottle, this detergent cleans up to 60 loads when measuring to the ½ cap mark for normal loads ($0.22 per load). Larger loads will need ¾ cap full.

Ingredients: Water, Lauryl /Myristyl Glucoside (plant based cleanser), Potassium Cocoate (plant based cleanser) Sodium Citrate Dihydrate (natural builder/cleanser), Propylene Glycol (plant derived solubilizer), Lauramine Oxide ( plant based cleansing agent), Oleic Acid ( plant based anti-foaming agent) , Protease and Amylase (plant based enzyme soil removers), Citric Acid (plant based pH adjuster), Sodium Gluconate (plant based water softener), Sodium Tetraborate (mineral derived enzyme stabilizer), Calcium Chloride (mineral based enzyme stabilizer/viscosity builder) , Sodium Hydroxide (pH adjuster), Methylisothiazolinone (preservative).

Ingredient Safety: Babyganics detergent formula includes one ingredient ranking level F, five ingredients at level B, and eight ingredients at level A. Despite the majority of low concern ingredients, this detergent is still ranked as level F for its inclusion of sodium borate (like Puracy detergent, below), which carries a high concern for developmental/endocrine/reproductive effects and some concern for respiratory effects, skin irritation/allergies/damage.

3. Purex Baby Laundry Detergentbest baby laundry detergent purex

Our Review: Many of the brands on this list take a very-natural approach to formulation (and we really loved many of those brands). Of the not-so-natural brands listed here, our majority agrees that Purex was our favorite in terms of cost, effectiveness, and gentleness.  Two 50 ounce bottles cost just $14.97. Measuring 1.5 ounce portions for 33 regular loads per bottle, Purex Baby totals just over $0.22 per load, placing it around the same cost as Babyganics 3x (above). For larger loads, an extra half-ounce worked just as well. Purex cleaned clothes in both warm and cold water, and laundry came out fresh, fluffy, and very bright. The powerful, “Dirt Lift Action” was able to remove tough stains even without pretreating. Purex for Baby is dermatologist tested to be gentle on skin, and while this formulation includes chemicals such as Methylisothiazolinone, which carry some concern for skin irritation and allergies, two parents in our focus group were happy to share that after testing through multiple detergents for their kids with eczema and sensitive skin, Purex Baby was the detergent that saved the day. The fragrance is noticeable but mild and does not fade like the Calming Chamomile Go Green pods (below). Based on these results and cost-friendliness, we are confident that Purex Baby could serve as a whole-family detergent, offering gentleness for baby skin and stain fighting power for active kids and adults.

Ingredients: Water, Alcohol Ethoxy Sulfate, Linear Alkylbenzene Sulfonate, Sodium Carbonate, Sodium Chloride, Alcohol Ethoxylate, Sodium Polyacrylate, Fatty Acids, Disodium Diaminostilbene Disulfonate, Tetrasodium EDTA, Methylisothiazolinone, Fragrance.

Ingredient Safety: This detergent contains four ingredients at risk level D, five ingredients ranking level C, and four at level A. The overall score is level D for high concerns focused primarily on the environment and some concerns for asthma/ respiratory hazards, skin and allergy reaction, and cancer risk.

4. Rebel Green Natural Baby Laundry Detergentbest baby laundry detergent rebel green

Our Review: Rebel Green Natural Baby Detergent has very few ingredients, many of which are natural and organic. We had few concerns with the formulation, save a couple of ingredients including organic essential oils for fragrance—depending on their proprietary formula, some of these oils may cause irritation or allergies in sensitive individuals—and potassium hydroxide—an F graded substance that can cause burns and eye irritation. We were, however, put at ease to read Rebel Green is designed to have no potassium hydroxide remain in the finished product.  This detergent is sold in a 64 ounce bottle for $17.99, totaling $0.28 per load for 64 loads. Rebel Green’s Chamomile & Orange Blossom fragrance is subtle and fresh when added to the wash. However, we did notice that the fragrance almost entirely dissipates after drying. Some of our parents were happy with this, preferring no fragrance; others were hoping to have found a lightly perfumed product. Overall, we were pleased with this product, especially with its biodegradable focus and low environmental impact. Rebel Green is USDA Certified Organic, and left clothes clean. One tester who was looking for a gentler detergent option for her child with sensitive skin happily announced she would be making the switch to Rebel Green!

Ingredients: Water, Sapindus Mukorossi (Organic Soap Berries), Cocos Nucifera & Potassium Hydroxide* (Saponified Organic Coconut Oil), Sodium Carbonate, Sodium Bicarbonate, Xanthan Gum, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice Powder (Organic Aloe Vera), Glycerin (Organic), Sea Salt, Cyamopsis Tetragonoloba Gum (Organic Guar Gum), Acacia Senegal Gum (Organic Acacia Gum), Fragrance Oils (Organic). *None remains in finished product.

Ingredient Safety: The EWG Healthy Cleaning Guide does not specifically list Rebel Green Natural Baby Detergent. But we have done the leg-work for you and researched each ingredient based on EWG standards. This detergent contains one ingredient at level F (noting the Potassium Hydroxide does not remain in the finished product), one ingredient at level D, four at level C, and four at level A.

5. Earnest Mom Baby Laundry Detergentbest baby laundry detergent earnest mom

Our Review: This 3x concentrated detergent can clean up to 66 loads of laundry and comes packaged in what looks like a soda bottle with an aluminum twist-off cap. At $14.99 per 34 ounce bottle, Earnest Mom detergent cleans for just $0.23 per load. This detergent is fragrance free and uses coco-glucoside as an alternative surfactant to other harmful chemicals. This cleaner handled a large load of mixed laundry well, and clothes were noticeably clean and soft. The results were not quite as “fresh” cloth smelling as other fragrance free detergents like Purex and Babyganics (both above), but there were no lingering odors like in our tests with Puracy (below). Our only real issue with Earnest Mom Baby Detergent was its packaging. The concentrated formula is measured in very small amounts with an included measuring cup (that looks too much like a medicine portioning cup). This cup must then be rinsed and placed back atop the capped bottle—in our collective opinion, this is a lost measuring cup waiting to happen. Our test parents agreed we would have much preferred the measuring cup screw on to the bottle as is standard for detergent packaging.

Ingredients: water, disodium cocoamphodiacetate, coco-glucoside, lauryl glucoside, lauramidopropyl betaine, hexlene glycol, sorbitol, sodium bicarbonate, levulinic acid, laurylpyridinium chloride, argan oil, butryospermum Parkii (Shea Butter), oryzasativa (rice) bran extract, olive oil, protease, lipase, cellulase, undaria pinnatifida extract, laminaria japonica extract, citric acid.

Ingredient Safety: Earnest Mom Baby Laundry Detergent has just two ingredients at a level D risk level, ten ingredients at level C, seven ingredients at level B, and the rest at risk level A. Overall, the EWG ranks this detergent at level C for moderate concern with particular focus on asthma/respiratory risks.

6. Woolite Baby Laundry Detergentbest baby laundry detergent woolite sensitive

Our Review: When testing and reviewing Woolite Baby detergent, one of the first things we noticed was that the formulation is designed for best results to wash medium sized loads or smaller. This was a bit of a snag for some of us, especially those with two or more young children who produce copious amounts of laundry. Based on the standard medium wash measurement, the 100 ounce bottle cleans 66 loads, placing it at around median-level for this list at $0.24 per load. Woolite Baby cleans clothes with both hot and cold water settings, and cleans clothes without the use of bleach, phosphates, enzymes, dyes, or optical brighteners. The fragrance was about the same strength as Purex (above), and far less powerful as All Baby Detergent (below). Woolite Baby was able to tackle tough baby stains as well as active kid clothes.  Laundry came out clean, but some test parents noticed results were “stiffer” or “not as soft” as those from other detergents on this list such as Mama Bear, Purex, or Babyganics (all above). Based on stain fighting strength, we would be comfortable saying this detergent could take on a whole family’s laundry cycle, but parents would need to estimate detergent measurement for larger loads.

Ingredients: Water, Sodium C10-16 Alkyl Benzenesulfonate, C10-16 Alcohols Ethoxylated, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Sodium Cocoate, Triethanolamine, Sodium Chloride, Fragrance, BHT, Benzisothiazolinone, Methylisothiazolinone.

Ingredient Safety: The EWG Healthy Cleaning Guide does not specifically list Woolite Baby Laundry Detergent. However, Woolite ZERO Complete Laundry Detergent is listed and contains all of the ingredients in Woolite Baby detergent plus a few extra. The Woolite Baby formulation includes three ingredients at risk level D, five ingredients at level C, and three at level A. Overall, the risk assessment for this detergent would be C-D based on the EWG scores and comparison to Woolite ZERO.

7. All Baby Laundry Detergentbest baby laundry detergent all sensitive

Our Review: All Baby detergent with “stainlifters” is hypoallergenic and free of dyes. This familiar brand is marketed as pediatrician tested and gentle for babies. However, our test parents made careful note of the inclusion of fragrance and diethanolamine in this formula, creating concern for skin and respiratory hazard.  The EWG also observes a moderate ecological impact concern with chemicals included in this formula.  All Baby detergent can be used at any water temperature, and one 46.5 ounce bottle washes 31 regular sized loads when detergent is measured to the first fill line. At $5.73 per bottle, All Baby detergent is one of the most affordable cleaners on this list at just $0.18 per load. In tests, we noticed even large loads were cleaned well, and heavy soiling was lifted. Though, in brightness comparisons, we found All Baby fell slightly behind other brands including Purex and Mama Bear (both above). Most test parents agreed that All Baby’s “light” floral / fresh scent was actually pretty powerful—even to the point of irritation for some. So, if your family is sensitive to strong fragrances, this might not be the detergent to choose.  A pro-tip from one of our sensitive testers is to run clothes through a second rinse to help dilute the fragrance—though this strategy does incur additional water / energy use and environmental impact.

Ingredients: Diethanolamine, Triethanolamine, Fragrance, Stilbene-Triazine derivative, Methylisothiazolinone, Biodegradable anionic surfactants, Biodegradable nonionic surfactants, Alcohol ethoxylates (C12), Sodium dodecylbenzenesulfonate, Alcohol ethoxylates (C12-15), Linear alkylbenzyl sulfonates (C10-16), Water, Sodium hydroxide, Citric acid, Coconut fatty acid

Ingredient Safety: This detergent includes one ingredient ranked at F for highest concern, four ingredients at risk level D, four at level C, and four at A. Overall, All Baby Liquid Detergent is assessed at D for high concern with strongest focuses on asthma/ respiratory hazard, cancer risk, and environmental impact and some concern for skin allergies and irritation.

8. Grab Green Natural Baby Laundry Detergent Podsbest baby laundry detergent grab green sensitive

Our Review: Grab Green Natural Laundry Pods are the most expensive detergent on this list.  At $20.98 for two, 30-pod packs, these pods can clean 60 small to medium loads or 30 large to extra-large loads, making this soap $0.35 to $0.70 per load. The use instructions indicate that “communities with exceptionally hard or cold water should adjust wash temperatures to warm to ensure pod(s) dissolve(s) completely. In our tests, we decided to also explore use of these pods with cold, New England water to avoid extra costs when using these pricy pods. Results were slightly varied between testers in our focus group. To begin, we all agreed the cold water worked just as well as the warm water settings at dissolving the pod and rinsing away the powder. The calming chamomile fragrance was subtle and fresh, but we did notice the scent faded quickly from clean clothes. Clothes were clean, but this is where our results diverged—some testers found deep, dark stains didn’t come out completely, which means a second cleaner or detergent might be needed for pre-treatment when using these pods to fight strong stains. We did keep in mind that these pods are intended for small babies, so most stains would be bathroom or spit-up related, and Grab Green does have pods formulated for older babies and active families, so this is a brand we could grow with. We were also pleased by the overall pod design, which included white powder (that doesn’t look like candy) and a coating of bitter tasting Bitrex as an extra safety measure for households with curious kids and pets.

Ingredients: Sodium carbonate, sodium sesquicarbonate, sodium bicarbonate, sodium carbonate peroxide, sodium citrate, citric acid, c9-11 paret-6, sodium dodecylbenzenesulfonate, fragrance (containing a blend of juniperus virdiniana (cedarwood) leaf oil, cymbopogon nardus (citronella java) oil, pelargonium graveolens (geranium) flower oil, citrus auratium dulcis (orange) peel oil, pogostemon cablin (patchouli) oil, citrus reticulata (petitgrain) leaf oil + man-made ingredients to ensure a long-lasting scent), subtilisin enzyme blend, amylase enzyme blend, lipase enzyme blend, polyvinyl alcohol

Ingredient Safety: This detergent has only one ingredient ranking risk level D, ten ingredients at level C (most of these are oils for fragrance), three ingredients at level B, and six ingredients at level A. Overall, these powder pods rank level B; its low concern for health hazard focuses on asthma and skin allergy response potential. There is no concern for environmental impact from this product.

9. Puracy Natural Baby Laundry Detergentbest baby laundry detergent puracy natural

Our Review: This detergent impressed our focus group parents for its dedication to natural ingredients, vegan formulation, 100% recyclable packaging, and chartable proceeds. There was no doubt that this particular brand and marketing appeared pure and chic. With this in mind, we were shocked at the affordable cost-per-load! Puracy Free & Clear, when sold in packs of two bottles, costs $24.69. Each 24 ounce bottle is 10x concentrated, cleaning up to 96 H.E. loads (1 to 2 pumps) per bottle. At 192 loads per 2-pack, this detergent averages just $$0.13 per load, the most affordable on this list! Puracy can be used to pretreat tough stains, and it works as well as many other brands for that purpose. We absolutely loved the pump bottle design, eliminating the need for measuring and spill-potential. The hypoallergenic formula was sensitive-skin friendly, and we were pleased with the overall cleaning power. However, some of our testers noticed that when trying to wash larger loads of laundry including active child and adult clothes, this detergent fell behind most on this list in terms of odor cleansing. The Free & Clear formulation is certainly fragrance-free, but it doesn’t seem to remove odors from clothing. Additionally, while this naturally-derived detergent includes a majority of level A and B ingredients on the EWG scale, the overall grade is still F for its inclusion of sodium borate, which caused some concern for our testers in terms of toxicity.

Ingredients: C10-C16 Alcohol Ethoxylate (Plant-Based Cleanser), Purified Water, Decul Glucoside (Vegetable-based Cleanser), Lauryl/Myristyl Glucoside (Coconut Oil-Based Cleanser), Vegetable Glycerin (Plant-Based Softener), Protease (Plant Based Enzyme), Cocamidopropyl Betaine (Coconut-Based Cleanser), Propanediol (Plant-Based Preservative), Amylase (Plant-Based Enzyme), Sodium Gluconate (Plant-Based Softener), Sodium Borate (Natural Mineral Cleanser), Lauramine Oxide (Coconut-Based Cleanser), Lipase (Plant-Based Enzyme), Coco-Glucoside (Coconut-Based Cleanser), Glyceryl Oleate, (Plant-Based Softener), Sodium Citrate (Plant-Based Softener), Benzisothiazolinone (Biodegradable Preservative), Carboxy Inulin (Plant-Based Softener), Mannanase (Plant-Based Enzyme), Citric Acid (Plant-Based Softener), Zinc Ricinoleate (Mineral-Based Odor Remover), Calcium Chloride (Natural Mineral Stabilizer).

Ingredient Safety: Puracy 10x concentrated natural laundry detergent includes one ingredient ranking level F for high concern, seven ingredients ranking level C, nine ingredients at level B, and six at level A. While all of Puracy’s ingredients are plant and/or mineral based, the detergent still receives a high-concern grade of F from the EWG based on its use of sodium borate, a potentially hazardous substance to developmental, endocrine, and reproductive systems. Sodium borate can also cause negative respiratory effects and skin damage, allergies, and irritation.

10. Dapple Baby Laundry Detergent Stripsbest baby laundry detergent dapple strips

Our Review: We had absolutely no idea what to expect from laundry detergent strips. No one in our focus group had even heard of these, let alone used them. One pack of detergent strips includes 32 sheets. By the listed measurement standards one sheet is enough detergent to clean one load of lightly-soiled laundry—though the size of the load is not specified. At $9.99 for one pack, this detergent is $0.31 per light load and $0.62 per heavily soiled load, making this one of the most expensive detergents on this list. Our collective concern was whether the strips would actually dissolve as labeled. Happily, none of the test parents had any trouble with partially dissolved strips. What we did notice, however, was that even using two or three strips for super loads was not enough to get clothes smelling fresh. These strips are fragrance free, but like Puracy (above), clothes still had some unclean odor after washing. The strips seemed to do better with smaller, lightly soiled loads. Overall, we found these strips to be insufficient and uneconomical for general household use, but a great option for doing small loads of laundry while one vacation!

Ingredients: Corn starch (thickening agent derived from corn), glycerin (emollient derived from soya), alpha olefin sulfonate (synthetic cleaning surfactant), water, PEG-7 glyceryl cocoate (cleaner derived from coconut and soya), cocamidopropyl betaine (cleaner derived from coconut), lauramine oxide (cleaner derived from coconut), polyethylene glycol-6 (synthetic emollient), octyl glucoside (cleaner derived from palm kernel and corn sugar), caprylyl glucoside (cleaner derived from coconut and corn sugar), sodium gluconate & potassium sorbate (preservatives). Polyvinyl alcohol (PVA), a water-soluble plastic, is used in forming the strip’s sheet-like structure and washes away during rinsing.

Ingredient Safety: These detergent strips include eight ingredients ranking level C, two ingredients at level B, and two ingredients at level A. The EWG Database grades Dapple Baby Laundry Detergent Strips at level A for lowest concern, highlighting potential asthma reaction and/ or cancer risk associated with ingredient contamination.

best baby laundry detergents round-up comparison reviews

In addition to budgeting and stain fighting power, there are certain qualities you will want to look for (or look to avoid) when selecting safe, gentle baby detergent. The EWG offers a wonderful guide for decoding labels on your cleaners. Below are some of our highlights and recommendations.

What to Look for

  • Hypoallergenic: The chemicals, dyes, and additives in laundry detergent can trigger contact dermatitis in both children and adults. This can include symptoms such as rashes, itching, bumpy skin, tenderness, swelling, burning sensation, oozing and/ or crusty blisters, very dry and cracking skin (eczema). Laundry detergents that claim to be “hypoallergenic” indicate an effort to formulate the cleaner without the inclusion of many known allergy irritants. All of the detergents on this list (except for Grab Green Pods) list “hypoallergenic” or “allergen-free” on their packaging. This is great—but you should keep in mind that this does not mean the detergent is allergy-proof. As seen in our tests, even some of the primarily plant and mineral based detergents such as Babyganics 3x still received an F score from the EWG due to the inclusion of Sodium Tetraborate, a mineral derived enzyme stabilizer that can cause skin irritation, allergies, and damage and can negatively impact endocrine, reproductive, respiratory systems. When considering whether detergent is causing rashes on your baby, health experts recommend, “If your baby or toddler is experiencing rash-like symptoms, consider which areas of their body has not touched freshly washed clothing. Typically, this would be the face or head and the area underneath their diaper.” If these areas are clear from irritation, the rash may be due to your detergent.
  • Dermatologist Tested: Similar to “hypoallergenic” marketing, you should understand that this label is also just what it says. The product was tested by a dermatologist (a doctor specializing in skin health). Some of the products on this list boast this label along with “Pediatrician Approved.” These are excellent indicators that product makers have done some due diligence, but since all children are different, you should expect varied responses and reactions to different detergents—especially if your baby has particular sensitivities.
  • Water Temperature Formulation and HE compliance: Many modern washers are high-efficiency to reduce the amount of water and energy needed to do a load of laundry. If you have an HE washer, it is important you ensure your laundry soap is specifically formulated for use in your machine. HE compliant detergents are designed to clean clothes in low-water and produce fewer suds to avoid additional rinse cycles. You may also want to ensure your detergent is formulated for use in varying water temperatures, as cold water washes use less energy.
  • Surfactants: In the practical sense, some kind of surfactant will be a primary ingredient in detergents. Surfactants or “surface active agents” may act as wetting agents, emulsifiers, foaming agents, and dispersants. Sodium lauryl sulfate is a common surfactant used in many detergents (even some on this list). This particular surfactant has been linked through urban myth to cancer. However, according to most research, SLS is an irritant but not a carcinogen, in fact, according to a 2015 study in Environmental Health Insights, SLS is safe for use in household cleaning products. The EWG ranks SLS as a level C ingredient, citing low to moderate concern most specifically or eye contact and ingestion. However, some detergents are switching to alternative surfactants to include more innocuous ingredients like Earnest Mom’s use of coco-glucoside, a coconut-based additive. We highly recommend checking the EWG to evaluate surfactants listed in your detergent.

What to Avoid

  • Fragrance/ Scent: The biggest concern with fragrances is that we actually have no idea what they are. “The term “fragrance” on an ingredient list means the product contains a chemical cocktail that may consist of dozens of substances for which there is limited safety data.” Because fragrances can be proprietary, companies do not need to list the full ingredients, leaving the consumer to risk for possible irritants and allergens. We highly recommend products that are “Fragrance Free” or “Free & Clear” and the like, especially for washing baby clothes.
  • Dyes: When it comes down to necessity, dyes are not really the powerhouse in cleaners—so why are they even there? The typical culprit is blue dye, which is present to counteract yellowing, but there are many irritants, allergies, and other health hazards associated with detergent dyes, and for this reason, we recommend a dye-free detergent that will actually clean the clothing discoloration, instead of just whitewashing it.
  • Harsh Chemicals: Some detergents (including a few in this list) will avoid the use of “harsh chemicals” in formulations to create safer, gentler cleaners. This “habitual offenders” list is often cited in media and naturalistic efforts to support alternative cleaning options: optical brighteners, enzyme stabilizers, and parabens.
    • Optical Brighteners: This refers to a number of different chemicals that can be used to make fabrics appear brighter. “[Optical brightener] coats clothing in the washing machine and sticks to fabric even after rinsing.” Some brighteners can cause skin irritation, and for this reason it is best avoided since the chemical is intended to remain on fabric and will most certainly come into contact with skin.
    • Enzyme Stabilizers: “Enzymes used in cleaning products have an excellent safety profile, with little ability to cause adverse responses in humans.” These proteins help break down and remove soil from clothing during the wash. While enzymes themselves do not pose acute hazard, enzyme stabilizers such as boric acid can be highly toxic. So, be on the lookout for these additives.
    • Parabens: These chemicals are used as preservatives in cosmetics and cleaners. When searching the ingredients list you may notice parabens listed with prefixes including the most common: methylparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben. According to Reuters Health News, “Some parabens are banned from cosmetics in the European Union, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not limited use of the ingredients.” These chemicals have been shown through study to negatively impact the reproductive system. “Men who have been exposed to common chemicals known as parabens have lower testosterone levels and more sperm that are abnormally shaped and slow moving, according to a study that suggests these ingredients may contribute to infertility.”

Here are additional baby laundry detergents we tested but didn't make it onto this list:

Dreft Baby Stage 1 is not specifically listed on the EWG Database, but we checked, and it contains the same ingredients as Dreft Baby Stage 2, excluding amylase (a level B enzyme). Dreft Baby detergent ranks an F on the EWG scale, with greatest concern for its inclusion of sodium borate, fragrance, and fabric brighteners. In terms of cleaning, the tests were sufficient, but we were much more impressed with other free & clear and brightener free options on this list.

Seventh Generation Fresh Scent is also absent from the EWG list, but we researched each of its ingredients individually and can safely assume this detergent would rank a C or D based on similar formulations. There were a few testers in our group who love Seventh Generation brand cleaners, and we were generally pleased with the results.  However, we were concerned for the almond oil present in this detergent. Due to the potential for severe contact-allergy reaction to nut oils, this detergent was bumped from our top ten.

Conclusions

The American Academy of Pediatrics observes, “It is a common recommendation that baby clothes should be washed separately, using special ‘baby’ detergents that supposedly leave fewer residues and are therefore less likely to cause skin irritation.” However, many parents (multi-taskers that we are) would prefer to wash the whole family’s clothes together. But what if we could have the best of both worlds—a “baby” detergent that is both gentle for sensitive skin and powerful; enough to tackle clothing stains and odors for everyone in the house? As we discovered through our testing and focus groups, many of the laundry detergents on this list can be used for the whole family such as Mama Bear Gentle Laundry Detergent and Purex for Baby. That being said, there were also detergents that fell behind in tests with dirtier/ larger loads. Grab Green {Stage 1} Pods and Puracy Natural Laundry Detergent did well in tests with lightly soiled baby clothes but didn’t have the stain-fighting power needed for deeper stains and powerful odors—even with pre-treating in Puracy’s tests. A pro-tip from “seasoned” parents is to immediately rinse major stain causers like formula, blow outs, and baby food. While this is not always possible, making sure you get to it as soon as you can will make all the difference.

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