Sheets that smell like Santal 33? Luxury fragrances like Le Labo are coming to clean and sustainable laundry detergents. These are the best ones to try.
Shopping for laundry detergent is about as fun as doing laundry. Or, at least, it used to be. There’s a new crop of laundry detergents that do away with the chemical nasties in conventional products and deliver scents that deviate from the generic “fresh” and “floral” fragrances that even the natural brands fall victim to. You’ve spent two years in the same pair of sweatpants—isn’t it time to give them a detergent makeover?
What is laundry detergent?
Some things we just don’t question. But when it comes to our laundry detergents, we absolutely should be asking questions. First of all, what is laundry detergent? And is it safe?
According to clean laundry brand Kind Laundry, prior to the 1950s, most laundry detergents were made with soap—the same kind we deem safe enough to use on our bodies. Pure soap is made via saponification, a natural process involving lye and oils, sometimes animal fats—quite harmless overall, Kind Laundry says. “So what happened to the non-toxic laundry detergents? War. During the war these fats and oils became required elsewhere, leading to the creation of synthetic alternatives. These synthetic laundry detergents derived from petro-chemicals leapt ahead in popularity. Since then the chemicals lurking in your laundry detergents have only gotten more complex, dangerous and toxic.”
These detergents can contain some not-so-clean ingredients linked to a number of health issues. Ingredients like 1,4-Dioxane, a solvent common in commercial detergents, has been linked to a host of illnesses from vertigo to liver and kidney damage and some forms of cancer.
Detergents can also contain sodium laurel sulfate, ammonia, phenos, formaldehyde, phosphates, among other harmful chemicals that cause skin irritation, respiratory conditions, and other acute and chronic health issues.
While some of these chemicals are added for their cleansing properties, some are added to extend the lifetime of fragrances. This is why clothes can smell like they just came out of the dryer for months after washing.
How much laundry detergent should you use?
While the amount of detergent needed varies by brands and concentrations, according to The New York Times Wirecutter, less is more when it comes to detergent. “Though it seems counterintuitive, the more detergent you use past a certain point, the dirtier your clothes become,” the Wirecutter’s Elissa Sanci explains. She says to effectively clean your clothes, you need to use “only 2 tablespoons per load at most—and that’s for big loads weighing 12 pounds or more.” In many cases, 1 tablespoon is enough “to thoroughly clean an average load, which usually weighs around 8 pounds.” If you’re handwashing, you can use even less. “When it comes to laundry detergent, a little will go a long way.”
Wirecutter also warns that while the back of the bottle might recommend using more than tablespoons per load, that’s often not really true. “Some detergent manufacturers are going to lie on the label,” says this Wirecutter video about laundry stripping. “But remember, they’re selling a product, and they want you to buy more of it.”
What are the best clean laundry detergents?
From DIYing your own laundry formulas to soap nuts and other clean detergent brands there are a number of products free from harmful chemicals. But if you’re looking to give your laundry a serious upgrade, consider the newest trend that sees elevated fragrances such as Le Labo’s popular Santal 33, as well as the agarwood-based oud oil. Happy washing!
1. The Laundress + Le Labo Santal 33 Detergent
The Laundress makes a few of its natural detergents with Le Labo scents, but Santal 33 is the place to start if you want to give your wash the ultimate upgrade. The woodsy fragrance features “notes of cardamom, iris, violet, sandalwood, papyrus, cedar, and leather”. And this allergen-free formulation is safe for the most sensitive skin. Plant-based, never animal-tested
2. Tangent GC Oud Perfumed Denim Wash
This organic, vegan detergent cleanses your garments without eating into the cotton fibres as it’s free from corrosive alkalis. No fossil fuel-based surfactants, no animal testing, and an unforgettable oud fragrance that comes from the world’s most expensive wood—agarwood.
3. Capri Blue Volcano Laundry Detergent
A citrus fragrance blend’s reminiscent of fruits and fresh forest, this vegan, cruelty-free detergent is free from sulfates, phthalates, parabens, and synthetic colors, you’ll look for an excuse to wash your clothes with the Capri Blue Volcano laundry detergent. Safe for your delicates and heavier items alike.
4. Fer à Cheval Marseille Concentrated Laundry Liquid
Made in Provence with all natural plant-based oils, seawater, ash, and lye, Fer à Cheval undergoes a ten-day boiling procedure under the supervision of a soap master and artisan soapmakers. Free of artificial anything, this soap has a light, fragrant olive scent that conjures hillsides and sunny afternoons.
5. Dedcool Dedtergent 01 “Taunt”
Dedcool is in the fragrance buisness with scents for all genders and needs. This cruelty-free, vegan, and organic detergent boasts “23 beneficial organic extracts that’s good for you.” And we’re not going to argue with that statement. The first “dedtergent” fragrance is a keeper—bergamot, amber, and vanilla offers a light but grounding scent so pleasing we won’t tell if you dip a little detergent behind the ears.
6. Frey the Detergent
Frey detergent is fully biodegradable and lasts for 50 loads of laundry. It takes its scent cues from “top fragrances” using natural essential oils of Cedarwood, Oakmoss, and Amber. Your nose will love it, and so will your clothes, says the brand. “We designed this concentrated blend of gentle washing detergents and natural fragrances to soften and reduce wrinkles and eliminate odors, stains, and dirt.”
7. Dirty Labs Bio Signature Detergent
Don’t let the name fool you. There’s nothing dirty happening at Dirty Labs. The company uses a special scientific enzyme technology that removes stains naturally. Not only are the cleaning ingredients an upgrade from normal detergent but the scent is elevated, too, with hints of begamot, cedar, and magnolia.
8. Steamery Dark and Denim Laundry Detergent
Oud gets another detergent makeover in Sweden-made the Steamery’s detergent, targeted especially for dark and denim wear. Preserve your colors with this biodegradable formula that’s free from preservatives, phosphates, and and artificial nasties.
9. Kind Laundry Eco-Friendly Laundry Detergent Sheets
You’ll need to add your own fragrance to this one, but the trade-off is worth it. Kind Laundry’s laundry detergent sheets are made with zero-waste packaging, biodegradable ingredients, and no harsh chemicals.
10. L’Alchimiste Marseille Soap Liquid Laundry Detergent
Minimalism comes to detergent with this handcrafted in Provence French laundry detergent. Made for delicate clothes, this detergent is gentle and brings a natural fragrance from the soap itself. Add your own or let the scents of the French countryside be your new signature scent. Made from recycled or reused materials, this is a truly sustainable detergent for all your washing needs.