There’s a good reason laundry detergent ads always show people smiling while blissfully smelling their freshly laundered linens—newly clean clothes are right up there with orange juice and sunshine when it comes to the best way to start a day fresh.
But while we associate laundry detergent with a calm and relaxing clean, not all detergents are created equal. With ingredients ranging from water to petroleum-sourced chemicals, it’s hard to know whether traditional laundry detergent is good enough, or if natural laundry detergent is a better choice.
If you want to know more about laundry detergent options, keep reading to find out how the plant based laundry detergent vs regular detergent debate stacks up.
All About Conventional Laundry Detergent
Readily available in every supermarket, conventional laundry detergents have been the go-to clothes cleaner for decades. If you’re used to traditional laundry soap, you’ll be familiar with the ultra-strong scents and crayon-colored cleaning liquid that keeps your laundry feeling fresh. While most detergents are commonly available as a liquid, you can also find it in powder and pod form.
A conventional laundry detergent differs from a plant-based detergent in several ways—namely, because of their ingredients and how they impact your home and the world.
What Is Conventional Laundry Detergent Made From?
I’m sure there may have been a time or two when you have wondered, Is laundry detergent safe? Although some may be stain-fighting powerhouses, many household laundry soaps can contain strong cleaning ingredients that aren’t necessarily the best for us, our pets, or the environment.
Conventional detergents usually contain petroleum-based chemical cleaning agents. While they may be successful at removing last night’s spaghetti sauce, they could also have potentially harmful effects on your health and home.
Some common ingredients in conventional laundry detergent include:
- Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLS)
- Petroleum distillates
- Optical brighteners
- Synthetic fragrances
Benefits of Conventional Laundry Detergents
Conventional or traditional laundry detergent has prevailed for so long because it’s so successful at making clothes and linens feel and smell clean. Despite the lack of clarity on what exactly goes into making many conventional detergents, they continue to maintain market popularity because they get the job done. They’re easy to find in every store and usually available at an affordable price point.
That said, it's worth asking why regular laundry detergents necessitate the use of stronger chemicals—and if it’s possible to do without them.
Drawbacks of Conventional Laundry Detergents
Even though they’re efficient when it comes to cleaning abilities, there are some drawbacks to using conventional laundry detergents, including potential risks to our health and the environment:
- Toxicity to children and pets – While not necessarily dangerous when used as intended, improper storage or a spill could lead to accidental ingestion by children, dogs, and cats. Keeping conventional laundry detergent away from little hands and paws is a must to avoid any potentially toxic outcomes and a check-in with poison control. Laundry pods are especially dangerous, and can cause an upset stomach and respiratory irritation.
- Potential for allergic reactions – The chances for an individual to have a skin reaction when wearing clothes washed in conventional laundry detergent are more than those washed in bio detergents. Detergent has been shown to emit pollutants and chemicals even after being washed and rinsed, and continued exposure to synthetic fragrance has been singled out by researchers as a potential trigger for developing fragrance-related contact dermatitis.
- Negative environmental impact – While many of the chemicals in your liquid detergent are rinsed out in the washing machine, the water still has to go somewhere. The common detergent ingredient phosphate, in particular, has been shown to have devastating effects on natural water bodies like freshwater lakes, encouraging excess algae growth that can negatively alter the freshwater ecosystem.
All About Plant-Based Laundry Detergent
Although some basic ingredients like surfactants and additives are the same across all laundry detergents, plant-based laundry detergents use natural regenerative sources rather than petroleum-based synthetic ingredients.
Plant or bio-based laundry detergent is usually safer for everyone from babies to adults, as it doesn’t irritate skin or contain potentially harmful ingredients. If you’ve never used a plant-based laundry soap before, you might be wondering—do natural laundry detergents work? Let’s examine what gives these soaps their cleaning power.
What Is Plant-Based Laundry Detergent Made From?
Plant-based laundry detergents are made from naturally sourced and bio-based ingredients, making them less harsh on your family, your pets, and the environment. Unlike the chemically-derived cleaning agent found in conventional laundry detergent, plant-based laundry detergent includes ingredients that have less of an ecological and health impact, including:
- Natural Fragrance
- Plant-Derived Surfactants
Benefits of Plant-Based Laundry Detergents
Is plant based laundry detergent better? You’ll ultimately need to decide for your household, but the benefits are plentiful:
- Safer for septic systems – In many homes, everything that goes down the drain, including the remnants of cleaning products, gets processed through the septic tank. Bio-based detergents, as well as plant based cleaning products, and natural disinfectants break down more easily and don’t kill off the beneficial bacteria in septic tanks, keeping them functioning well.
- No harsh chemicals – Bio-based and eco-friendly laundry detergents leave out the harsh chemicals in cleaning products that can cause irritation, allergies, endocrine disruption, and other potentially negative reactions. Ingredients derived from natural sources are less abrasive and corrosive, and less likely to cause skin or lung irritation.
Drawbacks of Plant-Based Laundry Detergents
If you’re new to making a switch from conventional to plant-based laundry detergents, it may seem at first that your linens aren’t achieving the same level of cleanliness. However, bio-based detergents are actually gentler on fabrics, so while they are being cleaned well, they aren’t stripping or harshly attacking fabric like conventional detergent. They also don’t leave film or buildup on fabrics.
When you’re adapting to a new, plant based detergent, be sure to read the instructions that come with it. Since it’s made with different ingredients, your plant-based cleaner might require slightly different instructions to help you achieve a fresh clean load of laundry.
What Is the Safest Laundry Detergent To Use?
When it comes to traditional or bio-based detergents, is plant-based laundry detergent better? If you hope to minimize the effects of harsh chemicals in your home and environment, then yes—in most ways, yes, plant-based liquid laundry detergent is the better choice.
While the chemicals in conventional laundry detergent may not be of concern on their own, the prevalence of so many of the same potentially damaging ingredients across multiple household cleaning products means you’re actually getting a larger exposure than you may think. Switching to plant-based products will minimize the chances for exposure to damaging substances.
Keep you and your family safe from unnecessary exposure to chemicals and pollutants by going with a plant-based laundry detergent. Using a green, bio-based laundry detergent can lower the risk of damaging interactions. Our Charcoal Rose Laundry Detergent is powered by bio-based ingredients and infused with essential oil, making it a perfect natural laundry detergent option.
How Safe Are Other Laundry Cleaning Products?
Laundry detergent isn’t the only product we use to keep our clothes feeling fresh and clean. From stain remover and fabric softener to dryer sheets and brighteners, sometimes our laundry needs an extra boost to get a complete clean. But are these laundry products safe to use?
Choosing bio-based laundry products or natural alternatives is the best way to ensure you’re keeping harmful synthetic chemicals out of your home. Here are some common substitutions for a safer laundry boost:
- Wool dryer balls – Instead of single-use dryer sheets that leave residue, try using wool balls in the dryer to remove static cling and give clothes a gentle fluff. If you miss the extra scent, you can add a few drops of essential oil to the balls before starting up the dryer for a safer, natural fragrance.
- Vinegar – Offering both brightening and odor-neutralizing benefits, vinegar is a gentler alternative to harsh and abrasive bleach-based clothing brighteners. Vinegar is good to have on hand for washing baby clothes, too—it breaks up uric acid, helping to get rid of even the biggest urine stains.
- Baking soda – Useful as an odor remover and fabric softener, adding baking soda to the rinse cycle is a good alternative to the gunky buildup of fabric softener. A naturally alkaline substance, it neutralizes acids and can even aid in brightening fabrics.
- Bio-based stain remover – Don’t underestimate the power of plants when it comes to their ability to tackle tough stains. A bio-based stain remover, like our new enzyme-powered Fragrance-Free Laundry Spot Cleaner, will help remove spots and stains to keep your clothes looking as good as new.
Archipelago: Clean Ingredients for a Clean Home
When cleaning your home, the cleaning products you use should keep your mind clear, knowing the products are safe for you and your family. When it comes to your laundry, choose a plant-based laundry detergent that’s good for you, your home, and the earth.
At Archipelago, we’re here to help you create a home oasis free of unnecessary chemicals and additives. Our natural, plant based cleaning products infused with our signature scents like charcoal rose, and grapefruit will make doing your chores a spa-like experience.
ResearchGate. Toxicities of Laundry Products - Review of the Evidence. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/351494142_Toxicities_of_Laundry_Products_-_Review_of_the_Evidence
Apartment Therapy. Dryer Sheets Are Bad and You Should Stop Using Them. https://www.apartmenttherapy.com/dryer-sheets-chemicals-alternatives-268459
ASPCA. Animal Poison Control Alert: Keep Laundry Detergent Pods Away from Pets. https://www.aspca.org/news/animal-poison-control-alert-keep-laundry-detergent-pods-away-pets
Contact Dermatitis. Skin exposure to scented products used in daily life and fragrance contact allergy in the European general population ‐ The EDEN Fragrance Study. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8247875/
Linen FInder. Green Laundry Detergent vs Regular Laundry Detergent & Other Sustainable Laundry Practices. https://www.linenfinder.com/blog/green-laundry-detergent-vs-regular-laundry-detergent-other-sustainable-laundry-practices
Sciencing. Chemical Water Pollution Caused by Every Day Detergents. https://sciencing.com/chemical-pollution-caused-day-detergents-6664097.html
The Ecologist. How green is your washing powder? https://theecologist.org/2012/feb/03/how-green-your-washing-powder
The Spruce. Laundry Detergent Ingredients and How They Work. https://www.thespruce.com/how-laundry-detergent-ingredients-work-2146619
University of Washington News. Scented laundry products emit hazardous chemicals through dryer vents. https://www.washington.edu/news/2011/08/24/scented-laundry-products-emit-hazardous-chemicals-through-dryer-vents/
Green Matters. How Does Laundry Detergent Affect the Environment? https://www.greenmatters.com/p/detergent-environmental-effects