Though eco-laundry soaps may not have gotten raves in the past, today’s green cleaners are up for the war on dirt. Many of them get clothes spotless without leaving a blot on the environment or your health. But because cleaning ingredients are not required to be listed and “green” claims are unregulated, it’s sometimes hard to know whom to trust. We picked the following detergents because they’re free of the most toxic substances; they’re concentrated (reducing the 400 gallons of water a year wasted in diluting detergents); and they’re tested for cold-water washes, which can lower carbon emissions by 90 percent.
Ecos by Earth Friendly Products Free & Clear
This favorite left clothes soft and garden-fresh without fragrance. Erased grass stains from the knees of my daughter’s yellow pants—a nice surprise. $6 (50 oz), ecos.com
Sun & Earth
Cleaned my spit-up-soaked duds with no trouble—but if you don’t love a strong orange smell, steer clear. $5 (50 oz), sunandearth.com
Method Free & Clear
An odorless formula is a welcome change from flowery blends, but it does have a very small amount of nonnatural preservative. Washed well, if not top of the heap. $8 (32 oz), methodhome.com
Seventh Generation Free & Clear
It smells a tad gluey but works better than most, even managing to revive a mildewed dress. No filmy residue and leaves clothes crisp. $9 (50 oz), seventhgeneration.com
Mrs Meyer’s Clean Day
The label admits to some “nonnatural ingredients.” Still, it cleaned tanning makeup from my facecloths, which is impressive. $11.99 (64 oz), mrsmeyers.com
Arm & Hammer Essentials
It took care of a tomato-sauce-stained baby shirt, but I didn’t love the way it left clothes feeling soft and treated (though some might), possibly due to washing soda, a natural water softener it contains.
$3.99 (50 oz), armandhammer.com
Biokleen Cold-Water Formula
Gentle scent, not too foamy, and leaves barely any residue. Good for the sensitive-skinned and for eliminating chocolate stains. $19.95 (128 oz), biokleenhome.com
Hands down, one of my favorites for tough, sudsy cleaning, with only a faint trace of (plant-based) lavender scent. Works well on sweaty yoga towels and gym clothes. $12.50 (100 oz), ecover.com
Dropps Dissolving Liquid Pacs
These mess-free polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) pouches dissolve in cold water and are six-times concentrated, with a fresh scent that’s delicate and appealing. But like other plastics, PVA’s ability to biodegrade is limited.
$6 for 20, dropps.com
All detergents selected contain surfactants made from plants, such as coconut or corn, rather than toxic petrochemical alkylphenol ethoxylates (eg, APEs, NPEs), which harm aquatic life. These are also free of glycol ethers. Each lists specific natural plant oils, not “fragrance.” So skip the synthetic fragrances with phthalates linked to hormonal and respiratory problems.