Is Natural Laundry Detergent Better? | Branch Basics

By Marilee Nelson |

Is Natural Laundry Detergent Better? | Branch Basics

If mounting reports about the dangers of chemicals and fragrances in laundry products have you rethinking your favorite detergent, this article is for you!

Here, we’ll compare conventional laundry detergents to natural laundry detergents so you can decide what’s safest and healthiest for your family.

Natural vs. Chemical Laundry Detergent: What’s the Difference? 

For far too long, the laundry product industry has led us to believe we need a costly chemical concoction of pre-treaters, detergents, boosters, fabric softeners, bleach, deodorizers, and dryer sheets to have clean clothes.

Not only do these products create serious health and environmental hazards (more on this to come), but the majority of them are completely unnecessary.

Fortunately, consumers are catching on to this and looking for simpler, safer, non-toxic alternatives.

However, reading laundry product labels can be confusing, especially if you’re new to the natural laundry game.

Here are some helpful tips on what ingredients to look for in genuinely safe, non-toxic, and natural laundry detergents.

Tips on Avoiding Greenwashing When Choosing a Natural Laundry Detergent 

Greenwashing, the knowing act of making a product appear safer and more environmentally friendly than it really is, is prevalent in the cleaning and laundry products industries. 

Laundry-specific examples include labels like:

  • Fragrance-free: This label gives the illusion of a safer, more natural laundry product when in reality, most are made using additional fragrance-masking chemicals.
  • Eco-friendly: Some eco-friendly laundry detergents are legitimately non-toxic. However, this is a broad, typically self-defined term that may have nothing to do with human safety, or even much to do with environmental safety in some cases.
  • Made with “natural” or “organic” ingredients: This can mean a product is made with all or mostly natural or organic ingredients, or it’s made with just a tiny bit of something natural or organic mixed in with mostly toxic chemicals.
  • Contains enzymes: Enzymes are wonderful for stain removal, and are typically non-toxic. However, that doesn’t mean the rest of the formulas are all-natural or safe.
  • Naturally derived: This term suggests ingredients have been derived from a natural source (plant, mineral, animal, etc.). However, that doesn’t mean they haven’t been adulterated. Adulteration doesn’t necessarily make an ingredient toxic, as is true for some coconut-based glucoside surfactants (more on this to come). However, in some cases it does create a toxic product.
  • Sustainable: This terminology generally refers to a product’s environmental impact, not where it is human safe.

Other greenwashing techniques include clever branding that makes a product appear safe and/or natural.

Some examples include pictures or graphics on labels of teddy bears, babies, waterfalls, animals, forests or packaging that appears eco-friendly or nostalgic.

This is why we always recommend vetting your laundry products (and cleaning and skin care products) using tools like EWG’s Cleaning Products database. Just plug in the name of the products or scan the barcode, and EWG will rate it for toxicity and safety on a scale of “1” (least toxic) to “10” (most toxic”).

Get educated on the most toxic ingredients to avoid in laundry products in: How to Toss Your Toxic Laundry Detergent.

Common Ingredients Used in Natural Laundry Detergent

Now that you know how to vet a conventional versus natural laundry detergent, we’ll dig a little deeper into ingredients.

Specifically, we’ll look at common ingredients used in natural laundry detergents and laundry boosters like surfactants (ingredients that reduce the surface tension of water and act as foaming, emulsifying, degreasing, and thickening agents), brighteners, enzymes, and bleach alternatives.

Decyl Glucoside 

If you’re thinking that decyl glucoside does not sound like a natural product, you’re partially right.

Here’s why decyl glucoside is common in natural laundry detergents and cleaning products.

Decyl glucoside is a naturally-derived surfactant from coconut or corn.

Glucosides, like decyl glucoside and others we’ll discuss in this section, are technically considered synthetic because of the processing of alcohols involved. 

However, they are considered non-toxic, rated “2” on EWG, and naturally derived products.

Decyl glucoside is suitable for the most sensitive and delicate skin and is commonly used as a non-toxic and eco-friendly alternative to conventional anionic surfactant sulfates (like sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate).

It is extremely mild, natural, vegan, plant-derived, biodegradable, non-toxic, and sustainable surfactant derived from corn or coconuts. 

Decyl Glucoside produces less stable foam than Coco Glucoside but is excellent for enhancing viscosity.

Learn more about this non-toxic, plant-derived surfactant in: Decyl Glucoside: What Is It And Is It Safe For Your Skin?

Coco Glucoside 

Coco Glucoside belongs to the Glucoside family of plant-derived surfactants and is sourced from coconuts. 

Its safety and versatility as a nonionic surfactant make it a common surfactant in many non-toxic and natural cleaning, laundry, and personal care products.

Coco glucoside’s functions include acting as a: 

  • Sulfate-free foaming agent
  • Cleanser
  • Conditioner
  • Moisturizer
  • Natural emollient
  • Skin softener and excellent 

Coco Glucoside is rated a “2” by the Environmental Working Group, is 100% biodegradable, non-GMO, and considered “low risk” for development and reproductive health, and is appropriate for sensitive skin, irritated skin, or allergies.

We combine Coco Glucoside with Decyl Glucoside in Branch Basics Concentrate (diluted with water to make Branch Basics Laundry) to maximize foaming and cleansing power.

Sodium Citrate 

Sodium citrate is a plant-derived, biodegradable sodium salt of citric acid that acts as a water softener, cleaning agent, descaling agent, pH regulator, and preservative. 

It typically comes from citrus fruits, molasses, or corn and is manufactured as a powder.

Sodium citrate is a common ingredient in many natural and non-toxic cleaning products, including Branch Basics, as well as food and beverages, skin care, oral care, cosmetic, baby care, hair care, and medical products.

It is rated a “1” by the Environmental Working Group, is a non-irritant, and is allowed in “Made Safe” products. 

The FDA has granted sodium citrate Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) status. However, as mentioned in previous articles, many questionable products have been given GRAS status, so never use this as your sole safety measure.

You’ll find sodium citrate in Branch Basics Concentrate and Dishwasher Tablets, where it’s used to help break up grease, dirt, and grime, act as a water softener, natural preservative, and laundry sequestrant (which improves the power of laundry soaps by reducing ion levels in water).

Get more details in: Sodium Citrate For Cleaning.

Sodium Bicarbonate

You may recognize this name as Sodium Bicarbonate is the chemical name for Baking Soda.

Baking Soda is used in laundry detergents and non-toxic laundry boosters and stain removers, like Branch Basics Oxygen Boost, as a pH regulator, natural bleach alternative, water softener, stain remover, and deodorizer. 

Sodium Percarbonate

Sodium percarbonate is a white powder made from sodium carbonate—also known as washing soda or soda ash and hydrogen peroxide—a natural bleaching agent.

Also known as “oxygen bleach” or “powdered peroxide,” sodium percarbonate releases a mixture of oxygen, water, and washing soda when added to water, making it an excellent cleaning and laundry agent.

Sodium percarbonate has antibacterial, antifungal, anti-algae, anti-mold, and deodorizing properties and is rated 1-2 for “low toxicity” on the Environmental Working Group database.

It’s also one of the main ingredients in: 

  • Branch Basics Oxygen Boost, where it’s paired with Sodium Bicarbonate to create a powerful laundry booster, stain remover, deodorizer, and bleach alternative, 
  • And Branch Basics Dishwasher Tablets for powering through stuck-on food while cleaning and disinfecting dishes without harmful residue.

Get more facts on Sodium Percarbonate plus tips on how to use it in: The Power Of Sodium Percarbonate For Cleaning.

Enzymes: Proteases, Lipases, Amylases, Cellulases

Enzymes are popular in synthetic and natural laundry detergents because they act as detergent boosters, are targeted for specific stains, make detergents more efficient at cleaning in cold water, and help protect fabrics from wear and tear.

The main enzymes in laundry detergents include proteases, lipases, amylases, and cellulases.

Enzymes in laundry detergents are generally very safe, receiving a B+ from the Environmental Working Group and GRAS status from the FDA. 

Depending on their intended use and formulation, many are also allowed in EWG-verified products, like Branch Basics Dishwasher Tablets.

Remember, just because a detergent contains enzymes doesn’t necessarily mean it’s safe, natural, or non-toxic. 

Get more tips and advice on using enzyme products safely in: Enzymes In Laundry Detergent: What You Need To Know.

Does Natural Laundry Detergent Work? 

There is a myth that natural laundry detergents cannot work better than synthetic because they don’t contain harsh chemicals and detergents.

That is simply not true.

The key to finding an effective natural laundry detergent is to look for products containing the ingredients listed above. This helps ensure a powerful, non-toxic cleaner that will do the job as well, if not better, than synthetic laundry products.

In addition, many commercial laundry detergents contain chemical fabric softeners, optical brighteners, and bleach, all of which are ultra-toxic and degrade fabrics over time.

A lose-lose situation for consumers!

Benefits of Natural Laundry Detergent 

We’ve already mentioned many benefits of choosing natural laundry detergents. Here’s a recap and a few more.

Natural Laundry Detergent Has Less Environmental Impact 

Synthetic chemical laundry products are a disaster for the environment because they go right down the drain and into our soil and waterways, while their toxic fragrance (which can contain hundreds of chemicals!) gets into our indoor and outdoor environments, degrading air quality.

Ingredients like bleach, optical brighteners, phthalates (found in fragrance), microplastics, synthetic surfactants, various forever chemicals, preservatives, VOCs, and dozens of others are considered unsafe for the environment and humans.

By choosing natural laundry detergents, you can prevent thousands of pounds of harmful chemicals from entering the environment in your lifetime.

Natural Laundry Detergents Are (Generally) Allergy-Friendly

Skin irritation, and allergies are two of the main reasons people switch from synthetic to natural, fragrance-free laundry detergents.

However, even some natural ingredients, like certain enzymes or “natural fragrance,” can irritate sensitive skin.

We highly recommend choosing fragrance-free laundry products rated 1-2 on EWG if you have skin allergies and testing for compatibility.

In addition, natural laundry products do not release allergen-triggering VOCs and other chemicals, like fragrance, that can cause or trigger sneezing, wheezing, bronchitis, itching, rashes, or other respiratory disorders.

Natural Laundry Detergents Are Economical

It is unbelievable how expensive laundry detergent has become! 

What’s even more unbelievable is how much we’re willing to pay for these artificial chemical concoctions that are polluting our homes, bodies, and the environment.

To be fair, there are non-toxic and natural laundry detergents that are equally or more expensive than conventional brands.

However, switching to natural, non-toxic laundry products doesn’t have to cost a fortune and should save you money in the long run.

We discuss the best non-toxic (and economical) alternatives to commercial laundry detergents, including Branch Basics Laundry, soap nuts, and even vinegar, in: 9 Laundry Detergent Alternatives That Actually Work.

Natural Laundry Detergents Are Safer

We’ve all heard the horror stories of babies, toddlers, children, and pets accidentally ingesting toxic laundry pods or experiencing some other accidental exposure to bleach, detergents, or other toxic products.

It is absolutely heartbreaking and completely preventable when we toss the toxins in the laundry room in favor of natural laundry products.

This seems like plain common sense, especially for families and pet owners. 

However, we have been conditioned to believe these products are safe, effective, and essential, which makes us forget how harmful cleaning chemicals can be—in cases of acute exposure and via their long-term effects.

It’s been said that it’s the small things we do that make the most significant impact.

By switching from chemical to natural laundry detergents, you’re taking a powerful step to protect the safety and long-term health of yourself, your children, your pets, and the planet.

Toss the Toxins With Branch Basics

Has this information got you fired up to switch to natural laundry detergent?

We’ve said before the laundry room is often the most toxic room in the home, which is why we typically recommend starting there in a healthy home detox.

We have so many additional resources to share, including Branch Basics non-toxic cleaning and laundry system.

For those who are new here, when you order a Branch Basics Premium Starter Kit (available in reusable plastic or glass), you’ll receive the Concentrate, Oxygen Boost (a bleach alternative, laundry booster, natural scouring agent, and so much more), and five bottles to make your own All-Purpose, Bathroom, Streak-Free, Laundry, and Foaming Wash.

This provides you with everything you need to clean and deodorize your clothes naturally along with several stain-removal options (All-Purpose, Bathroom, Oxygen Boost, Concentrate, and Laundry can all be used for various stains).

If you’re just looking for a natural laundry detergent, booster, and stain remover, our Laundry Kit (available in reusable plastic or glass) contains Concentrate, a Laundry bottle, and Oxygen Boost.

We also offer natural laundry accessories like Wool Dryer Balls (the ultimate alternative to toxic dryer sheets) and a Natural Scrub Brush for handwashing and stain removal.

For more helpful advice on tossing the toxins in your laundry room and switching to natural laundry products, see:

Marilee Nelson

Marilee Nelson

Marilee Nelson is an Environmental Toxins expert who has spent nearly 30 years advocating for the chemically-sensitive and chronically-ill. She is a Board Certified Nutritionist, Certified Bau-Biologist and Bau-Biology Inspector and specializes in Food As Medicine. She has helped thousands of families and individuals identify, heal and recover from toxic exposures and is on a mission to revolutionize the way American families view their health.