You only added a teeny little eight-pound person to your household, so why does it feel like your laundry load just doubled?
Between spit-ups, blow-outs, and all the cute clothes that you’re desperate for your baby to wear before they outgrow them, you’re likely to go through multiple outfits a day. And don’t even get me started on your laundering frequency if you’re cloth diapering.
Laundry is simply a way of life when you’ve got a newborn, but not just any detergent will do. Because of their sensitive skin, you might want to consider swapping your regular product for something more gentle. Here’s what you need to know to find the best baby laundry detergent.
- Plant-based & vegan
- No allergens & super affordable
- Developed by doctors
- Used in hot or cold water
- No harsh chemicals
- “A” rating from the EWG
- Recommended by pediatricians
- Developed specifically for babies
- Manufactured using green energy
- Uses renewable resources thus biodegradable
- 97% natural ingredients
- Tested by dermatologists
- Removes 99% of stains
- Most recommended by pediatricians
- Safe & effective for cloth diapers
- Rinses out completely
- Biodegradable & eco-friendly
- Safe for septic systems
- Certified USDA Organic
- No added chemicals
- Safe for delicate skin
- Ultra cheap and fragrant
- Washing machine safe
- Hypoallergenic & gentle
Why Do I Need Baby Laundry Detergent?
Simply put: baby laundry detergent is created with fewer harsh chemicals than traditional laundry detergent.
Your baby’s skin is sensitive, and not yet accustomed to many of the environmental irritants that adults are exposed to every day. While regular laundry soaps get clothes clean, they can also leave a residue.
This residue doesn’t bother most of us, but for a baby it can cause skin irritation or allergic reactions.
The skin is the body’s largest organ, and babies’ skin is constantly coming into contact with laundered fabrics.
Some of these fabrics include:
- Sheets and Blankets.
- Baby towels or face cloths.
- Sleep or Swaddle Sacks.
- Burp rags.
- Cloth Diapers.
If there are harmful chemical residues or irritants, they can easily be absorbed by your baby’s skin. Choosing a laundry detergent that has minimal harmful chemicals or is specifically designed for babies can reduce their chance of chemical exposure or skin breakouts.
Can My Baby Have a Reaction to Detergent?
There are two types of skin reactions to detergent (1).
- Skin Irritation: This type of reaction occurs immediately after being exposed to the product or material. It’s a red, itchy rash which disappears shortly after the irritant is removed.
- Allergic Contact Dermatitis: This is an allergic reaction, meaning the body is having an immune response to an allergen. This also presents as a red itchy rash, but its appearance is not immediate. It can take up to a week for symptoms to develop as exposure to the irritant builds up over time.
Types of Baby Laundry Detergents
There are three main types of laundry detergents available — liquid, powder, or packs (pods).
They each have their benefits and drawbacks (2).
Liquid is the most popular type of laundry detergent, comprising 75 percent of all sales. They come in a bottle with a pouring spout or tap, and you use a plastic cup to measure the correct amount of product.
- Convenient to pre-treat.
- Good performance on greasy stains.
- Easy to use.
- Not environmentally friendly.
Powder detergents typically come in a cardboard box with a scoop.
- Environmentally friendly packaging.
- Better performance on ground-in stains.
- Still works in hard water.
- Difficult to pre-treat.
- Packaging is not durable.
Packs (also known as “pods” which is a trademarked term) are pre-measured portions of detergent that can be tossed directly into the washer before adding clothes.
- Little room for error (pre-measured).
- Effective performance.
- Attractive to children (poison risk).
If you have children under the age of six, it’s not recommended that you use laundry packs as there have been multiple incidents of children being poisoned after ingesting them (3). Because they’re small and colorful, they’re attractive to young children and often mistaken as candy.
Choosing the Best Laundry Detergent for Baby
When choosing a laundry detergent, consider the following:
Regular or High Efficiency
If you have a high-efficiency washing machine, you need to make sure you choose a laundry detergent that’s approved for such use. Look for a “HE” designation on the front of the detergent package, indicating it’s safe to use in high-efficiency machines. “He” detergents will not create as many suds which will rinse cleaner, and also prevent damage to your high-efficiency washing machine.
Fragrance- and Dye-Free
To eliminate potential irritants, choose a detergent with no added dyes or fragrances. These aren’t necessary to clean your baby’s clothes (they only add a pleasing aroma or color the detergent itself) and do nothing to increase the detergent’s cleaning power.
Brighteners are chemicals that remain in the fabric and absorb the UV from the sun to make the colors appear “brighter.” This is merely an aesthetic benefit and doesn’t affect the cleanliness of the clothes. To minimize chemical exposure, skip it.
For the lowest overall environmental impact, choose a plant-based product. While this doesn’t guarantee it won’t irritate your child’s skin (there are plenty of naturally-occurring things that cause allergic reactions), it does have a lower risk than synthetic products.
Liquid or Powder
Skip laundry packs or pods due to the safety risk for small children. Choose a liquid or powder detergent based on your personal preference. Powders tend to perform better, but liquids are less bulky as they can be ultra-concentrated.
The Best Baby Laundry Detergents of 2020
The only thing that’s better than that new-baby smell is that new-baby-in-clean-clothes smell. Just because you’re after something gentle doesn’t mean you have to compromise on cleaning power — or forego that wonderful freshly laundered scent. Here are our top 10 favorite laundry detergents for babies for 2020:
1. Puracy Natural Liquid Laundry Detergent
If your baby breaks out at the slightest exposure to irritants, you need to pick a detergent that's as gentle on their skin as possible. Choose one with no dyes or fragrances that can potentially cause a breakout.
This detergent will clean your clothes without any harsh additives or harmful chemicals. It was developed by doctors, so it’s safe for those with sensitive skin or allergies. It contains no sulfates, chlorine, animal byproducts, allergens, or brighteners.
Plus it’s plant-based and biodegradable, making it safe for both sewer and septic systems. Since it’s high-efficiency washing-machine compatible, you can use it with whatever type of washer you have.
Plus, because it’s ultra-concentrated, the number of loads you can get from one small bottle is astounding (96) and makes the price-per-load super affordable compared to both natural and conventional laundry products.
- Plant-based and vegan.
- It has no allergens.
- Super affordable.
- It was developed by doctors.
- It’s a liquid detergent.
- The container is plastic, so not environmentally friendly.
2. Molly’s Suds Laundry Powder
Hard water poses a particular laundering challenge. It makes it difficult for detergent to lather, and also difficult to rinse completely. If you have hard water, choose a powdered detergent — they perform better in such conditions, and will not only get your clothes cleaner than liquid, but also rinse better.
This detergent is both powerful and gentle. It contains only 5 ingredients, and none of the harmful chemicals found in ordinary laundry soaps.
Certified vegan-friendly, it also contains organic peppermint essential oil to give the soap itself a pleasant scent, yet this rinses out, so the clothes don’t have an overpowering scent after washing.
It can be used in either high-efficiency or traditional machines and is effective in both hot or cold water. Even better, it will still get your clothes clean (and rinse out completely) in hard water — and it only takes 1 tablespoon of detergent per load.
- Can be used in hard or soft water.
- Can be used in hot or cold water.
- It contains no harsh chemicals.
- Has an “A” rating from the EWG.
- The peppermint oil could be an irritant.
- The packaging has the potential to spill.
3. Dreft Stage 1 Hypoallergenic Laundry Detergent
If your baby has allergies or sensitivities, choose a detergent with minimal potential irritants. Even if your baby doesn’t seem to have any issues, a hypoallergenic detergent is still a great all-purpose option to minimize their exposure to harmful chemicals.
Dreft is a brand that has 80 years of history behind it, along with the recommendations of thousands of pediatricians. It was developed particularly with newborn babies in mind, knowing that their skin needs were different (and more sensitive) than those of adults.
This detergent is hypoallergenic and free of dyes. It has a light scent and has been clinically tested for effectiveness. It’s nice that it’s safe to use on cloth diapers, as long as they’re cotton or a poly/cotton blend.
- Recommended by pediatricians.
- Developed specifically with babies in mind.
- The price-per-load is high.
- It contains potentially irritating surfactants.
- It has a scent.
4. ECOS Laundry Detergent
You want something all-natural, with no synthetic mystery ingredients. Choose a plant-based product that's biodegradable to not only minimize your child’s exposure to toxic chemicals, but also reduce your impact on the environment.
Not only can you feel good about having this detergent wash your child’s clothes, but you can feel good about the production process, too. It’s manufactured with 100 percent green energy and the bottle it comes in can be recycled when you’re done.
The detergent itself is plant-based and works in either high efficiency or traditional washing machines. Plus it’s made with cruelty-free, sustainable ingredients that are biodegradable once you rinse it down the drain.
And since it’s got a built-in fabric softener, you don’t have to have an extra product on hand to keep your baby’s clothes as soft as possible.
- Plant-based and better for the environment.
- Manufactured using green energy.
- It uses renewable resources.
- It contains softeners, so isn’t suitable for cloth diapers.
- It contains a fragrance, which some parents don’t like.
- The bottle is plastic.
5. Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day
Liquid laundry detergent is great because it can be ultra-concentrated, meaning it will take up less space in your pantry. It also works well on greasy stains — which will come in handy on those spit-up stains that are so common in the early months.
The ingredients in this plant-based detergent are 97 percent natural, and while it comes in a plastic bottle, the container itself is made from 25 percent recycled materials. It has a mild scent which comes from essential oils rather than synthetic fragrances so it won’t cause as much irritation.
Mrs. Meyer’s was tested by dermatologists and determined to be gentle on the skin. And since it only takes 1 fluid ounce to get your laundry clean, one bottle will stretch for 64 loads — but you get TWO bottles so you won’t have to re-order for quite some time.
- 97 percent natural ingredients.
- Tested by dermatologists.
- It’s concentrated, so you don’t need a lot.
- Its price per load is on the higher side.
- It has a scent.
6. Dreft Purtouch Baby Liquid Laundry Detergent
Your baby already has enough discomfort from their eczema, you don’t want to add to their pain by introducing an irritating soap residue. Choose a hypoallergenic detergent with as few potential allergens as possible.
Dreft has been trusted by new moms for years, but they upped their game with a plant-based product for babies who are particularly sensitive — and for moms who want peace of mind. This is hypoallergenic and contains no dyes which could act aggravate baby’s skin.
It claims to remove 99 percent of food stains so you won’t have to worry too much when your little one insists on self-feeding. It will work in either “HE” or regular machines, but you’ll need to pay attention to how much you add to the load to make sure it washes properly.
- Removes 99 percent of stains.
- Contains no questionable dyes.
- It’s the brand most recommended by pediatricians.
- Hypoallergenic and safe for sensitive skins.
- Only 65 percent plant-based.
- It’s not very concentrated, making more plastic packaging waste.
- The price-per-load is high.
7. Rockin’ Green Classic Rock Detergent
If you’re cloth diapering, choosing the right laundry detergent is critical. If you don’t, your diapers can start smelling sour and stop absorbing wetness, rendering them useless. Make sure you protect your investment by choosing a product that will effectively break down the natural enzymes in your baby’s urine and waste, and also rinse completely out of the diaper. Also make sure there are no softeners in the detergent — if there are, they'll clog the fibers and make them repel moisture instead of absorb it.
I know how important it is to choose the best detergent for cloth diapers (lest they get ruined), and after hours of research, this is the brand I chose. It worked as promised — rinsing out completely, not clogging the fibers, and getting the laundry completely clean.
It can also be used in either hot or cold water, depending on the wash instructions of the fabrics you’re laundering. It’s biodegradable and contains no fillers, dyes, or brighteners which can all cause skin irritation on your little one’s bum. Plus it’s plant-based and cruelty-free.
- Safe and effective for cloth diapers.
- It rinses out completely.
- Contains no brighteners.
- It will not work as well in hard water.
- It can be easy to spill as it comes in a bag.
8. Grab Green Natural 3-in-1
Powdered detergent is easy to clean up if you spill it (just grab the vacuum), and is your cheapest laundering option. It also works well on ground-in dirt or bodily fluids which, considering babies’ reputation for diaper leaks, is a pretty awesome bonus.
This hypoallergenic powder detergent is safe for septic systems and can be used in any washing machine. It’s also effective at cleaning your baby’s clothes in either hot or cold water.
It’s non-toxic and contains no phosphates, chlorine, brighteners, or dyes that can act as irritants. A nice perk is that it’s cruelty-free, biodegradable and environmentally friendly, being derived completely from plant- and mineral-based ingredients.
- Safe for septic systems.
- It has a strong fragrance in the packaging.
- The packaging can be difficult to store.
9. Eco Nuts Organic Laundry Detergent
Parenting is no easy task, and it’s hard to know what’s harmful and what’s not. When in doubt, choosing an organic option is typically your best bet. Not only will it be all natural, but the plant-based ingredients will have been grown without harmful pesticides that could have potential effects on your baby’s sensitive skin.
Mama, it doesn’t get more natural than this. “Soap nuts” are actually dried berries which, when activated in hot water, release a compound that acts as a laundry detergent.
Since they’re not nuts, they won’t trigger a nut allergy, and because they’re simply a fruit plucked off a tree in the Himalayas, they contain ZERO chemicals or additives.
These soap nuts are organically grown and certified, and each can be used up to ten times. This makes them incredibly affordable compared to traditional detergent, and they are appropriate for both “he” and regular machines.
- Completely organic.
- There are no added chemicals.
- Safe for “he” and regular machines.
- All natural choice, since it’s only a single ingredient.
- They cannot be used in a cold-water wash.
- There is no disinfectant or bleach.
10. Purex Liquid for Baby
There’s nothing like the smell of a clean, soft, sweetly scented blanket wrapped around a baby. If you want a scented detergent, choose one that's hypoallergenic to reduce the chances of the additive irritating your baby’s skin.
This Purex detergent has been tested by dermatologists to make sure it is safe for your baby’s sensitive skin. It’s hypoallergenic and contains no added dyes that may cause rashes or other breakouts.
It can be used in either your regular or high-efficiency machine, and the price-per-load makes it exceptional value for the family that wants a safe detergent for their little one, yet also needs to watch the budget.
- Ultra cheap.
- Reviewers agreed it had a pleasant scent.
- It can be used in any washing machine.
- Hypoallergenic and gentle.
- It contains surfactants, which are potential irritants.
- Using a measuring cap can be messy.
- It isn’t a natural product.
Types of Irritants in Laundry Detergent
Many studies have been conducted on laundry detergents and their potential toxicity to users. Unfortunately, unless you have an advanced degree in chemistry, it’s nearly impossible to figure out what may or may not cause an issue.
This is because:
- Many ingredients aren’t listed on the packaging due to being trade secrets.
- Some hazards are environmental and build up over time.
- Some of the chemicals released are the result of interactions between individual ingredients.
- The chemicals go by many different names, so a potential “harmful ingredient list” would be several pages long.
Furthermore, it’s easy to find conflicting information. If you look up recipes for homemade laundry detergent (arguably the most “natural” way to ensure there are no mysterious ingredients in your soap), they almost all include borax. However, the Environmental Working Group (a well-respected authority on evaluating the toxicity of various products) cautions against using it (4).
It can get downright overwhelming to try to make a safe and healthy decision for your family when good information is so difficult to come by.
However, here are some things that you can do to minimize your exposure to potential toxins and irritants if they’re of concern to you.
- Purchase products free from dyes and fragrances.
- Avoid products that say they include “brighteners.”
- Choose plant-based products.
- Choose detergents that are biodegradable.
The Bottom Line
Our top pick for the best baby laundry detergent (heck, for your whole family’s laundry detergent) is Puracy Nautral Liquid.
It’s plant- and mineral-based, biodegradable, hypoallergenic, and can be used in any laundry machine. It has no fragrance, dyes, or brighteners, and the ultra-concentrated detergent minimizes plastic packaging waste.
Best of all, the pump makes measuring tools unnecessary; just pump the appropriate number of times, and you’re ready to wash.
You don’t need laundry to be any more stressful than it already is when you have a baby; you need it to be both effective and safe for your little one to avoid creating more work for yourself. Now if only they’d create a detergent that folded and put away the clothes, life would be a whole lot easier.
Moms out there, which brand do you swear by? Tell us in the comments!