12 Worst Products For Doing Laundry

Most conventional laundry detergents contain toxic chemicals that are known to be unsafe. These products may smell clean, but they're far from it. Here are the top 12 worst offenders.

Image of front loading washer with purple and pink lighting, giving a cool yet eerie look to show that toxic chemicals in laundry detergent. Dry clothing is inside of the clear glass front washer door.

When you wash your clothes with conventional laundry detergents, you’re getting a lot more than just soap. Laundry detergents that claim to brighten clothes actually include optical brighteners, which are chemical residues that stick to clothes and make colors appear brighter. Often, there’s also synthetic dyes and fragrances, preservatives and other harmful chemicals in your detergent. 

Your laundry room should be a haven, a place with happy colors, light, fresh scents, and the occasional framed ironic motivational quote. It should not play host to a collection of toxins. It makes you wonder where else in your home harmful chemicals may be lurking? 

Find out where and what you should be using instead with our science-backed guides. Learn how to make your home smell amazing with the best, non-toxic candles and how to burn incense safely. Then ensure you’re keeping chemicals out of your kitchen with safe, non-toxic cookware and clean, non-toxic bakeware. 

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) recently released 12 low-scoring laundry detergents from its database of cleaners. Find out what makes these laundry cleaners the worst of the worst.

1. Fab Ultra 2X Liquid Laundry Detergent, Spring Magic

The ingredients in this laundry detergent aren’t so fab. For one, this detergent contains formaldehyde. (The same stuff used to preserve dead bodies.) Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen and was given an F rating individually by the EWG. Besides that, this detergent also includes two ingredients, alcohol ethoxylates (C14-15) and sodium dodecylbenzenesulfonate, that both pose environmental concerns and may be toxic to aquatic life. Overall, this product earned an F from the EWG.

2. Tide Plus a Touch of Downy Liquid Detergent, Lavender

This detergent has a lot goin’ on—a lot of ingredients anyway. The EWG lists 29 ingredients, many of which pose concerns health-wise and for the environment. And, that high number is with the company providing “poor” ingredient disclosure. That many ingredients, both known and unknown, is a little disconcerting. Why so much? Oh, and guess what the label lists as the ingredients in this product? “Biodegradable surfactants (anionic and nonionic) and enzymes.” The company seems to be shortening the list a tad, huh? Overall, this product earned an F from the EWG.

3. Ajax 2X Ultra Liquid Laundry Detergent, Original

Formaldehyde, preservatives, synthetic colors, methanol and synthetic fragrances are just a few of the nasty ingredients found in this laundry detergent. From causing cancer and damage to DNA to toxicity to aquatic life, the affects of these ingredients probably aren’t what you think about when pouring this detergent into the wash cycle. Overall, this detergent earned an F from the EWG.

Image of a close up of purple liquid with bubbles on surface showing artificial and synthetic dyes in the worst harmful chemical-laden laundry detergents.

4. Ivory Ultra Snow Liquid Laundry Detergent

As a product that’s promoted to new moms for use on babies’ clothes, it’s especially concerning that the EWG gave this detergent an F-rating. The EWG found that this detergent includes such harmful ingredients as sodium borate, which has developmental, reproductive and endocrine effects; ethanolamine, which has respiratory effects and several ingredients that are toxic to the environment. Even worse? The company’s website states that this detergent doesn’t contain any harsh chemicals. With the evidence from the EWG telling otherwise, you could say that’s a blatant lie.

5. Cheer brightCLEAN HE Liquid Laundry Detergent, Free & Gentle

Despite the cheery packaging, this laundry detergent contains some decidedly uncheerful ingredients. From ingredients that are toxic to developmental and reproductive systems to ones that cause negative respiratory effects and others that pose cancer concerns, this product is likely harmful to your health. Overall, this detergent earned an F from the EWG.

6. All Small & Mighty Laundry Detergent HE, Fresh Rain

Curious about how this detergent manages to smell like “fresh rain”? That scent certainly isn’t from anything natural. It actually comes from undisclosed “fragrances”. The ingredients that make up the scent aren’t known because the company didn’t disclose that information to the EWG. Like fragrance, many of the other ingredients listed for this product are vague terms that make it difficult to know what exactly is in the product. Words like stabilizer, buffer, colors, fabric brighteners, nonionic surfactants and anionic surfactants mean essentially nothing. Overall, this product earned an F from the EWG.

7. Dynamo Liquid Laundry Detergent

Want to know what’s in this product? Good luck. The company had “poor” ingredient disclosure, according to the EWG. The five ingredients listed in the EWG’s database include F-rated formaldehyde, C-rated alcohol ethoxylates (C14-15) and sodium dodecylbenzenesulfonate, and A-rated alcohol denatured and sodium carbonate. Overall, this detergent earned an F from the EWG.

8. Gain Liquid Detergent, Island Fresh

You may gain clean clothes by using this laundry detergent, but you’ll be using ingredients that mess with your hormones and harm the environment to do it. Sodium borate anhydrous poses high concerns for developmental, endocrine and reproductive effects. At the least, it can cause skin, eye and respiratory irritation. Other ingredients in the formula can potentially not biodegrade and may be harmful to aquatic life. Overall, this detergent earned an F from the EWG.

9. Tide Liquid Detergent with Febreze Freshness, Meadows & Rain

Mixing an F-rated product with a D-rated product? It’s no surprise then that Tide Liquid Detergent with Febreze Freshness, Meadows & Rain earned an F-rating from the EWG. In fact, all Tide products listed in the EWG’s database earned D- or F-ratings, except one, which earned a C.

image of close up of woman carrying folded sweaters doing laundry with worst laundry detergent with toxic chemicals.

10. Wisk High Efficiency Liquid Laundry Detergent

Of the (not many) disclosed ingredients in this product, all of the ingredients earned an F- or D-rating individually from the EWG. They likely earned these ratings, because all ingredients disclosed were non-specific. The ingredients listed include vague terms like buffer, water softener, stabilizer, colors, fabric brighteners, polymers, nonionic surfactants, anionic surfactants and fragrance. Overall, this detergent earned an F from the EWG.

11. Tide HE plus a Touch of Downy, April Fresh

Sadly, “America’s favorite detergent” (this is according to Tide’s website), is a repeat offender on this list. Thanks to harmful ingredients Tide HE plus a Touch of Downy fared no better than the other Tide products we’ve listed, scoring an overall score of F from the EWG. One of the ingredients in question, ethanolamine, is listed by the EWG as a moderate general systemic concern as well as moderate organ effects. 

12. Arm & Hammer Plus OxiClean Liquid Laundry Detergent, Fresh

Last on our list is another popular detergent that you’re likely to see in most markets. Don’t let Arm & Hammer’s association with harmless baking soda fool you, this product is formulated with a dozen harmful ingredients. At the top of that list is endocrine disrupting sodium borate, which is also listed as a high concern for reproductive harm. Overall, this detergent scored an F from EWG. 

This is just a sampling of products in the Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning database. Visit the database for more information.

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