Above: I am so thankful for clean water and clean clothes. Sometimes, I take the most simple necessities for granted.
All opinions and recommendations are my own. Aside from me personally requesting and receiving a few samples from a handful of companies, this post is not monetized or sponsored. I will not receive any compensation for my writing from any company I mention below. If you choose to purchase from any of these companies, I will not receive any portion of the profits or any free merchandise.
I no longer make my own powdered laundry soap for two reasons:
1.) I had to buy 3 different ingredients from 3 different stores to make laundry soap, leaving me with more waste than if I simply purchased the finished product. (And more driving, too)
2.) I never felt like my clothes were truly clean. (Hard water problems.)
I do not have access to ‘bulk’ (package-free) laundry detergent where I live in Springfield, Virginia. So I started browsing online and asking for brand recommendations in various zero waste communities. But most eco-friendly detergents still come in plastic or non-recyclable packaging and contain a lot of harmful ingredients. Over time, I ended up with an extensive check-list of things that I wanted my laundry products to have. Unfortunately, this list made my search more and more difficult. (Some people make a list of qualities they want in a romantic partner…while I make a list of what I want in a laundry soap.) I knew I might not find a product that checked off every box but I wanted to get as close as possible.
Sooo, good thing I enjoy a challenge! In the summer, I began tracking down various companies that sold products I was looking for: natural laundry soap, stain sticks, dryer balls. Some companies got back to me, some didn’t. For the businesses that responded and were interested in my project, I interviewed the owners with an extensive series of questions based on the above list, I personally reviewed the packaging and shipping materials when products arrived at my home, and I tested all the products on my own clothes in my old, standard efficiency washer.
(***Note: If you don’t see a brand that you use and you think it should been included in this post–don’t fret! That doesn’t mean it didn’t make the cut. Some companies didn’t get back in touch with me when I reached out. One company was so popular that their product was sold out every time I tried to purchase some for sampling. And I am certain there are brands that I never discovered during my research that would that fit my list.)
First, let’s talk about saving money. The graph below compares the cost of some of the most popular detergent brands (All, Gain, Persil, Tide) to the cost of several natural laundry alternatives (Meliora, Tangie, Seventh Generation, Honest Company) The brands highlighted in yellow–Meliora and Tangie–are my companies of choice. Looking at price, Tangie comes in 1st as the cheapest laundry soap at $0.07 per load and Meliora is 3rd at $0.12 per load. And both brands are a helluvalot safer than any other product on this list.
Meliora and Tangie are at the top of my list because it is evident that both of these companies truly care about their customers’ health and safety, each is mindful of the impact it is having on the environment when it comes to ingredients, production, and packaging, they both take the welfare of animals into account in choosing ingredients, and the owners dedicate their lives to running honest, transparent businesses.
Meliora ranks as my #1 powdered laundry soap for a lot of reasons but the simplest two: the product works really well, even in D.C.’s hard water, and purchasing it generates NO landfill waste. They tell me Meliora is Latin for “better” but I know it also means “badass”. (My jokes are bad, I know. Can I have this one?!) Owned and operated by the dynamic duo Kate and Mike, Meliora is a small business based in Chicago, IL that specializes in cleaning products. Meliora’s powdered detergent container is made of eco-friendly, sustainable materials (paper + steel) and the container is designed to be refilled rather than tossed in the trash.
It brings me so much joy to say that Meliora’s laundry powder and laundry stain stick are both: dye-free, fragrance-free, optic brightener-free, preservative-free, vegan, cruelty-free, palm oil-free, plastic-free, and zero waste lifestyle approved. Now THAT is a combination that is nearly impossible to come by. My clothes are clean, looking bright, and staying fresh. I’m feelin’ ethical.
Meliora’s website offers ample information about their products, the ingredients, and the production process. It discloses every single ingredient in each of their products, provides safety ratings for each ingredient (their detergent received an A rating courtesy of the Environmental Working Group), and delves into the science of how their detergent works in both soft and hard water. As a company, they are so transparent about their ingredients that they have the recipe for their laundry detergent available on their website. In the interest of honesty, I have tried this recipe at home but I genuinely prefer purchasing the detergent from Meliora because I think it works more effectively than my homemade version.
I have struggled to find a natural soap stick that really, truly works on tough or set-in stains. The majority of stain treatments on the market contain a slew of hazardous chemicals to get the job done, are harmful to people and the environment, and are packaged in all kinds of non-recyclable plastic.
Meliora’s stain stick is as safe as they come and it works very well at removing oils, food, mystery stains, and more. I will say that the trick with natural stain sticks is catching the stains early. That’s my biggest problem with laundry: nearly every natural stain product requires you to treat the stain as soon as possible…and…welllll…I often wait too long in treating a stain to get it out completely. I also happen to be a huge klutz so that doesn’t do me any favors. (And people wonder why I wear so much black.) We are going to get both gory and personal here when I say that the Meliora stain stick didn’t fully stand up against period blood stains or set-in sweat stains. There was always some stain left over, even if I treated the fabric a couple times. All in all, this stain stick is very effective and a great addition to the laundry room.
Zero Waste Highlights: While Meliora is not a zero waste facility (yet!), they are well on their way to reducing their waste in all three areas: landfill, recycling, and composting. Their in-house soap making process yields no scrap—everything gets uses in the making of their soap flakes, soap sticks, cleaner, or laundry powder. And the company’s goal for 2017 was to reduce their manufacturing waste output by 10%. When I last chatted with Mike and Kate in the fall, they were on track to reduce their waste by 46% in 2017! Talk about overachievers…but the kind of overachievers that people actually really like.
Tangie is my #1 favorite liquid detergent because the concept behind concentrated liquid laundry soap that is plastic-free and waste-free is incredibly innovative. This laundry soap arrives as a small, concentrated bar that (magically) transforms into liquid detergent overnight when you drop it into a gallon of water in your own container. Talk about a unicorn! I tend to prefer liquid detergents because I think they work better in my ancient washing machine. So I couldn’t wait to try Tangie’s products. (And that last sentence is making me seriously question my social life and my hobbies…)
Tangie is a small but mighty, woman-owned business located north of Orlando in sunny Florida. Tangie makes detergents, bathroom cleaners, stain sticks, and soap bars for body + hair. Charismatic and dedicated owner, Angie, is the face of Tangie. Over the last year, Angie has worked incredibly hard to redesign all of her products’ packaging to be more eco-friendly and less wasteful. She’s ditched all of her original plastic packaging for compostable boxes, has switched to zero waste shipping materials, and is continually striving to make her small business more environmentally friendly—from production all the way to delivery. She is in the process of redesigning her website to be able to showcase all of the changes she has made to her brand. I think Angie is revolutionizing liquid detergent. The fact that I can get over 250 loads of liquid laundry out of a single bar of soap is truly incredible. Tangie provides the ingredients of each product clearly on its website and gives an in depth look at how each ingredient was chosen and why all hazardous chemicals are left out.
Tangie’s liquid laundry soap derives its dirt blasting powers from soapnuts. If you’ve already tried soapnuts and didn’t like them, don’t write Tangie off just yet! And if you’ve been interested in trying soapnuts but haven’t had the chance or are nervous, I can honestly say that Tangie’s laundry soap is far more effective than washing with soapnuts alone. This laundry soap does serious work when it comes to cleaning heavily soiled clothes, especially if you suffer the woes of hard water. Angie sources her wild soapnuts from a sustainable supplier called NaturOli. And as if it could get any better, Tangie’s liquid laundry soap and stain stick meet the same high standards as Meliora’s laundry products. They are dye-free, fragrance-free, optic brightener-free, preservative-free, vegan, cruelty-free, palm oil-free, plastic-free, and ideal for a zero wasters laundry room.
Tangie’s stain remover bar packs a punch against oils, food stains, every day grime, and dirt. I already mentioned how difficult it has been to find a stain stick that truly works on tough stains, especially for someone like me who always seems to wait too long to treat a stain. But Tangie’s stain stick really cuts through most stains with ease, including sweat. Similar to Meliora, the Tangie stain stick didn’t fully stand up against dry period blood stains. The stick definitely reduces blood stains significantly but there was always residue left over, even if I treated the fabric a couple times. That being said, Tangie’s stain stick stands out and will continue to be a go-to product for me.
Zero Waste Highlights: Tangie’s new packaging and shipping materials—aimed specifically at reducing the amount of consumer waste that goes to the landfill—are truly exceptional. Every component of packaging for its laundry soap can either be recycled or composted except for one small sticker, which provides laundering directions. And Angie said she has her eye on printing compostable stickers in the future, which would mean no landfill waste at all. In the soap-making process, the two byproducts that Tangie produces are soapnut shells and the water used to soak the soapnuts and extract the sopanins (aka soap). Angie is now using the shells to make a powdered bathroom cleaner (which is in development!) and she uses the leftover water to make her laundry paste and stain remover bar.
For those stubborn stains that just won’t budge: mix 1 -2 TBPS of 3% hydrogen peroxide with a dash of castile or dish soap. Apply the mixture directly to the stain. Sprinkle baking soda on top of the stain and use a laundry brush or old toothbrush to rub mixture into stain. Allow to sit for a few minutes and wash as usual. If possible, air dry product and avoid the dryer. For whites, direct sunlight can help lighten the stain even further. Using the dryer tends to set stains, so if the first treatment doesn’t work, you don’t want to ‘bake’ what is left of the stain into the fabric before you have a chance to treat it again. This stain treatment is safe for colors, too.
A simple, affordable replacement for fabric softener is vinegar. Add ¼ – ½ cup of vinegar to the ‘softener’ compartment of your washing machine. If you don’t have a compartment specifically for softener, simply add the vinegar directly to the washer during the rinse cycle. Worried about smelling like a pickle all the time? Don’t be, the smell of vinegar will completely dissipate once your clothes fully dry. White vinegar is more commonly used for laundry, but apple cider vinegar can also be used.
Drying your clothes indoors on a drying rack or outdoors on a clothes line is a great way to save money, reduce your environmental impact, and preserve the life of your clothes. But for the times when using a dryer is essential, here are some tips for keeping waste down.
Ditching dryer sheets for natural dryer balls is an amazing way to reduce plastic waste, save money, and eliminate harmful chemicals from your laundry routine. Did you know that the chemicals in dryer sheets coat your clothes over time, resulting in buildup and chemical absorption into skin? No thank you!
I’m going to give it to you straight: wool or bamboo dryer balls do not cut static in the same way that a disposable dryer sheet does. Many individuals try out dryer balls and are disheartened because they think they don’t really work. But there’s a solution! Ultimately, static is caused by drying clothes too long at a high heat. Dryer balls are designed to help reduce wrinkles, static, and most importantly, drying time. If you dry your laundry while using dryer balls and end up with static, it is probably because you are over-drying your clothes and the dryer balls can’t continue to eliminate the static that the dryer keeps producing. The trick is to identify how long it really takes for your clothes to dry with dryer balls—the time will be shorter now that you have added dryer balls to your machine. Once you identify the sweet spot for drying time, the static will disappear. Using dryer balls, it takes around 35 minutes for a medium-sized load to dry. Shorter drying time also means a lower utility bill, so sign me up.
Still having static problems? Attach a metal safety pin to each of your dryer balls. The metal can give your dryer balls an extra boost.
Plastic-free, vegan dryer balls are hard to come by. Search no more, I’ve tracked them down and tested them for you! The lovely Deneen of Dragonfly Dryer Balls hand-makes bamboo dryer balls and hemp dryer balls in Molalla, Oregon. Dragonfly is a lovely little company on Etsy that is dedicated to making dryer balls that that are people friendly, animal friendly, and Earth friendly. Deneen purchases her bamboo and hemp fibers in bulk from a local supplier—Ashland Bay—and picks the product up herself. She has chosen bamboo and hemp fibers because they are both highly sustainable and renewable, they allow her to make a vegan product, and they are hypoallergenic. So for those of you plagued with allergies, it’s your lucky day.
I use Dragonfly’s bamboo dryer balls and they work in the same way as wool dryer balls: they shorten dryer time, reduce wrinkles, and decrease static. They are very lightweight, too, so no loud knocking sound in the dryer. I recommend drying the balls alone or with rags a couple times before using them with your clothes. The bamboo fiber is much finer and softer than wool, so the balls will fluff up and get frizzy when first used (nothing to worry about, they work just fine!) The bamboo may shed a little bit in the first couple uses, but this is temporary. Even though my laundry washing products are safe to use on all clothing types, I still separate my clothes by color and whites. (Old habits die hard.) I like to use the white bamboo balls for drying whites and the green bamboo balls for drying colors. This isn’t essential; it just works out that way for me. I have 4 bamboo dryer balls (2 white, 2 green), and two balls per medium load is perfect.
Zero Waste Highlights: Dragonfly’s dryer ball production process produces no waste, aside from the occasional broken metal roving needle. When that does happen, Deneen collects any broken needles in a tin coffee can and drops the waste off at a scrap metal site for recycling. As for the dryer balls, Deneen uses every piece of bamboo and hemp fiber she purchases to make her dryer balls, cutting the materials in such a way that there are no scraps or waste going to the landfill. No plastic, no waste, no worries.
When I first gave up dryer sheets in 2016, I bought a pack of 6 dryer balls from Smart Sheep via Amazon. These dryer balls are made of 100% New Zealand wool and they work in the exact same way as bamboo dryer balls: they reduce drying time, wrinkles, and static. Wool balls will also get fuzzy and develop pills over time, but it doesn’t inhibit their effectiveness. These balls are a little smaller and denser than their bamboo counterparts. I used 3 wool balls per load of laundry. I bought these dryer balls long before I set out to write this blog post, so I can’t speak to the mission and model of the company and whether it checks off the boxes on my list. Wool is not vegan but it can be an effective way to reduce waste and avoid plastic if vegan dryer balls are not available in your area or are outside of your budget. Just be sure to find a brand that has very high ethical standards for the way in which the wool is sheered. Unfortunately, I didn’t take that into account when I bought mine.
Amazon is not known for its eco-friendly shipping practices. But if you want to support a wonderful, zero waste store and ensure that you don’t receive any plastic shipping materials or needless waste, check out Package Free. This NYC based store, founded by zero wasters Lauren Singer and Daniel Silverstein, sells Bog Berry dryer balls in their on-line store.
All of the above detergents are available scented or unscented. If you want control over the scent of your laundry due to skin sensitivities or allergies, simply buy an unscented detergent and add 3-4 drops of an essential oils to each of your dryer balls. My go-to scents are lavender and tea tree oil. Be sure to let the oil dry before throwing the balls in with your laundry, otherwise the oil can get onto your clothes and leave set-in oil stains. Dryer balls will need to be re-scented every 3-4 dry cycles.
Wrinkles = ironing or steaming. I have a love-hate relationship with ironing. I love the end result but I hate the time required to do it. I’m a big fan of steaming but don’t own a streamer. But the trick to reducing wrinkles is to remove your laundry from the dryer as quickly as possible and hang or fold items immediately. If you don’t use a dryer, remove your clothes from the washer immediately and hang to dry. Many wrinkles iron themselves out (I couldn’t resist) after hanging for a day or two. Of course, certain fabrics will be wrinkly no matter how quickly you remove them from the washer/dryer. I find that natural fibers require more ironing than synthetic ones, but that is a price I am willing to pay because natural fiber clothing is so much better for the environment and for the person wearing the clothing. When I do end up ironing, I simply use the steam feature on my iron. No starch or fancy de-wrinkling sprays. Just an iron and water.
I know I’ll get this question, so I’ll answer in advance!! I always am honest with my readers when I am giving my personal feedback about a brand or product. And usually, I do have a preferred product. But at the end of the day, I genuinely can’t pick whether I like Tangie or Meliora’s laundry soap better. They both effectively clean my clothes despite my very hard water, the companies are incredibly honest, ethical, and run by lovely human beings, and both companies are on a mission to protect Mother Earth. I plan to take turns buying detergent from Tangie and Meliora so I can support both companies. Between the stain sticks specifically, I prefer Tangie because I have the best luck with removing a stain with the first treatment. But you really can’t go wrong with either brand, so I guess the deciding question is: liquid or powder?!