Laundry Detergents

Ethical shopping guide to washing powder & liquid, From Ethical  Consumer

Ethical shopping guide to washing powder & liquid, From Ethical Consumer

This is a product guide from Ethical Consumer, the UK's leading alternative consumer organisation. Since 1989 we've been researching and recording the social and environmental records of companies, and making the results available to you in a simple format.

What’s in your detergent and how you can reduce the environmental impact of your weekly wash.

This product guide to Laundry Detergents includes:

  • Ethical and environmental ratings for 40 washing powders and liquids
  • Best Buy recommendations
  • What's in your laundry detergent
  • Alternative laundry cleaners
  • Liquid or powder?
  • Bottle or box?

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Our ratings are live updated scores from our primary research database. They are based on primary and secondary research across 23 categories - 17 negative categories and 6 positive ones (Company Ethos and Product Sustainability). Find out more about our ethical ratings


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Related Content

Read our Special Report into Cleaning Products


Last updated: February 2017




Washing Detergent


From the big names to the eco alternatives, Joanna Long looks at what’s in your detergent and how you can reduce the environmental impact of your weekly wash.

Making an ethical choice when it comes to laundry detergent and conditioner is no straightforward matter. Detergent manufacturers, campaigners and the government have been drilling consumers for years on the environmental advantages of setting their washing machines at 30°C to use less energy.

But the impacts of this everyday household product go much further. 


Image: laundry detergents

Score table highlights

Over half of the companies in the laundry market have positive Company Ethos and/or Product Sustainability marks, meaning that consumers have lots of opportunities to buy from companies offering environmental or social alternatives to the mainstream. Many of these are small, independent companies, so Anti-Social Finance, Oppressive Regimes and political lobbying aren’t big issues in this guide.

Good corporate social responsibility reporting isn’t a given, however: few companies achieved best ratings for environmental reporting and/or supply chain management, and many performed poorly on pollution and toxics due to the substandard (or absent) policies on the use of parabens, phthalates and triclosan, although these are less commonly used in laundry detergent than other cleaning products.

Animal testing policy

In October 2015, the UK Government banned the testing of ‘finished’ household products on animals and introduced a ‘qualified ban’ on testing the ingredients on animals. But it’ll make little difference to animal welfare. This is because no animals have been used for testing ‘finished’ household products in the UK since 2010. It’s usually the ingredients not the ‘finished’ products that are tested on animals. Ecover has been targetted for animal testing in recent years, find out more in our feature 'Should I Buy Ecover?' 

Animal testing policy scores are polarised, with only four (Sodasan, Attitude,Traidcraft, Sonett) getting a middle rating while all the others get either a best or a worst rating. The household giants (McBride, Reckitt Benckiser, Procter & Gamble, Unilever) occupy the bottom rungs.

For more information see our animal testing article in our wider report into Cleaning Products. 



Toxic chemicals ratings

There are thousands of ingredients used in household products and many of them have negative environmental impacts and health effects ranging from skin irritation to carcinogenicity.


Best rating: Greenscents, Ecos, Faith in Nature, Bio-D, Traidcraft, Ecozone, Lilly's Eco Clean and Traidcraft.

Middle rating: Sodasan, Sonett, Skagen Holdings (Ecover, Method), Unilever (Persil, Surf,
Comfort), PZ Cussons (Morning Fresh)

Worst ratiing: Triangle Wholefoods (Ecoleaf), Enpac (Simply), Astonish, Dri-Pak, Delta Pronatura (ACDO, Dr. Beckmann), McBride (Surcare), Jeyes Holdings (Easy), SC Johnson & Son (Shout), Reckitt Benckiser (Dettol, Vanish, Woolite), Henkel AG (Dylon), Procter & Gamble (Ariel, Bold, Daz, Fairy, Lenor)


We discuss the three toxic chemicals, Parabens, Triclosan and Phthalates in more detail in our wider report into Cleaning Products. 



Palm oil ratings

Only five companies achieved our best rating for their palm oil policy (Sodasan, Earth Friendly Products, Triangle Wholefoods, Sonett, Traidcraft). Of these, Earth Friendly Products (ECOS brand) is palm oil free and Traidcraft used fair trade palm oil.

Of the big brands, Unilever managed a middle rating, whereas Reckitt Benckiser and Procter and Gamble received our worst rating, along with many other brands covered in this guide.


Supermarket own brands

Many supermarkets sell their own brands of laundry detergent. Although we have not included these in this guide, the Ethiscores for the major supermarkets are given in the table below. None scored particularly high.

Table: supermarket own brand


McBride (scoring 7.5 on the table for its brand Surcare) generally makes most of the own brand detergents for supermarkets. See our ethical guide to supermarkets for more information. 


Price Comparison

Price per wash based on the recommended dosage or 50ml per wash. 



War of the ecolabels

Two companies in this guide, Greenscents and Sodasan, are certified as organic. Greenscents is certified by the UK’s Soil Association and Sodasan by EcoCert, a French organic label originally applied to food products but more recently certifying the ingredients of household products.[1]

Sonett carries the EcoGarantie label. EcoGarantie is a Belgium-based trademark for ‘sustainable commodities’. According to the Austrian consumer label comparison website,, the EcoGarantie label appears to be weaker than the EcoCert label, which covers a wider range of criteria. 



Phos-phased out

The biggest development for laundry detergent since we last covered it in 2012 is that phosphates are no longer an issue. Phosphates (and phosphonates) are water softeners, but their release into waterways can lead to algal blooms that stifle fish and other aquatic life.[2]

In 2012, the EU limited the amount of phosphates permitted in household laundry detergent to no more than 0.5 grams per standard dose.[3] All detergents are now, therefore, either phosphate-free or only use phosphates in negligible quantities.


Liquid or powder?

A key decision when buying laundry detergent is choosing between liquid and powder. A 2009 Defra study into the environmental impact of laundry detergents recommended using concentrated liquid detergents, avoid using too much, and washing at 30°C.[4] The study found that:

  • Concentrated powders and liquids perform better over a range of environmental indicators largely due to the use of fewer chemicals per wash.
  • Liquids tend to perform better than powders across most indicators (acidification, human toxicity, climate change, ozone depletion and photochemical smog), apart from eutrophication and aquatic toxicity.
  • Tablets and capsules tend to perform worse than loose versions because of packaging and because their production requires more energy. Loose versions also help you to use less detergent than the manufacturers recommend.


Bottle or box?

The downside of liquid detergents is that they are packaged in plastic bottles rather than paper or cardboard. You can reduce packaging waste by buying in bulk. Bio-D, Faith in Nature, Traidcraft and Ecover do 5 litre refills, and Ecoleaf and Sonett liquid detergents are both available in 20 litre canisters.

Ecover is packaging its products in a blend of 75% Plantplastic® and 25% post-consumer recycled plastic (PCR).[5] Plantplastic® is a polyethylene derived from sugarcane that is certified by Bonsucro, a global multi-stakeholder non-profit organisation co-founded by Cargill Inc., a grain multinational with a poor reputation among social justice campaigners. Bonsucro claims it is dedicated to reducing the environmental and social impacts of sugar cane production.[6]



Company Profile


Sonett is a German company making household products, from laundry and dishwasher detergent to disinfectant and hand soap, as well as child-friendly soaps and bubble liquids.

The company’s shares are owned by the non-profit Freie Stiftung Sonett (Sonett Foundation), which “promotes water research, develop[s] alternative testing methods that do not involve experiments on animals, train[s] in connection with research in formative forces, as well as other ecological, cultural and artistic initiatives embodying the spirit of anthroposophy.” [7]

At the company’s plant near Lake Constance in southern Germany, much of the labelling is carried out by residents of the nearby Camphill community, providing socio-therapeutic employment and income for adults with learning disabilities.


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7, viewed 19 January 2017




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