When your little one is born, they aren't used to the harsh irritants that are commonly encountered in the adult world - their skin is sensitive and can easily negatively react to everyday household items such as your current laundry detergent. That's why it's important to use the best baby laundry detergent for your infant's sensitive skin and delicate immune system. There are lots of detergents on the market that are natural and safe, gentle and clean, and all the while still maintain their stain fighting capabilities. A commonly encountered question is "Does my baby need his/her own laundry detergent?" If you said no - you're right. Your baby doesn't need their own detergent, but you should probably change the detergent that your entire family uses.
Why You Need New "Family" Detergent and Not New "Baby" Detergent
You'll find that it's commonly recommended to use a chemical-free, non-toxic, fragrance-free, gentle detergent on your baby's clothes. This is especially true if a parent has a history of sensitive skin and/or common conditions such as eczema. But you don't need to wash "baby" clothes and "adult" clothes separately and here's why: your baby will eventually come into contact with almost all the fabrics in your home, including your sheets and blankets, but especially your clothes. Think about all the cuddling, the swaddling, and how often you will hold your little one against your clothes. This means that he/she will still be exposed to those toxic chemicals, even if you change their detergent. Instead, you should switch the entire family over to a skin friendly detergent that is safe but still effective on stains.
Why You Should Change Detergents
- Residue. Let's face it: nobody inspects their freshly washed clothes with a microscope to investigate residue. That being said, regular mainstream detergents leave residue on clothes, even if you can't see it. This residue can cause a variety of issues including endocrine disruption, eye and skin irritation, and allergic breakouts.
- Harmful Chemicals. These harmful chemicals can be left on clothes in the residue and can easily be absorbed into your baby's skin. Some of the ingredients aren't even listed on the bottle due to trade secret, and a majority of the ingredients are sure to surprise you. There are many websites committed to this information such as EWG's guide for Healthy Household Products.
How to Tell if Your Infant Reacts to Detergent
It is very common for infants to suffer from skin allergies, eczema, or just have sensitive skin in general. Their skin is thinner than an adult's and has not yet been exposed to common irritants that we may be accustomed to. A cool mist humidifier can help their skin from drying out, and a hypoallergenic detergent is ideal for keeping irritation under control. How do you tell if your infant is having a reaction to your laundry detergent?
- Skin irritation. This type of reaction occurs immediately after being exposed and usually dissipates after the material is removed. It usually appears as a red, itchy rash but comes and goes with exposure to the irritant.
- Allergic Contact Dermatitis. This type of reaction means that the body is having an immune response to an allergen. It can take up to a week for symptoms to appear as exposure to the irritant builds up over time against your little one's immune system. This also appears as a red, itchy rash but it's appearance is not immediate and fades slowly.
Check under your baby's diaper, where clothing doesn't touch his/her skin. If there is also rash there, it is not being caused by detergent. Also, detergent triggered rashes are usually worse on the arms and legs where clothing rubs more on the skin and is tighter.
Quick Picks: Best Baby Laundry Detergent
What to Look For
Don't just look for "baby safe" detergents. You'll find that many of these are just mainstream products that have been relabeled and remarketed. Look for detergents with these qualities:
- Free + Clear. This labeling usually means that the detergent is free of artificial dyes (a.k.a. "clear") and is also fragrance free (especially artificial scents). Both of these characteristics are not necessary for the cleaning of clothes and are extra qualities for product enhancement. These qualities are also usually associated with skin irritation so skip out on scented and colored detergents.
- No brighteners. As with fragrance and dye color, brighteners are aesthetic and aren't an essential part of the cleaning aspect of detergent. Brighteners are usually chemicals that are left behind in the fabric (residue) and absorb UV light from the sun to make the colors appear visually brighter. Minimize chemical exposure and skip this option.
- Liquid or Powder. In 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a statement concerning safety issues associated with detergents packs (aka pods). These little packs pose a serious safety hazard for young children because of their size and color. Often mistaken as candy, the packs can be ingested and can cause poisoning and/or choking. Opt for powder or liquid detergent instead. If you insist on using pods, thoroughly educate yourself on how to keep this product from becoming hazardous.
- Plant Based. Natural products reduces the risk of synthetic product usage and therefore reduces the risk of skin irritation. While this is no guarantee of safety, the risk does decrease.
- Effective on Stains. A detergent can be gentle on your baby's skin all day, but if it doesn't fight stains, it's useless. You'll encounter more stains than you could dream of during your child's life, and your detergent should always be your right hand man for fighting those stubborn stains.
- Free of toxic chemicals. As much as this is common sense, you would be surprised at how many detergents contain chemicals that are known to be toxic. Many contain phenols (endocrine disruptor similar to BPA), synthetic detergents (often made from petroleum), optical brighteners (benzene), chemical fragrance (phthalates), and bleach. All of these (and more) are toxic not just to your baby, but to you as well.
Overall, look for natural, free and clear detergents that are going to be gentle on your baby's sensitive skin.
Where to Buy
While some of these products can be found in some major retailers such as Target and WalMart, the best place to find them is online, specifically Amazon. Instead of searching for a limited product choice in stores, Amazon will have pretty much every option on the market. See below for our choices for best baby laundry detergent.
Baby Laundry Detergent Reviews
"Charlie's is amazing for actually getting laundry clean."
While Charlie's Soap isn't specifically formulated for babies, it's highly recommended because it's hypoallergenic, non-toxic, and safer for the environment. It's extremely affordable and deep cleans your clothes for only pennies per load. It even removes residues from your previous detergent, works on all laundry (even high-tech fabrics and delicates), and rinses completely clean with no scent or residue. Zero brighteners, zero fragrances, zero dyes, zero fillers. With over 3,300 five star reviews on Amazon, this product is easily one of our top picks!
"I love this stuff. Knowing my kids are wearing clothes washed in a healthier cleaner is priceless. It does the job well."
Biokleen is proudly made in the USA and while it isn't specifically formulated for babies, it boasts some great characteristics that make it safe for your little one. It's fragrance-free for sensitivities and allergies, meaning there's no artificial fragrance and it doesn't leave a harsh scent. It leaves no residues and is free from artificial colors or preservatives, all the while still fighting those tough stains and odors with plant-based surfactants and extracts of grapefruit seed. Biokleen contains no phosphate, chlorine, ammonia, petroleum solvents, brighteners, SLES, or EDTA. Plus, Biokleen is made in a Natural Products Only Facility, meaning you don't have to worry about the product coming into contact with regulated/hazardous materials.
"I love this laundry detergent! It gets ours, and our baby's, clothes clean and without any funky odors"
Eco-Me Laundry detergent seems to have it all! It is ideal for people and children with sensitive skin who don't want to sacrifice fresh smelling clothes since it is synthetic fragrance free. The all natural plant essential oils with antibacterial properties are gentle on skin but tough on dirt. Eco-Me is chemical free, meaning no phosphates, chlorine, formaldehyde, sulfates, dyes or parabens. Proudly made in the USA, this high efficiency laundry soap is made without animal testing. It comes in different all natural scents: fragrance free, lavender blossom, vanilla bean, and citrus berry.
"I've been searching for a gentle and natural detergent to use on my family's laundry and I think I finally found it!"
Mama Bear is actually an Amazon brand and was created with sensitive skin in mind. Unlike the other brands above, this detergent is USDA certified 95% bio-based formula and is lightly scented with essential oils and botanical extracts. The 4x concentrated formula is tough on baby food stains but is soft on sensitive skin and fabrics. Free of phthalates, dyes and artificial scents, this formula is specially formulated for baby laundry and is never tested on animals.
"All things Method are fantastic. Even with stain removal"
Method delivers their ultra-concentrated high efficiency laundry detergent in a tiny bottle that can do big things. It's a plant based formula that seeks out dirt and stains with just 1/4th the dose of the leading brand. It's handy pump means no pouring and easy one-handed use for those times when you arms are full. This detergent comes in free & clear (no dyes or perfumes), but also has fresh air and lavender + cedar options for those who want a scented detergent. Plus, the little bottle means easier handling and no more aching biceps.
While lots of moms agree that you should change your detergent when you have a little one in the house, few will agree on which brand you should use. There are several great options on the market for detergents that are safe and effective, as well as free of chemicals, synthetic fragrances, and nasty additives. You'll notice that we left out some major brands such as Deft, Babyganics, Tide Free + Gentle, and Seventh Generation. This is simply because we tried to keep the ingredients as simple and as natural as possible. Plus, great detergent for your household doesn't necessarily have to be a detergent that was made for infants. Just look for those key characteristics when you're shopping, try out a few brands, and I'm confident you'll find the perfect one for you and your family.