If you have sensitive skin, you may use special cleansers, lotions, and other gentle skin care items to keep your flare-ups to a minimum. One product that's often overlooked when auditing our homes for irritants, though, is laundry detergent. When you toss your clothes and linens in the wash, you might think all of the irritants are completely eliminated in the rinse cycle. However, sometimes what's in your detergent can upset your skin, and trace amounts can remain on the fabric, leading to itching, hot or red skin, and even blistering later on. Dr. JiaDe (Jeff) Yu, a National Eczema Foundation "ecz-pert" and board-certified dermatologist, explains, "In general, studies have shown that the amount of retained chemicals on clothing is very low, but this may depend on the efficiency of your washer, the amount of detergent you put in, how many clothes went into the wash, and how many rinses occurred."
Common skin irritants you can find in laundry detergents include fragrances, dyes, surfactants, and preservatives. Gentle detergents are formulated to avoid these common skin irritants, but it is also recommended by the National Eczema Association to make use of an extra rinse cycle, just to be sure that all irritants are washed and drained away. Now, when selecting a detergent, you'll need to keep in mind that some formulas are made of plant-based ingredients and very eco-friendly, and others are specially designed with newborns or little ones in mind. Some come in the form of liquid, while others are pods or powder pods. Consider how you like to do laundry, as well as the members of your household. Rest assured that your clothes, bedding, and towels will not be any less clean, fluffy, or fresh after using most gentle formulas! In general, Dr. Yu says, "Most 'free and clear' detergents are safer than ones not labeled as such."
We recently tested 29 different detergents in The Lab, and have compared and combined those results with previous data from our trusted at-home testers. Let's take a look at how all of those suds add up!
All Free Clear Liquid Laundry Detergent
Effective stain removal and cleaning
Easy to find in stores, budget-friendly
No perfumes or dyes
Simple to use
Left one shirt feeling slightly stiff
Not only is All Free Clear formulated with zero perfumes or dyes, but In The Lab, we found it to be among the best stain-fighters out there. We were amazed by its ability to lift spots of chocolate and red wine (which proved tough for many of its competitors), and by how it left clothes with a light and subtle clean scent. Its wallet-friendly price is an added bonus. By our calculations, it's roughly $0.15 per load, well below the median we calculated from our set of 29 detergents ($0.25 per load).
It comes as a concentrated liquid detergent, with easy-to-follow measuring lines on the cap. We did find it a bit odd that the measurements for regular loads were listed in numbers, while large loads were not—but thanks to those aforementioned indicator lines, this was not a big deal. After washing, one garment (a white shirt) did come out slightly stiff, but the other tested items were soft and pliable, and the towel was noticeably fluffy.
In addition to our experience in The Lab, one of our at-home testers had positive things to say about All Free Clear's effectiveness for sensitive skin, too. "My 3-year-old daughter has eczema, and we usually wash her clothes separately from the rest of the family, because her skin can get easily irritated," she explains. But, with this detergent, "we felt totally comfortable tossing her clothes in with ours, and it did not irritate her skin one bit." All in all (pun intended), we were very impressed with All Free Clear's performance in The Lab and with our home tester, and easily recommend it as the Best Overall pick.
Price at time of publish: $18
Type: Liquid | Size: 83 ounces | Number of Loads: 110 | Scent: Unscented
Arm & Hammer Sensitive Skin Free & Clear Liquid Laundry Detergent
No dyes or perfumes
Formulated specifically for sensitive skin
Not a great stain remover on its own
Arm & Hammer Sensitive Skin Free & Clear is an excellent pick for those who are looking to fight odors and keep their skin happy. Like most of the well-known brand's products, the detergent contains baking soda, which some also use to clean surfaces around their homes (or to bake). The hypoallergenic, dermatologist-tested formula doesn't have any perfumes, fragrances, or dyes, and it rinses totally clean. It's also certified by SkinSafe as Top Allergen Free, so you can rest assured that it's made without a number of known irritants, and is among the safest products on their scale.
In The Lab, we could smell a subtle chemical scent from the bottle, but after washing, everything smelled fresh and clean. It performed just okay on the stains, leaving traces behind on more than one piece of clothing. We're willing to forgive this, though, because our process didn't allow for pre-treating or use of an additional stain remover (but this does mean you'll want to be ready to add those steps to your home laundry routine if and when your clothes are especially soiled). But for regular washes and budget-conscious buyers with sensitive skin, we think it's a great choice. It can be found in a variety of container sizes, too, ranging from a standard 50-ounce bottle to 640 ounces, or 5 gallons, if you prefer to buy in bulk.
Price at time of publish: $10
Type: Liquid | Size: 144.5 fluid ounces | Number of Loads: 107 | Scent: Unscented
Seventh Generation Free & Clear Concentrated Laundry Detergent
Compatible with HE machines
Clothes felt soft and smelled clean after use
On the expensive side
Pre-treating would be necessary for stained items
You won't find any dyes, synthetic fragrances, harsh chemicals, or artificial brighteners on the ingredients list of this laundry detergent. Seventh Generation's Free & Clear Laundry Detergent is a USDA Certified Biobased Product, meaning at least 97 percent of its plant-based ingredients are biologically renewable. As a result, the formula is not only gentle on the skin but is also good for the environment. It's also safe for use with a high-efficiency washing machine, so you can really double down on your eco-friendly laundry routine.
In The Lab, Seventh Generation left items smelling clean and feeling soft to the touch. However, we found that it was not as effective on stains as some of its competitors. After washing, we could still see parts of stains left behind, so you would want to take extra care to pre-treat spots accordingly. If you're already savvy with stain removal methods and value an eco-friendly formula that's gentle on skin, then it's still very much worth your consideration.
Price at time of publish: $15
Type: Liquid | Size: 40 ounces | Number of Loads: 53 loads | Scent: Free & Clear
Dropps Sensitive Skin & Baby Detergent
Convenient to use
Box isn't very durable at times
Stain removal abilities are average
Dropps Sensitive Skin & Baby Detergent is a great option for those who prefer the ease and simplicity of pods. You can get a box of 36, 64, or 160 pre-measured pods, which contain a gentle, liquid formula. Dropps doesn't use harsh chemicals, dyes, phosphates, or chlorine in its formula—just natural, eco-friendly, biodegradable ingredients. The list of ingredients includes earth-derived glycerin and other plant-based surfactants, which attract and pull out dirt and stains from fabrics, allowing them to be rinsed away. The EPA Safer Choice program, which helps identify products and ingredients that are safer for humans and the planet, approves the formula.
In The Lab, Dropps left items smelling fresh and clean, but not overwhelmingly so, and it had the towel feeling nice and fluffy. We found its stain-fighting abilities to be average, so as with our some of our other picks, you'd want to pre-treat or use your preferred stain remover. Another notable perk with Dropps is that the packaging is recyclable and compostable. However, it's in your best interest to keep the box of pods in a place where they can't get knocked or wet because it's not as durable as a plastic container of detergent.
Price at time of publish: $15
Type: Pods | Size: 36 pods | Number of Loads: 36 | Scent: Unscented
Molly's Suds Unscented Laundry Detergent Powder
Easy to use and store
Clothes felt soft and smelled clean after use
Average stain-fighting abilities
For a non-liquid option, consider Molly's Suds Unscented Laundry Detergent Powder. With earth-derived ingredients and zero fragrances, dyes, optical brighteners, or phosphates, it's ideal for those with sensitive skin. The brand also offers a variety of other scents and types, and for sensitive skin, their formula for babies may be of interest, too.
During testing, Molly's fared especially well in its overall simplicity and ease of use. The included scoop and design of the bag were small and straightforward, and the lightweight shape and size make it easy to store and use. We could even see it being convenient to grab and carry while shopping because it's not a huge, heavy jug like other options. We were also pleased with the scent because it left items smelling clean, but without added fragrance. Clothes felt nice and soft after washing, too. When it came to stain-fighting, it performed just okay, so we're also suggesting that you use it alongside your favorite stain-removal method. It's hard to beat the convenience and small footprint it leaves, both in your laundry room and sustainably speaking.
Price at time of publish: $15
Type: Powder | Size: 80.25 ounces | Number of Loads: 70 | Scent: Unscented
Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day Laundry Detergent
A little goes a long way
Good at removing stains
Scent isn't overpowering
On the expensive side
Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day Laundry Detergent is another great choice for those with sensitive skin. The formula is made up of plant-derived ingredients, including stain-fighting enzymes that effectively remove spots and stains from your fabrics. It's biodegradable, and it features a light, lavender scent, courtesy of essential oils. (Other scent options are also available, like honeysuckle and rosemary, if you'd prefer something different.) When we recently tested this in The Lab, it performed well—it was good but not necessarily great. We noticed that it did a nice job of keeping the white T-shirt white, and that the pleasant smell sets it apart, but we also found that clothes came out wrinkled after using it. Still, given our previous experience with home testers loving it and raving about its stain-fighting capabilities, we're giving it a stamp of approval.
This product is safe for use with high-efficiency washing machines and septic tanks. It's free of dyes, and dermatologist-tested. The formula is concentrated, so a little bit of this detergent goes a long way. It's recommended to use a half capful for regular-sized loads of laundry. Considering that this laundry detergent is more expensive than others, that's a real bonus.
Price at time of publish: $19
Type: Liquid | Size: 64 ounces | Number of Loads: 100 | Scent: Lavender
|Overall Rating||Ease of Use||Feel||Scent||Effectiveness||Value|
All Liquid Laundry Detergent
Arm & Hammer Laundry Detergent
Seventh Generation Free & Clear Laundry Detergent
Dropps Sensitive Skin & Baby Detergent
Molly's Suds Laundry Detergent Powder
Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day Lavender Laundry Detergent
Our top pick for a laundry detergent if you or someone in your household has sensitive skin is All Free Clear. We found it to be effective on stains, simple to use, and readily available for a budget-friendly price. Another wallet-friendly pick, Arm & Hammer Sensitive Skin Free & Clear is easy on the environment and on skin, and it leaves clothes smelling clean and feeling soft to the touch.
How We Tested the Laundry Detergents
We put 29 laundry detergents to the test in The Lab during a rigorous hands-on process. First, using detergent brand guidelines, we started wash cycles with previously-stained items: one each of a cotton T-shirt, athletic polyester T-shirt, terry cloth towel, and linen napkin were included, all marked with three to four stains that included jojoba oil, chocolate, foundation, mud, grass, and in the case of the linen napkin, spaghetti sauce. While the items were washed, duplicate fresh stains were created so we could compare results.
After wash and dry cycles, we assessed the overall cleaning and stain removal effectiveness of each laundry detergent. We also carefully considered scent by smelling each item and noting whether it smelled clean or contained residual smells from the stains. A feel, or texture examination, was completed, allowing us to check for things like softness, fluffiness, and any other changes noticeable by touch. Each product's ease of use was noted as well, and we rated how simple it was (or wasn't!) to measure and add detergent to washers.
After testing was completed, we considered the overall value of each product and determined whether we would recommend a detergent, and why. This set of data was then shared with our editors, who assessed these insights alongside previously home-tested detergent data and separate research, all with careful attention to the needs of households that have one of more people with sensitive skin. The end result was a thoroughly researched and tested list of laundry detergents for sensitive skin.
What to Look for in a Laundry Detergent for Sensitive Skin
Laundry detergents come in several different forms. You can buy them as a liquid, pod, powder, or sheet. The type that's best for you depends on personal preference—what you consider easy and convenient for you. If you frequently make trips to the laundromat, pods may be the best option for you, because they're portable. Liquid detergent can be more tailored to your load size, but it is often a messier option. Dr. JiaDe (Jeff) Yu, a National Eczema Foundation "ecz-pert" and board-certified dermatologist, notes, "Powder detergent probably contains less preservatives than liquid or pods since the latter two may be more likely to be contaminated by mold, bacteria, or viruses."
Think about your laundry routine, the size of your loads and whether the size varies, and where you do your laundry before making a purchase. If you're using a high-efficiency machine, you'll need to find a detergent that's compatible with that type of washer.
It's essential to pay attention to the ingredient list of a laundry detergent if you or someone in your household has sensitive skin. The ingredient list will alert you to any irritants that might be in the formula. Common irritants include: fragrances (otherwise known as "perfumes"), surfactants, dyes, and preservatives. The word "hypoallergenic" in a detergent's label may mean that it contains fewer triggering ingredients. However, it's always best to read through the ingredient list yourself. Some detergents for sensitive skin are made of purely plant-based ingredients and disregard the chemicals that may irritate skin all together. These formulas are also typically much better for the environment. Optical brighteners are a common detergent ingredient that help keep clothes looking fresh and new, but they can contaminate aquatic life. So, if you're looking to make your laundry room more gentle on the planet, this is also an ingredient to avoid. That's why for our best overall pick, we selected All Free Clear Liquid Laundry Detergent, an effective detergent that's gentle on your skin but still performed well tackling a variety of stains. It's formulated with zero perfumes or dyes.
Testing and Certifications
When finding the right detergent for your sensitive skin, it's always best to see what dermatologists, pediatricians, and national organizations think of the product. Some products for sensitive skin are tested by medical professionals and will have a label telling you so. Others may be a USDA Certified Biobased Product, so at least 97 percent of their plant-based ingredients are biologically renewable or a part of the EPA Safer Choice program. This program helps identify products and ingredients that are safer for humans and the planet, and it may be an important consideration for a household that is looking to make their laundry routine more sustainable and eco-friendly.
How do you know if your laundry detergent is irritating your skin?
You'll know if your laundry detergent is irritating your skin if you are seeing signs of an allergic reaction. Red skin, hot skin, irritation, itchiness, swelling, and rashes are all common symptoms. These symptoms can appear as soon you come in contact with freshly washed laundry, or they can appear hours later. Generally, these types of skin reactions are limited to the specific area where the irritant came in contact with your skin. If you feel the reactions are all over, and you've recently swapped your laundry detergent, it may be worth switching to see whether the symptoms disappear.
Are all detergents good for sensitive skin?
In short, no. Many detergents are filled with artificial fragrances, which is a common culprit of contact dermatitis. Preservatives are also a common trigger. If you know you have a sensitivity to fragrance or a specific preservative, it's important to look over the ingredient list of the detergent you're choosing to make sure they're not present.
How do you pick out a detergent for sensitive skin?
Checking the ingredient list for irritants, such as fragrances, preservatives, or dyes, is always the best way to find a detergent for sensitive skin. Looking for claims like "gentle," "sensitive," "plant-based," and "hypoallergenic" is also a great way to narrow down your choices, but note that these are just a starting point, and your decision should not be solely made on these. Some detergents can also have seals from the National Eczema Association and the National Psoriasis Foundation, which can also be a great indicator that it's safe for sensitive skin.
Why Trust The Spruce?
Dena Ogden, commerce writer at The Spruce, updated this piece and contributed additional research. She's been writing professionally since 2016, and with The Spruce since August 2022, specializing in appliances, cleaning, and organizational topics. For this piece, she assessed insights from recent Lab tests of laundry detergent, assessed each recommended pick, and consulted with Dr. JiaDe (Jeff) Yu, an NEA "ecz-pert" and board-certified dermatologist and fellowship-trained pediatric dermatologist specializing in allergic contact dermatitis and occupational dermatitis in adults and children.
Theresa Holland also contributed to this story. Holland is a Portland-based toddler mom and professional writer with inherently sensitive skin and substantial experience researching, reviewing, and writing about household products. When researching product picks for this roundup, she considered affordability, scent, effectiveness, and firsthand feedback from our product testers.
What is The Spruce Approved?
Here at The Spruce, we want to ensure that we fully stand behind every product we recommend and that when we say something is the best, we mean it. You might have noticed The Spruce Approved badge next to the products on this list. Every product with this badge has been rigorously tested in person and carefully selected by our expert team of lab testers and editors. In most cases, we buy all these products ourselves, though occasionally, we get samples provided to us directly by companies. No matter how we procure products, they all go through the same tests and must meet the same strict criteria to make the best-of cut.