When you think of babies, one of the first thing you think of his how soft and smooth their skin is. As parents, there’s nothing we want to do more than protect that sweet skin.
Something that often gets overlooked by parents is laundry detergent. Many people will tell you to wash your kids’ clothes a certain way, but which way really works best? Well, it depends on what kind of laundry detergent you need.
Here’s our list of the best laundry detergents for babies, from all-natural baby detergents to brand-name baby detergents.
The 5 Best Baby Laundry Detergents
1. Dreft Newborn Detergent
Best Detergent for Newborns
Some folks might choose to wash their sweet baby’s clothes in a detergent that’s made exclusively for the baby. This is a really good idea for newborn skin especially, as it can be really, really sensitive. You can wash all of baby’s stuff separate. This is a good idea to protect baby’s skin and clothes from harsh substances. The best detergent for this is by far Dreft Stage 1: Newborn Hypoallergenic Liquid Baby Laundry Detergent. It’s hypoallergenic and designed specifically for that sensitive and oh-so-smooth new baby skin.
Separate Loads for Baby
It’s definitely a better bet than a regular detergent for sensitivities, and it cleans just as well. This laundry soap for baby is scented, so if you are super sensitive to smells, you might want to look elsewhere. And even though this is hypoallergenic detergent, the fragrance might irritate baby’s respiratory system if they are inhaling it 24/7. This is especially true if the parents are sensitive to smell. The smell is actually pretty strong and still remains after a normal wash/rinse/spin/dry cycle. But it’s that traditional “baby” smell, so I’m kind of partial to it myself.
And the scent isn’t the only thing to keep in mind. This detergent has some potentially irritating cleaning agents/surfactants. It’s not all-natural and free from harsh cleaning agents. So while it is tested to work well, that comes at a price. And yes, I’m also talking about money. This stuff is expensive!
Dreft makes other detergents that are better suited to super stained clothing (see choice #2). Dreft is middle of the road when it comes to cleaning- not terrible, but not the best. The Stage 1 detergent works fairly well. Under about 4 months old, my kids didn’t make too many devastating messes besides diaper blowouts. We pre-rinsed every stain just after it happened, and then the Dreft finished the job in the washer. This one works relatively well on most spit-up and diaper stains. Really crazy blow-outs were stubborn and didn’t wash out as nicely.
2. Dreft Stage 2 Laundry Detergent
Best Detergent for Baby Stains
Once the newborn stage passes, you might wonder if you still need to separate baby’s clothes and use a special detergent. The answer is yes. That’s where Dreft Stage 2: Active Baby Hypoallergenic Liquid Baby Laundry Detergent comes in. This is the next step in the Dreft line up of products. It’s specially designed to still be gentle enough for baby while being tough enough to tackle baby’s stains.
Older Babies Need Special Soap, Too!
Parents know that bigger babies often spit up, explode baby poop, and spill every. single. meal. And we all know that nearly every pureed baby food under the sun, homemade or store bought, will stain. So Dreft Stage 2 is designed to tackle that. And as for continuing to separate baby’s clothes from the rest of the laundry, it can still be a good idea at this stage since your washer will turn into a cesspool of poop, spit up, and baby food residue each time you wash baby’s stuff. Just pour in the Dreft, give it 2 rinses, and rest assured that baby’s clothes got clean and your clothes didn’t have to suffer the mess. But if you don’t separate, your clothes will get just as clean and you’ll smell a bit like your sweet little one.
For the Stage 2 Dreft, it worked great too. I will say that some older stains or more set in stains still wouldn’t come out in the wash with Dreft. So if you can pre-treat or pre-rinse before using Dreft Stage 2, your baby’s clothes will be sparkling clean. If not, you may have some troubles. Also, we found that Dreft worked better the quicker you washed the clothes after the stain was made. For the price, though, I actually would expect this detergent to work better. And don’t be fooled- this detergent is most certainly more expensive than a regular detergent.
3. All Free Clear Laundry Detergent
Best Detergent for the Whole Familyall Liquid Laundry Detergent, Free Clear for Sensitive Skin
It’s a really nice thought to be able to wash baby’s clothes separate from everyone else’s. I did that with my first kid. I lovingly separated all his things for the wash. Fast forward to kid number two- it all goes in together. Whites, dark colors, diapers… I’m lucky if I remember the detergent at all some days! If you don’t want to do more loads than absolutely necessary, then a natural solution is to find a good detergent for the whole family, including baby. That’s why you get All Liquid Laundry Detergent Free Clear for Sensitive Skin. Bonus: they make Free Clear fabric softener and dryer sheets, too. It’s a happy laundry family for sensitive skin!
No Fragrance, No Problem
I love this detergent because it doesn’t have any fragrances or dyes. It’s totally hypoallergenic. Since these are the two things shown to irritate skin the most, that’s a biggie. As if that weren’t enough, this detergent can also remove up to 99% of seasonal allergens and other irritants from clothes. It rinses totally clean and leaves no residue of any kind. That means a nice, hypoallergenic clean all the way around. All claims that this is the most recommended detergent by dermatologists, allergists, and pediatricians. I can totally see why. I have two kids with sensitive skin and both of them have had zero problems with this detergent.
A quick note on scent- a scentless detergent could take some getting used to. I grew up with perfumed detergent (a la Dreft), lots of scented fabric softener, and fragranced dryer sheets. I subconsciously equated scented clothes with clean clothes. When we switched to this when my son was a toddler and had started getting frequent breakouts on his back and tummy, I had to adjust my nose. This wasn’t hard for me, since I’m typically pretty sensitive to scents. But when the clothes came out of the dryer, they smelled like nothing. No “fresh island breeze” smell to let me know they got clean. They just smelled like plain old clothes. I will say that a few of my husband’s workout shirts would still smell slightly sweaty to me. I think they always did in the past as well, but the other scents from detergents would mask it. Non-scented clothes are just something that you’ll have to get used to with All Free Clear.
But let’s talk about the other real concern: how well does it clean? I can say with full confidence that this detergent might not look or smell like much, but it totally works. I have had nearly every stain you could imagine come off of clothes that were washed in All Free Clear. It works particularly well on baby clothes. Spit up and baby poop stains are no match for this detergent. I don’t have to soak the clothes to get them clean. Ninety-nine percent of the time I don’t have to use a stain remover, either (a couple of white shirts have needed some stain remover or a few washes to get ketchup out). With the stains gone, the allergens gone, and a detergent that completely rinses away, All Free Clear is my personal favorite.
4. Seventh Generation free & clear Detergent
Best Natural Laundry Detergent
We are smarter than our forefathers (or so I’d like to think). We have finally learned that the 1960s attitude of “a chemical to cure anything” is just not a good idea. It’s especially a bad idea when you have sensitive skin. Enter Seventh Generation Natural Baby Laundry Detergent. This stuff is about as close to chemical-free as I would dare to venture for a laundry detergent. It has no animal ingredients and isn’t tested on animals. In fact, it’s made from 95% bio-based ingredients. The remaining 5% of the detergent is pretty much preservatives to help it be shelf stable. This all equates to a perfect laundry detergent for babies and their sensitive skin.
Fragrances from the Fields and Forests
This detergent is not fragrance-free. It’s got a lovely, light scent that comes from all-natural oils and botanical extracts. But it is free from artificial fragrances and is also free from dyes and artificial clothing brighteners (that’s a real thing- Google it). So it has none of the things regular detergent has. So how does it even work? Well, it uses plant enzymes to help break down the food and dirt that can stain your clothing. This formula uses 4 different enzymes, like Protease and Amylase, to help break down those stubborn baby messes. They’ve specifically tested and created it with milk, formula, spit up, baby poop, and baby food in mind. It can do all of this while remaining hypoallergenic and non-toxic. Those are both musts for something that will be around baby.
So we know how it works, but does it actually work? The answer is yes. It works just as well as any big-name, chemical-filled laundry detergent that I’ve tried. Clothes came out smelling fresh and clean. The scent was light and not obnoxious or overpowering. It didn’t give me a headache like some brands will. Also, there was no residue on the clothes. They didn’t feel still or grimy. They were soft and wonderful and gentle on my baby’s sensitive skin. Even though I used this exclusively for my baby girl, I would have no qualms with washing everyone’s stuff with it. Although, that could get pricey after a while .This is one of the more expensive detergents on the list, but it’s a price I’m willing to pay for my daughter to have soft skin and not be exposed to chemicals.
Also, one more note on this detergent. It does work, like I’ve said. But don’t be afraid to give this detergent the chance to work! Pre-treating some of the clothing victims of a diaper blowout were a must. After that, I’d let them soak before washing. With those two steps, the clothes came out as clean and fresh as the first time they were washed. As with any detergent, you can’t just throw week-old stains into the washer and expect them to magically disappear. But if you do it right, you will have very clean clothes for baby’s sensitive skin.
5. Tide PurClean Detergent
Best Name-Brand Baby Detergent
When you think of all the big-name laundry detergents, you don’t usually think of bio-based, natural substances. Most of us will remember the blue Tide goo of our youth. But this unscented Tide PurClean is different. It’s made with 65% bio-based substances, such as corn, soy, and coconut oil. Those, combined with the other 35% of cleaning products, gives you that 100% Tide clean. It works for both regular and HE washers.
You wouldn’t expect Tide to be concerned about the environment. But they are. And then some. Not only is this a plant-based formula, but it has been made in a facility that uses steam power and 100% renewable wind power. The site has zero manufacturing waste going to landfill. How do they manage to pull this off? Well, their detergent doesn’t have any chlorine, phosphates, optical brightening chemicals, artificial dyes, perfumes, or anything else that could hurt your family’s skin. In fact, it’s USDA certified. You can’t get much cleaner than that!
So what does it have? The number one ingredient is water. That’s comforting from a chemical avoidance stance, but what about the cleaners? Tide PurClean uses surfactants and processing agents that are all plant-derived, a coconut cleaning agent, bio-derived enzymes, a mineral based enzyme stabilizer, and a enviro-friendly pH stabilizer and other enzymes. That’s a bunch of chemistry speak that tells us that this doesn’t have a bunch of sketchy but effective cleaning agents in it. It uses natural cleaners that have been around for ages. If it was good enough for the pioneers, it’s good enough for me!
There isn’t anything left to be desired when it comes to the cleaning power of this detergent. It gets tough stains out, just like regular Tide. Because of the the ingredients, though, this does make a lot of suds when you use it. Follow the directions closely when measuring for loads. You may even need an extra rinse now and again to make sure you got all the soap out.
If you are washing things that are stinky (aka diapers and most baby onesies), then be forewarned- they might still smell. Many people experience this issue with unscented soaps. Just because it doesn’t come out of the washer smelling like a “fresh spring breeze” doesn’t mean it’s still dirty. It just means that the bad scent hasn’t been replaced with a good one. I find that a scoop of baking soda in the washer really helps to get smell of icky stuff out when using this detergent. If all else fails, you can buy Tide PurClean in a Honey Lavender Scent that isn’t overpowering.
How to Pick a Baby Detergent
Just like buying normal detergent, there’s no hard and fast rules for what will and won’t work for your family. But there are some general guidelines when it comes to baby detergents.
Do I Need Special Laundry Detergent for Baby?
Of all the questions asked about the best baby detergents, the most popular is: “do I really need baby detergent?” This is a tricky question, and one that can only be answered individually. Officially, the American Academy of Pediatrics states that you only need a separate detergent if your baby develops signs of skin irritation. They state that their research hasn’t really given them reason to believe that baby detergent works any better than other detergents.
Officially, my pediatrician (and many others) told me to buy Dreft or another detergent for sensitive skin. Maybe that’s American marketing at it’s most effective (hello free office samples!), or maybe there’s scientific merit behind the recommendation. In any case, we switched to a more gentle detergent and have never looked back.
If you or your children have skin sensitivities of any kind, then buy a good baby detergent and use it for the whole family. You child wears their own clothes and snuggles against yours (especially the nursing covers and clothes!) , so do yourself a favor and wash all the clothes together in a mild, natural detergent. No separating clothes, no smelling like baby products, and no extra work. Let the detergent do that extra work.
Things to Consider
Once you decide that you need a better baby laundry detergent, you’ll want to ask yourself these questions:
- Do I need a hypoallergenic formula?
- Do I want something that’s all-natural?
- Should I get liquid, powder, or pods?
- How much stain-fighting power will I need?
- Do skin sensitivities run in the family?
- Do I want scented or unscented?
- What is my budget?
All of these questions might seem silly, but once you answer them, you’ll know just what to buy. Baby detergents can get expensive, so you’ll want to make sure that your hard-earned money is well-spent.
What to Look For in the Best Baby Detergent
There are a lot of big, scientific words on laundry detergents these days. If you want help sorting through all the terms, look for these signs that you have a gentle and effective detergent in hand:
- A liquid detergent: according to Better Homes & Gardens, plus the AAP, a liquid detergent washes out better. This means that there isn’t any extra flakes or powder left around to irritate skin. And, it won’t clean off the flame retardants that some children’s sleepwear has.
- Unscented or fragrance free: Perfumes can be crazy irritating to sensitive skin (and noses). Fragrance-free is your best bet, because it means that there are zero scents in the ingredients. Unscented usually means that there is some kind of ingredient that masks the scents of the cleaners, but it isn’t a flavored scent.
- Hypoallergenic: Translated, this means it is less likely to cause an allergic reaction in users. Because baby’s skin is still toughening up, you’ll want something that is less likely to set their skin off. If the label says anything about being eczema or otherwise skin friendly, then it’s a good choice.
- Natural: You might see this on a label as plant-based, bio-based, or all-natural. In any case, it just means that it comes from nature, not a lab. This is better for you and better for the environment. And it cleans just as well.
- Extra cleaners: I know you are wanting clean clothes, but at what cost? Some detergents add “cleaners” or “brighteners” to their formulas. They don’t actually get the clothes cleaner, but they attach to the fabric and trick your eyes into thinking that they look cleaner. Not cool, and not good for skin.
Washing baby clothes is kind of like feeding baby. It doesn’t matter how you do it- natural or otherwise- it just matters that you do it! Any of the detergents on this list are good for baby and your family in one way or another. Buy one and test it on your favorite maternity shirt while you wait for baby to come. Then, use the winning baby detergent to get baby’s clothes prepped and washed. You can’t go wrong with clean baby clothes at any age or stage!