I didn’t write this because I think cleaning products are fun, I wrote it because they’re easy to give up. Plastic pollution can feel impossible to solve, but cleaning is a painless habit to change – who cares what you use, as long as it works? (I also wrote about plastic-free shampoo and other toiletry options.)
Okay, I’m not going to pretend to be something I’m not. I’m a travel blogger, not a cleaning guru. I don’t write about things related to house or home, except how to escape one and which cocktails to mix in one. But I do write about sustainability, and I’m nothing if not a good researcher. And a good procrastinator.
Now I’ve finally figured out another small step to being better at something I have no excuse for being bad at – and I don’t mean cleaning. I mean using less plastic.
And I mean taking the time to figure out how to do all the things in life that I want done, but don’t really care about (hello, house cleaning) in a way that doesn’t make me part of the plastic problem. And the climate problem. And the toxic chemicals polluting our environment problem.
Because I am part of those problems.
I have a master’s degree in sustainability, so I have no excuse. But I was still using the old-fashioned, plastic-packaged brands for laundry, dishes, and occasional toilet scrubbing until I started researching this series of plastic-free product reviews.
Why? Because sure, there’s a better way, but there’s always something more fun to plan, too.
Well, this is what you get when you leave a travel blogger (mostly) at home for a few months. Since I haven’t been traveling much or planning trips, I had time to do all this research on plastic-free laundry and cleaning products – and now you don’t have to. Never again do we need to buy plastic spray bottles, detergents and hand soaps from the grocery store thinking, “… at least I can try to recycle these.” (Because most plastic doesn’t actually get recycled, anyway.)
Jump to the full reviews here:
- TruEarth review – one of the easiest zero-waste swaps I’ve found!
- Cleancult vs Blueland review – and one problem
- Dropps review – great for cutting open to use as a spot treatment (and notes on the PVA “plastic” controversy)
- GuppyFriend review – bags for filtering micro-plastics, plus how to make your clothes last longer, and what’s next!
- Comparison chart for laundry and dishwasher tablets (prices, shipping etc., all together)
The short list
Not everyone wants to read everything that I’ve researched about eco-friendly cleaning. And you don’t have to.
These all have pros and cons for sustainability – which I explain in the reviews below – but the point is, they’re all much greener than the “traditional” products they’re replacing. They’re non-toxic, not tested on animals, and plastic-free.
Here’s what I recommend and will keep ordering:
- TruEarth laundry strips are my favorite for simplicity. They’re the lightest weight (using less fuel to ship), which also makes them the best for travel. And they’re the only company I’ve tested that ships abroad. (To 83 countries!)
- If you use a dryer, wool “dryer balls” do two things: Make clothes dry faster (saving energy) and replace fabric softener (saving plastic). Win-win! I ordered them from Cleancult, because they have by far the best price I’ve found. (Plus, any Cleancult link in this article gets you 15% off and a free bar of natural soap! If the discount doesn’t apply automatically, use the code CLEAN15.)
For Hand Soap:
- Two companies I tested make natural, non-toxic, eco-friendly hand soap in a bottle that’s designed to be refilled indefinitely. Blueland makes a foaming one that I prefer (and its refills are just lightweight tablets). Cleancult makes a lavender-scented gel that my mom liked. I’d recommend either. [Hand soap details here.]
For Washing Dishes:
- Both Cleancult and Blueland make dishwasher pods and refillable dish soaps. Cleancult’s is liquid soap in a pretty glass dispenser – and I use it for washing my hands in the kitchen without drying out my skin, too! Blueland’s is a powder and I like it, too (but not for my hands). I’ll keep ordering the soap from Cleancult and the pods from Blueland – because they’re unwrapped, unscented, and cost less. Dropps also makes effective dishwashing pods, and they’re the only brand that offers both scented and unscented options – plus through September, you can get 20% everything from Dropps by using any link in this article and the code LEARNING. [Dish soap details here.]
For Cleaning House:
- I recommend Cleancult for a natural, refillable, all-purpose cleaning spray. (Blueland makes one too, which I liked a lot until my bottle snapped apart.) From either company, you buy a reusable bottle and order refills when you need more – which is cheaper than disposables in the long run!
- Blueland makes the only plastic-free, refillable window and glass cleaner I’ve found. It works just as well as Windex, but without the plastic! I’m going to keep ordering the refills. They also have a bathroom cleaning spray, but both come in the problematic bottle design. [See my review below for details.]
More info on the sustainability pros and cons, and what I liked and didn’t like about each product:
TruEarth – Laundry Strips
This Canadian company’s main product is plastic-free laundry detergent strips – and they are one of my favorite discoveries of this whole project, and probably the easiest of all zero-waste swaps to make.
How it works:
I really nerded out about these little paper-like strips of detergent, about the size of a name tag, because they’re just a brilliant and super-efficient idea. And my clothes came out perfectly clean, so I’m converted. Instead of buying bottles of laundry detergent, or even plastic tubs or plastic bags of detergent tablets, these arrive at your door in a package no bigger than a thick envelope that does 32 loads of laundry.
It has a lot of sustainability advantages, but the biggest laundry-related advantage of is that it’s easy to use exactly what you need. You can tear a strip in half if you need more or less, whereas the solid laundry tablets and liquid pods are all-or-nothing.
The standard is $19.95 for 32 strips (62 cents per strip), which sounds like a lot. However, this is one product where the subscription makes a lot of sense – it brings the price down to $12.95 (40 cents per strip with a subscription).
(You can order a pack with as few as 8 or as many as 384 strips. Ordering 384 at a time only brings the price down to 39 cents each.)
The website makes it seem like you might only get free shipping on subscription orders, but I called to confirm. It’s free shipping on any order to anywhere.
And they do ship everywhere! (Well, they sent me a list of 29 countries where they already have shipped, and another 83 countries where they can ship. So nearly everywhere.)
For the 30% discount, you can sign up for deliveries every one, two, three or six months, or once a year, and can cancel or delay shipments whenever you want. (The six-month option doesn’t show up in the normal check-out, but you can access it here, on TruEarth’s FAQ page.)
TruEarth laundry strips come in fragrance free or Fresh Linen scent (or “Baby,” which is also fragrance free).
This is some of the most minimal packaging I’ve ever seen – the paper envelope they’re stored in just has a shipping label on the outside.
Plus, there are no parabens, phosphates, dyes, bleach, or a whole list of other ingredients. They’re vegan, not tested on animals, plastic-free and very, very light weight to ship. (They say 94% lighter than an equivalent amount of liquid detergent.)
Order directly through their website here. They’re also available in some eco-friendly or zero-waste stores.
I’m going to be honest: I wish I could tell you that Cleancult is just better than Blueland in every way. I wish that because they have an affiliate program, which means I can make a commission on Cleancult orders, while Blueland does not, so I don’t make any money if you order from them.
But it’s a little more complicated than that.
Blueland’s refills are less expensive, although they don’t seem like they’ll last as long. But their dissolvable tablet system really seems like the best and most innovative solution for sustainability – it means much less shipping weight for the refills. So even if you go through the product faster, it matters less when the footprint is so minimal.
But Cleancult’s bottles are definitely sturdier and their products are thicker and foamier.
I was about to publish this post with this paragraph:
I haven’t personally had any problems, but some reviews mention the Blueland bottles coming apart. Problems are probably few and far between, but the whole point is to avoid cheap things that break and have to be replaced.
But then – literally the day I was going to publish this – my husband picked up the all-purpose spray bottle from the top, and it cracked apart, exactly as I’d seen in another review. I guess problems being “few and far between” was wishful thinking.
I’m so disappointed, because I was so excited about the really low-impact refill system. I’m looking forward to Blueland changing the bottle design, because there’s just no way that this happened to two bloggers and not to anyone else. (And sadly, they haven’t responded to multiple emails I’ve sent about the bottle issue.)
But I’m still excited about their tablet concept, and I’m still a fan of the other Blueland products (hand soap and dish washing).
How does Blueland work?
You buy one nice-looking, reusable acrylic (plastic) bottle for each type of cleaning product, and you never throw it away. Then you just order little tablets from Blueland. When you finish your glass-cleaning spray, for example, just refill the bottle with warm water and throw in a new tablet.
When I first tried Blueland this spring, they offered just four products: hand wash, glass cleaner, multi-surface cleaner, and bathroom cleaner.
I ordered them all. They’ve since added dishwashing products, so I ordered those, too. Then they added laundry tablets just last week. At this point, I know all their other products work, so I’ll just trust them on the laundry pods, too.
How does Cleancult work?
You buy one nice-looking, heavy-duty, frosted glass and silicone bottle for each type of cleaning product, and you never throw it away. Then Cleancult ships you premixed, liquid refills in cardboard milk cartons, on a schedule of your choosing.
Or you could just buy just either company’s refills and use your own bottles, although you never know until you try whether the pumps will work well with a product that has a different viscosity.
How to choose?
Go with the one you think you’ll actually keep using, long-term, whether that’s for the price tag, or because you like the looks of one bottle more than the other.
At the end of the day, either system is far better than buying either traditional brands, or the natural, supposedly eco-friendly brands, which all still come in disposable plastic.
And as far as I’m concerned, they’re both also better than the homemade recipes the internet is full of. I’m trying to make my life simpler with all of these zero-waste changes. What I’m not trying to do are science experiments in my kitchen with orange peels and baking soda and vinegar. But that’s just me.
Here are some more details on the Cleancult and Blueland products I tried:
Cleancult vs Blueland Hand Soap:
The Cleancult hand soap is a gel, and it lathers more richly than Blueland’s, which is a foam.
For Blueland it takes 2 to 4 pumps of soap to get a good lather (two is enough for me, four for my husband, who apparently has big, dirty hands). Even if that seems like a lot, it’s doesn’t really matter when each refill costs $2 or less, and you’re not throwing away the bottle.
I prefer the Blueland foam (and the look of the pretty glass bottle), so I’ll keep ordering that. My mom liked the Cleancult gel.
Blueland hand soap also comes in multiple scents, whereas right now Cleancult only has lavender scent. (Although they told me they’re adding new products and scents, so that could change soon.) Neither has an unscented option.
Cleancult vs Blueland Dish Soap:
Both companies make tablets for the dishwasher, and a dish soap for hand-washing dishes. Blueland’s is a powder, while Cleancult’s is a gel, which is also great for hand washing in the kitchen! It doesn’t dry out my skin, and I prefer the citrus-y scent to the lavender scent of their hand soap.
Honestly, I tried both and I really don’t have a preference. The Blueland powder lathered and cleaned well, even though I was skeptical at first.
Just don’t expect either to suds quite like normal dish soap – this is because they don’t use SLS (sodium lauryl sulfate), a skin irritant that’s in everything and helps with foaming, but not with actual cleaning. (There’s more about this at the beginning of my article about shampoo bars, too.)
Both dishwasher tablets worked perfectly well, as did Dropps’ dishwasher pods. I literally can’t tell any difference between the three brands. Keep things simple, and go with whichever one you’re planning to order multiple products from.
The main differences that might be a deciding factor: Powder vs gel, and scented vs not.
Blueland’s dish washing products are both fragrance free.
Cleancult’s dish soap and tablets both have a rather strong lemongrass scent. (And I can’t really understand why you’d want your dishes to smell, but maybe you do?)
Cleancult vs Blueland Cleaning Sprays:
Blueland’s all-purpose and bathroom cleaners both work well for basic cleaning, but I don’t think either are great for really heavily filthy stuff. More like maintenance cleaners. More importantly, the broken bottle means I won’t recommend these until they change the design (which I really hope they do).
I didn’t try the Cleancult all-purpose cleaner, but based on all of their other products I did try, I would go with theirs if you know need a more heavy-duty cleaning spray.
Only Blueland has a refillable window cleaner. I like it, it doesn’t leave streaks, and the refills are way cheaper than buying bottles of Windex. So I’ll keep ordering it (and try to treat the bottle gingerly, after what happened to my other Blueland bottle).
For the laundry tabs, everything I tried worked well. Truly, I couldn’t tell the difference, and they all worked just as well as liquid. As I said above, I’m going to primarily use TruEarth, and I’ll keep some Dropps on hand to cut open the pods and use the liquid on big stains.
But if you want to keep it simple and get your laundry detergent in the same box as your other cleaning stuff, you can order plastic-free laundry detergent from either Cleancult or Blueland. Both are fragrance-free, while TruEarth and Dropps have scented and fragrance-free options.
I haven’t tested Blueland’s because they just launched it recently, but having tried so many other products from the company I have no doubt that it’ll work.
And Cleancult has the best deal on wool dryer balls. (They’re $11 for 3 from Cleancult, versus $22 for 4 at TruEarth, or $25 for 3 at Dropps.)
Cleancult’s tablets (and Dropps) come in a PVA wrapper, which you leave on. There’s some controversy about that, which I explain below.
Cleancult vs Blueland Prices:
Blueland costs less. If you buy just one kind of cleaner, the initial bottle and one tablet cost $12, and every refill tablet is $2 or less, depending on how many you buy at a time. (Either way, it’s cheaper than buying normal Clorox and Windex at the store.)
Cleancult refills are about $7 each.
See my chart below below for all of the laundry and dishwasher tablet prices.
Cleancult ships to the US, and most US territories. (Puerto Rico, Guam, the US Virgin Islands, and Saipan.) Their shipping is carbon neutral, and it’s free if you order three items.
Blueland currently only ships to the US. They offer free shipping on orders over $35.
Most Cleancult products have a scent that I find a little strong, but fresh and natural smelling. (Their laundry tablets and wool dryer balls are fragrance-free. Everything else is scented.)
Blueland’s scents are more subtle. (And their glass cleaner, dish soap, and dishwasher tabs are unscented. Everything else has a fragrance.) The Blueland hand soap is the only product (from either company) that has multiple scent choices, including seasonal options.
Cleancult vs Blueland on Sustainability:
Like most comparisons in sustainability, which company is better depends on what you’re measuring.
Both brands are cruelty-free (Leaping Bunny certified). Blueland is vegan, while Cleancult doesn’t specify.
Cleancult has carbon-neutral shipping (via offsets), while Blueland does not – but their light-weight products mean fewer emissions from shipping to begin with.
Packaging & Refills:
They both ship in plastic-free, recyclable paper packaging.
Cleancult ships liquid refills (AKA, they ship water, instead of concentrated tablets like Blueland. It does seem like a waste to ship all that extra water weight, when given an alternative.) And the Cleancult refills come in milk cartons, which contain a bit of plastic and aren’t recyclable everywhere – but they do offer a free, mail-in recycling program for all of their packaging.
Cleancult’s laundry and dishwasher tabs are wrapped in PVA (a type of plastic that I’ve learned a lot about writing this article). Blueland’s tabs have no PVA.
Blueland’s refill tablets come in tiny paper wrappers that are both compostable and recyclable (but they’re #7 for recycling, which is definitely not recyclable everywhere). If they do end up in a landfill? Blueland’s packaging is just a lot less.
Cleancult bottles are definitely more sturdy, although they are heavier (they’re made of frosted glass, instead of plastic).
With either company, you cut out a repetitive source of wasted plastic from your life, and it’s one you probably won’t miss. I’m sticking with Cleancult for the sprays, because the bottles are sturdier, so it seems like the one I’ll stick with longterm.
How to Order Cleancult and Blueland:
Plus, you get 15% off Cleancult and a free bar of soap by using any link on this page. They’re affiliate links, which means if you order through them, I may make a commission at no extra cost to you. (If the discount doesn’t apply automatically, use the code CLEAN15.)
Blueland is not on Amazon. You can order Blueland directly through their website. (That’s not an affiliate link – so I don’t make any money if you shop through it – but it is a “referral link,” which will eventually earn me a few free refill tabs. I don’t have a discount to offer on this one right now – sorry!)
Dropps – Laundry & Dishwasher Tabs
This Pennsylvania-based company has more laundry products than I could possibly test: fabric softeners and scent boosters, natural “Oxi-booster” for super dirty clothes, sensitive skin, baby-specific, and small pods for small loads. They also do dish washer tabs that work just as well as the others I’ve tested (which is just as well as any non-eco-friendly, grocery store brand).
Only in September: You can get 20% off by using any Dropps link in this post and the code LEARNING.
I tried the unscented dishwasher pods and the “Stain & Odor” laundry pods in Clean scent. They both cleaned perfectly well. For the laundry, I thought Dropps left clothes slightly more scented than other brands.
Even if you normally use another laundry pod or strip, Dropps are great to keep on hand (instead of a plastic jug of liquid detergent) for when you need a spot treatment: Just cut open a pod and squeeze the liquid on the stain.
Dropps can be the least expensive detergent on this list, but only if you do a lot of laundry. Like an industrial amount. They offer three different quantities – 56, 140, or 210 Dropps at a time, and the price they advertise (“from 19 cents per load”) are only if you have 210 pods delivered every 4 months. That’s almost two loads of laundry every day.
If you buy the smallest quantity as a one-time purchase, they’re 43 cents each. (But subscribing gets you 25% off any quantity, delivered every 4 months – which makes them nearly the best deal. This is all more clear if you look at my price chart below!)
Shipping is always free and carbon neutral.
There are fragrance-free options for every Dropps product, and the laundry pods have several scent choices.
Despite all the PVA-related confusion below, Dropps does a lot of sustainability things right. Their shipping is carbon-neutral, they use minimal, cardboard packaging (no plastic bags or boxes), and the detergents are mostly plant-based.
When you Google “plastic-free laundry detergent,” Dropps are right at the top. But as I realized after ordering, there’s some controversy about their plastic-free status.
The catch is that they use PVA (polyvinyl alcohol, also called PVOH), which is a petroleum-based film that the pods are covered in. It’s plastic. (Cleancult also uses PVA for their laundry and dishwasher tabs, and TruEarth strips list it as an ingredient.)
But doesn’t that just dissolve?
Yes. Maybe? I’m not sure, so ended up doing a lot more research on this.
There are many different types of PVA that dissolve in different ways and are used in tons of products (including food, cosmetics, fishing nets… the list goes on). The PVA film that dishwasher or laundry tablets are wrapped in should disintegrate, but only when there are certain microbes around (which are added by city water treatment plants. I couldn’t find any information on whether PVA biodegrades in rural homes that use septic tanks, where no special microbes are added.)
There’s also debate about how much of it actually breaks down in water treatment plants. That’s why Blueland’s new laundry pods are “naked” tablets with no PVA covering. They say more than half of PVA never dissolves and is a common water pollutant.
Basically, Cleancult and Dropps say the PVA they use dissolves well; Blueland says it’s possible that no PVA actually dissolves the way we want it to, so it’s better to avoid it.
So it’s possible that some plastic from Dropps and Cleancult pods get washed into rivers and lakes. Or it’s possible that PVA is totally safe. Honestly, there just wasn’t a lot of info out there about this, which is frustrating.
Note: I’ve asked all of these companies for more info about PVA. If any of them send me something useful, I’ll update this here.
Science-y PVA Update:
I emailed some questions about this to Dr. Karen Iveson who is Dropps’ VP of R&D. She cleared up two things:
- No, PVA does not dissolve into petroleum or microplastics.
- On the topic of septic tanks and microbes, she added this: “There is a significant body of scientific research dating back 50 years that describe a large variety of microbial species that break down the monomer molecules. Water treatment facilities and septic tanks are all rich in bacteria that break down organic materials very effectively.”
So it’s probably safe for the environment, even if you have a septic tank.
Then I called my sister-in-law to chat about this, because Friday night in a pandemic, and because she’s a chemical engineer.
She confused me with a lot of chemistry talk and emailed me diagrams of molecules, and the conclusion I was able to pull out of it all was this:
- True, PVA does not break down into microplastics (good!).
- But it does break down into something (ugh). And whatever that something is, we can’t know what effect it’s going to have out in the environment.
But of course, we can’t know what effect almost anything will have out in the environment, and we still have to do laundry. Why can’t things just be simple? At this point, my head was sort of spinning, and I was remembering why I don’t love chemistry.
The one thing we do know is that even if PVA isn’t perfect, it’s better than buying laundry detergent in plastic bottles. If you’re still reading this far, I know – that’s a completely unsatisfying answer. But when even a chemical engineer says (and I paraphrase) “I don’t have any reason to think it’s a problem, but I don’t have any proof that it’s not a problem,” well that’s when I know that I probably have bigger fish to fry.
My conclusion: There’s a good chance Dropps (and all the other brands that use PVA) are perfectly safe for the environment, so I have no problem with them. If you want to be 100% cautious on the issue and avoid PVA, stick with Blueland for laundry and dishes (but I’m going with TruEarth for laundry, because I think overall they’re a more sustainable choice).
You can order directly through their website and use the code DROPPS15 for 15% off.
Only in September: Order through any Dropps link on this page and get 20% off with the code LEARNING.
They’re also available on Amazon.
If you’re getting detergent pods elsewhere, but want to order laundry bags (I explain why below) with plastic-free packaging and carbon-neutral shipping, Dropps is a great option.
Speaking of plastic going down the drain, GuppyFriend bags are designed to stop micro-plastics that break off of our clothes from ending up down the drain and in oceans.
I already use normal laundry bags for almost everything I wash – anything even remotely delicate goes in a bag, and the bag goes into the washing machine to keep clothes from getting jostled too much and stretching out. This keeps clothes in better shape for longer, which means I buy less. The bags are also great for travel, for keeping dirty clothes separate in my suitcase. (You can order laundry bags from Dropps, or these that I use from Amazon.)
But the GuppyFriend is a particular kind of laundry bag. It’s not made of loose mesh like the other bags I use, but a tightly woven nylon that feels almost like it wouldn’t let water through, but it does. It’s designed to filter micro-plastics, which break off of any synthetic material in the washing machine. After all, that’s what most synthetic fabrics are – they’re petroleum based, ie. plastic.
It also prevents those synthetic fibers from breaking in the first place – it was tested by Patagonia and others, and the tests showed 86% less breakage. (There’s more info about this and lots of other details on how it works in their FAQ.)
This is exactly why I’ve always used laundry bags, and now someone has proven that I’m not making it up! My every-day bags also keep clothes from falling apart, but the GuppyFriend certainly does a better job.
Price & Shipping:
Profits from the GuppyFriend go to a German non-profit called STOP! Micro Waste. So it’s a great cause but… The bags are $35 each, plus $5 for shipping to the US, and $10 to Canada. Shipping is free in Europe.
So, considering that the Guppy Friend bag has similar dimensions to my regular laundry bags (it’s 20 inches by 30 inches, or 51 by 76 cm), and I use at least 3 or 4 bags in every load, that means I’ll need to spend… About $150 on these bags?
I do believe in investing my money on quality and sustainability. But… really? I feel like this prices a lot of people out.
Note: GuppyFriend emailed me that the cost of the material “increases exponentially” with increasing density of the fibers – that super smooth material I mentioned. Which makes sense. That explains why these bags are both so much pricier and so much better at filtering broken fibers than normal bags. If it’s in your budget, I do think they’re a good eco-friendly investment.
For now, I’ll try to strategically wash only a few synthetic items per load in my one GuppyFriend bag.
Long-term, I’m trying to limit the synthetic items in wardrobe.
That’s what I’ve been working on for a couple of years, but finding affordable athletic gear and non-wrinkly, travel-friendly clothing made with 100% natural fibers is a challenge. If you can suggest any brands, please let me know in the comments below. Also let me know if you’re interested – maybe this is a topic for a future blog post!
Laundry & Dish Tabs Comparison Chart:
|Price||$20 for 32 strips||$8.45 for 18 tabs||$14 for 40 tabs||$24 for 56 pods|
|Subscription price each||40¢||47¢||24¢ to 32¢**||30¢ (less if you order more)|
|Subscription frequency||Every 1, 2, 3 or 6 months||Every 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6 months||Every 1, 2, 3 or 4 months||Every 4 months|
|Free with 3 items (ships to US & territories)||Free over $35 (ships to US only)||Always free (ships to US only)|
|Scents||Many||Fragrance free laundry; Lemongrass dishes||All fragrance free||Many|
|Back up to my |
|TruEarth Review||Cleancult Review||Blueland Review||Dropps Review|
** Blueland refills are cheaper if you order more at a time (that’s why I list a price range). And these prices include 10% off on all Blueland subscription orders.