5 Best Laundry Detergents Without Optical Brighteners

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Written By Jamila W.
optical brighteners

After testing ten laundry products from top brands, I found detergents without optical brighteners are the best, especially for sensitive skin. In my search for the best eco-friendly laundry detergents, I came across many different products with varying chemical formulas that impact cleaning ability.

Drawing from my hands-on testing, I will guide you to help you pick the detergent that works best for your needs.

I will cover topics including:

  • The role of optical brighteners in detergents
  • A buying guide for detergents without optical brighteners
  • Reviews of the best optical brightener-free detergents

Stay tuned for more details on these key topics and useful tips throughout this blog. I aim to equip you with the knowledge to choose the ideal laundry detergent for your household.

What Are Optical Brighteners?

optical brighteners

Optical brighteners are dyes added to detergent. When clothes are washed, these dyes stick to the fabric fibers. They take in ultraviolet light and give off blue light. When this blue light mixes with the yellowish color of the laundry, it makes the clothes look brighter and whiter to our eyes. But it’s just a trick – the brighteners don’t make the laundry any cleaner.

Roles of Optical Brighteners in Washing Detergents

Most laundry detergent brands use optical brighteners. Of course, there are some benefits to this, so what are they? Let’s look at the roles they play in detergents.

  • Make clothes look whiter and brighter. Optical brighteners are special dyes that absorb ultraviolet light and reflect it as blue light. This makes clothes look whiter by improving the washing effect.
  • Help remove stains. Brighteners can loosen stain bonds so the detergent can wash stains away more quickly.
  • Make colored clothes look more vivid. The blue light makes whites whiter and also makes colored clothes look brighter.
  • Counter fabric yellowing. Over time, clothes can start to look yellowish. The blue light from the brighteners counters the yellow tones.
  • Boost cleaning power. Because brighteners whiten, remove stains, and make clothes look cleaner, they boost how well the detergent works overall.

Why Are Optical Brighteners Bad?

Optical brighteners cause problems when they wash out of clothes. They are hard to break down and can pollute water. Some types may also affect hormones if they touch the skin directly. That’s why eco-friendly detergents and fabrics avoid using optical brighteners. They make clothes look brighter but don’t improve cleaning and can harm the environment.

5 Best Optical Brightener Free Laundry Detergents: Comparison Table at a Glance

Here is a quick comparison table of the 5 laundry detergents without optical brighteners.

DetergentKey Features
Arm & Hammer SensitiveFragrance-free, dye-free, for sensitive skin
Seventh Generation Free & ClearHypoallergenic, plant-based, no animal testing
Ecos Laundry DetergentPlant-based, biodegradable, stain-fighting enzymes
Meyer’s Laundry DetergentPlant-based, no animal testing, natural scents
Tide PurcleanPlant-based, biodegradable, certified by USDA, no dyes/fragrances

Chemical Substances Found in Detergents

Laundry detergents have different chemicals that do specific jobs. The main chemicals in most detergents are surfactants, builders, bleaches, enzymes, brighteners, fragrances, and dyes. Each one helps clean, freshen, and brighten clothes when you wash them. The chemicals and what they do are explained more below.


Builders help the surfactant work better, especially in hard water that contains minerals. Builders soften the water so the detergents can clean better. Consider getting phosphate-free detergents to reduce the negative impacts on the environment.


Bleaches are chemicals that remove stains and whiten clothes. These bleaches work by oxidizing the colored organic dirt and stains on fabric, which fades the colors. Bleach activators like TAED also help bleaches work better in low-temperature water.

In the past, harsh chlorine bleaches were common in detergents. But today, most brands use cruelty-free oxygen bleaches instead. Oxygen bleaches effectively remove stains without harming fabrics or colors. Chlorine-free is much better for the environment compared to other bleaches.


Enzymes are natural proteins added to detergents that help break down stubborn stains. Each enzyme breaks down a different type of stain:

  • Protease enzymes break down protein-based stains like food, grass, mud, or blood.
  • Amylase enzymes break down carbohydrate stains from foods with starch or sugars.
  • Lipase enzymes break down fats and oils, like grease stains.

By attacking specific stain molecules, enzymes boost the cleaning power of detergents. They are especially good at breaking down organic stains that enzyme-free soaps can’t remove. Enzymes make your detergent work harder to get your clothes super clean.


Optical brighteners are special dyes added to laundry detergents. These dyes stick to the clothes fibers during washing. They make the clothes appear brighter and whiter.

But optical brighteners don’t remove stains or clean the clothes better. They make the clothes look brighter to our eyes.

So, optical brighteners are an unnecessary ingredient. They trick our eyes but don’t improve how clean the clothes get. Detergents without brighteners will still get your laundry just as clean.


Fragrances are added to detergents to give clothes a nice smell. They also cover up any bad smells from the wash water.

But some fragrances, like limonene or geraniol, can cause allergic reactions in some people. These fragrances may make your skin itchy or cause headaches.

So, if you have sensitive skin or allergies, it’s best to use detergents without added perfumes. An unscented detergent will still get your clothes clean without the risk of reactions to fragrances.


Detergent powders often use sodium sulfates as fillers. These help the powder flow easily so it pours and dissolves well. But sodium sulfates don’t clean clothes.

Sodium sulfate doesn’t break down easily in water. This can make lakes and rivers too salty, which hurts the plants and animals living there.

Liquid detergents don’t need fillers. The best way to avoid fillers like sodium sulfate is to use a liquid detergent instead of a powder. A liquid detergent is much better for the environment.

5 Laundry Detergent Without Optical Brightening Agents

Many laundry detergent brands claim not to have optical brighteners in their products. These are manufactured without petroleum ingredients. I will explore 5 of these brands and make it easier for you to choose over other detergents.

Arm and Hammer Sensitive Detergent – Best for People With Sensitive Skin

 Arm & Hammer detergent

This Arm & Hammer detergent claims it does not contain optical brighteners, dyes, or perfumes. This makes it good for those with sensitive skin or allergies. But the blue tint means it might still have some optical brighteners. Before using it on lots of laundry, try this detergent on a small piece of clothing. That way, you can check if it leaves a blue tint that could bother those with sensitivities.


  • Fragrance-Free 
  • Dye-Free 
  • Dermatologist Tested 
  • Does not contain optical brighteners
  • Cleans in Cold Water
Check it out

Seventh Generation Free & Clear Detergent – Best Fragrance-Free Detergent

Seventh Generation Free & Clear Detergent

This hypoallergenic formula contains no dyes, fragrances, or masking perfumes. It is perfume-free and safe for sensitive skin. The detergent uses plant-based natural products to clean clothes effectively.


  • Plant-Based Formula 
  • Hypoallergenic
  • Graywater Safe
  • Not Tested on Animals 

Seventh Generation Free provides a deep clean without using optical brighteners or other unnecessary chemicals. No animal by-products are used in the manufacturing process, making it eco-friendly.

Check it out

Ecos Laundry Detergent – Best Natural Detergent

Ecos is a biodegradable laundry detergent. It uses plant-based ingredients and natural enzymes to fight stains. The enzymes from plants help break down food and protein stains. It has no synthetic dyes, fragrances, or optical brighteners.


  • Plant-Based Ingredients 
  • Biodegradable Formula 
  • Gentle on Skin 
  • Stain-Fighting Enzymes
Check it out

Meyer’s Laundry Detergent – Best Plant-Based Detergent

Meyer's Laundry Detergent

This detergent is made from plants and is not tested on animals. It uses natural oils like lemon and lavender to give a light, refreshing smell. The ingredients can remove stains and whiten clothes over time without optical brighteners. It makes clothes fresh and bright using plants, not synthetic chemicals.


  • HE Compatible
  • No Animal Testing
  • Recyclable Bottle
  • Biodegradable
Check It Out

Tide Purclean – Best Biodegradable Laundry Detergent

Tide Purclean

Tide Purclean is the only Tide without optical brighteners. It is made from plants and can biodegrade. 75% of it comes from natural sources. The USDA BioPreferred Program has certified it. Tide Purclean also does not have dyes, chlorine, phosphates, or optical brighteners.


  • Plant-Based
  • Biodegradable
  • USDA Certified
  • Dye-free
  • No Brighteners
  • No Fragrances
  • Gentle Clean 
  • Septic Safe 

So, when looking for a  laundry detergent without optical brighteners or other synthetic chemicals, Tide Purclean suits you well.

Check it out

Why Buy a Laundry Detergent Without Optical Brighteners?

Here is why you should consider buying an optical brightener-free laundry detergent:

  • Optical brighteners are dyes that make clothes look whiter. But they don’t make your clothes any cleaner.
  • When you wash clothes, the brighteners wash out. They can pollute lakes, rivers, and oceans because they don’t break down easily.
  • Some brighteners may mess with hormones if they get on your skin directly from the detergent.
  • Detergents without brighteners may be better for babies and people with sensitive skin. The dyes can sometimes cause rashes.
  • Eco-friendly detergents avoid optical brighteners. They want to be gentler on the environment.
  • Your clothes will still get clean without brighteners. You don’t need them for a good wash.

Detergents without optical brighteners are gentler on the environment and your skin. Your clothes will still get clean, and you’ll avoid potential health and pollution risks from the dyes. Eco-friendly detergents go without these unnecessary artificial brighteners.

Buying Guide for Detergents Without Optical Brighteners

Consider the following factors when buying brighteners and phosphate-free detergents.

Choose Plant-Based Detergents

Pick detergents made with plant oils and extracts. Brands using plant-based formulas do not have optical brighteners or other rough synthetic chemicals. Plant-based detergents clean clothes using natural enzymes and stain-fighting stuff from the plants. They are also more gentle on sensitive skin.

Read the Labels

Always read the ingredient list on detergent labels. Look for words like “brightener,” “whitening,” “optical brightener,” or “fluorescent whitening agent.” This means the product has synthetic brighteners. Avoid detergents that have these ingredients.

Test on Small Loads

Before switching detergents, test a new one without optical brighteners on a small load of clothes. Check the clothes closely after washing for a light blue tint. This means brighteners are still there. Testing helps make sure the detergent works well and has no brighteners.

Stick With Liquid Detergents

Liquid detergents are less likely to include optical brighteners compared to powder detergents. Powder types more commonly rely on brighteners to make whites appear whiter. Choosing a liquid can help avoid synthetic brighteners.

Choose Natural Brands

Smaller eco-friendly brands focused on natural ingredients tend to avoid optical brighteners in their products. Larger commercial brands are more likely to include synthetic brighteners for enhanced cleaning power. Go with natural brands for cleaner ingredients.


Tide Purclean is the best optical brightener-free detergent. It is made from plants and certified by USDA. Tide Purclean has no dyes, fragrances, or brighteners. It cleans clothes gently using natural ingredients.

To get the best detergent without brighteners:

  1. Look for plant-based brands.
  2. Check labels and avoid ingredients like “optical brightener.”
  3. Test new detergents on small loads first.

Liquid detergents are better than powder.Try Tide Purclean for an eco-friendly detergent without harsh chemicals. Click here to order Tide Purclean online.