SLS Free Laundry Powder

SLS Free Laundry Powder

SLS-Free: Nellie’s All Natural Laundry Soda
(and an alternative)

Are you a skincare obsessive? If you are, I bet you scan the ingredients list of the cosmetics you buy religiously, looking for key ingredients currently having their moment but also looking for things that haven’t agreed with you in the past.

For me, SLS (Sodium Lauryl Sulfate) as an ingredient has always been a big no-no. SLS is the same surfactant (foaming agent) used in engine degreaser, car wash and floor cleaner. Its pretty brutal stuff and has a reputation as a skin irritant. This is where you all run to the bathroom and check your shampoo and body wash for SLS.

But you’re missing a trick. CHECK YOUR LAUNDRY DETERGENT.

SLS is most likely to cause irritation from prolonged exposure. How confident are you of the rinse cycle in your washing machine? Think about how long you wear a pair of underpants, or how long you moosh your face into your pillow when you sleep compared to how long body wash stays on your skin.

This is exactly how I found out I was very incompatible with certain surfactants. I was about 6. We went on holiday. Sleeping in the hotel sheets made my face puff up like a red, sand-papery blowfish. So itchy and miserable. Antihystamines and damp face washers popped into the freezer and made into a cold compress were the only thing that would stop the itch. Several similar incidents helped us eliminate other causes and narrow it down to the laundry powder.

Now, did you go and check your laundry powder? I bet you drew a blank. This is something that pisses me off SO MUCH. Laundry detergent seems to be able to skirt around giving a full ingredients listing and can get away with listing the active ingredients as:

cleansing agent
surfactants (aionic and nonionic)

TOTAL BULLSHIT. Of course it contains a cleansing agent. I would hope so! But which one?

My solution is to only buy laundry powder (or liquid) that is not only transparent about their ingredients list, but proud of what they do and do not include.

Nellie’s All Natural

A current favourite of mine is Nellie’s All Natural Laundry Soda. We originally discovered this staying in an Airbnb in San Francisco a few years ago. (I was so impressed at the time I snapped the above pic determined to find a way to buy it in Australia – linked for you below)

We’ve just cracked open our 7th or 8th tin. It has no SLS, fragrance or enzymes. There are only 5 ingredients. It comes in a fully recyclable and Instagram-worthy tin and it’s septic safe if you’re rural / off the grid / using grey water on your garden. Nellie’s gets the tick of approval from Mr CC for taking care of his precious cycling kits. It keeps them clean and smelling fresh (despite no fragrance) while being gentle on a cyclist’s most sensitive regions. Nellie’s gets the tick of approval from me because its never made me itchy and gets the job done with minimal ingredients. All killer. No filler.

And you know, cute packaging.

Nellie’s All Natural Laundry Soda Ingredients:
Soda ash, linear alcohol ethoxylate, sodium chloride, sodium metasilicate, sodium carbonate.

1.5kg for about $23 (AUD). When used according to the directions it costs about 23c a load. Made in Canada. Works for both front and top loading machines.

Available with worldwide shipping from iHerb. Its also available on Amazon but the shipping can get crazy if you’re not US based.

Update: If you’re in Australia Nellie’s actually have a dedicated Australian website (http://nellies.com.au) with $5.99 flat rate shipping which is an excellent deal considering each tin is 1.5kg. I’ve always bought mine from iHerb (its exactly the same price) so I didn’t even realise. When I shop on iHerb I also get a bunch of gym supplements, vitamins and skincare so then qualify for their free shipping (not to mention their rolling loyalty discount). Nellie’s online is a great option if a single tin is all you’re purchasing. 30c a load including the shipping is still WAY better than OMO’s 55c per load (1kg only does 22 washes! What is with THAT? Answer: Filler.)


My entire family has used Amway SA8™ Premium Concentrated Laundry Detergent for literal decades. Its part of the reason we didn’t know I was sensitive to SLS until I slept in sheets washed by someone else. So that makes it approximately 35 years of loyal use! SA8 is soda based like Nellie’s but does contain enzymes, fragrance and brighteners (highlighted below). I have never had a problem with their inclusion though. Also septic safe and fully recyclable packaging.

Amway SA8™ Premium Concentrated Laundry Detergent Ingredients:
Sodium Carbonate (Washing Soda), Pareth-25-7 (Nonionic Surfactant), Citric Acid (Organic Water Softener) Fumaric Acid (Dispersant), Hydrated Silica (Absorbent Mineral), Cellulose Gum (Anti Redeposition Agent), Water, Amylase (Starch Stain Remover), Protease (Protein Stain Remover), Distyryl Biphenyl Derivative (Fabric Brightener), Fragrance

3kg for an eye-watering $75 (AUD). Don’t let that put you off though. You get an enormous 250 washes for this amount which is about 30c a load. One box lasts our household about 6 months! Made in USA. Works for both front and top loading machines.

Available from Amway. AU / US (size of product and quantity of washes is different to AU but still returns a 30c (US) load) / UK

A final word on ‘sensitive’ laundry powders:

Don’t take the product’s packaging as gospel. The word ‘sensitive’ splashed all over the pack means nothing if its a particular ingredient you’re sensitive/allergic to. And endorsements by certain organisations aren’t all they appear to be either. Here is a really good example:

Aware Sensitive Laundry Powder has the dual focus of having a low impact on the environment and on personal health. It is endorsed by Planet Ark and carries the Sensitive Choice blue butterfly logo. It does not use palm oil, fragrance, optical brighteners, petrochemical based surfactants or phosphates in its formula. In fact, they have a full MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) available for download on their website which is extra impressive in terms of safety of use. HOWEVER… I downloaded the MSDS because on the actual box the key cleansing agent is listed the as ‘Plant Oil Surfactants’ derived from coconut oil and sugar. Below are the actual ingredients as listed on the MSDS.

Aware Sensitive Laundry Powder Ingredients:
Sodium Carbonate, Sodium Laurel Sulphate [sic], Disodium Citrate, Sodium Dislocate, Carboxymethyl Cellulose, Alkyl Polyglucoside, Water (aqua).

And there it is, SLS. Known irritant especially for people with allergies/skin sensitivities.

The Planet Ark endorsement only means the brand has made environmentally conscious choices regarding its manufacture of the product, nothing to do with skin sensitivity. The Sensitive Choice logo is provided by the National Asthma Council Australia, whose main focus believe it or not, is Asthma and their catch phrase is “Its about breathing.” The blue butterfly logo is used under licence (i.e. paid for) for marketing and promotional purposes. Sensitive Choice state on their website their program “is a type of product endorsement/sponsorship program, although approved products and services must satisfy our independent Product Advisory Panel they do no harm and may offer relative benefits to people with asthma or allergies.” To me that says the actual benefit of the product/service is of secondary consideration and may or may not be of actual benefit. Love a good disclaimer. You can read more about how they choose the products to endorse (paid for with a yearly fee) here: Sensitive Choice Panel Review Process.

So, the moral of the story is: do your detective work. If the label doesn’t transparently and simply list its actual ingredients, my advice is don’t buy it.

Now, can anyone tell me of an SLS free Australian brand? I love Nellie’s, but I’d love to shop local even more… Drop me a line in the comments.


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2 Amazing Comments

  • Reply Carol September 26, 2017 at 5:14 pm

    Great article. I just found out about SLS in Aware laundry powder.
    Thanks for the heads up on Alternatives.

    • Reply Natalie Banks September 26, 2017 at 11:11 pm

      Hi Carol, thanks for commenting!

      I really thought Aware might do due diligence and properly list their ingredients considering they’re marketing their brand towards people who make conscious purchasing decisions. I mean, their name is AWARE! But no.

      Did you find an alternative in the end?

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