When it comes to washing delicate clothing — whether that's a lacy bra, a silky camisole, or a cashmere sweater — you need the right detergent to ensure it doesn't get damaged in the process. The best detergents for delicates contain gentle ingredients and have a relatively neutral pH to cleanse without the risk of destroying fibers. Some detergents are formulated to give a specific fabric, like silk, extra care, but there are also good all-purpose detergents designed to be extra mild if you don’t want to fuss with multiple products.
First and foremost, you want to look for a detergent that is formulated without harsh synthetic chemicals like sulfates, bleaches, or brighteners. But if reading every label feels like a chore, there is a quick hack to cut through the clutter. “When in doubt, or if you only ever want to worry about one detergent, which a tremendously reasonable life choice to make for yourself, opt for a product that bills itself as 'green' or 'eco-friendly [...],” suggested Jolie Kerr, the cleaning expert behind the podcast Ask a Clean Person, in an article she wrote for Racked. These eco-friendly products are more likely to skip the harsh cleansers in favor of plant-based formulas and natural alternatives.
If you decide that you do want a detergent specifically for silk, cashmere, and wool, here's what to know: The detergent should be protease-free since the enzyme — which is usually included to break up protein-based stains — could potentially be harmful to protein-based fibers (that includes both silk and wool). If you're washing wool specifically, it helps to use a detergent that can condition the wool, which usually means it contains lanolin.
From there, you need to decide if you'll be washing by hand or using the delicate cycle on your washing machine. To hand-wash silk, professional cleaner David Whitehurst recommended to Martha Stewart, filling a small tub with water and gentle detergent, followed by a brief hand swish. If you’re washing a cashmere or merino wool sweaters, you can let them soak for up to 30 minutes. (Never wring to dry!) If you want to wash delicates in a washing machine, it will do you well to invest in a set of mesh bags. It’s a small expense that saves the agony of a misshapen garment or ripped lace — which is why I've also included an affordable multi-bag set below.
Whether you hand-wash or opt for the machine, these are the gentlest detergents to effectively clean delicate clothes so you can keep them in rotation for years to come.
1. An All-Purpose Laundry Detergent That’s pH Balanced
- Total Washes: 200 (100 per bottle)
ECOS laundry detergent offers the most bang for your buck on this list as an ultra-gentle, eco-friendly all-purpose option that's affordable in a two-pack. The pH-balanced formula is hypoallergenic and dermatologist tested, relying on plant-based surfactants and a light floral fragrance derived from essential oils. A built-in fabric softener helps reduce wrinkles and static. You won't find dyes, parabens, phthalates, chemical brighteners, or gluten in this vegan formula (it's also doesn't include protease). It's environmentally friendly, boasting an EPA Safer Choice certification, and it's septic safe. The company itself is famously sustainable: your purchase will be carbon- and water-neutral, certified zero waste, and made using 100% renewable energy. It's also available in lavender and lemongrass.
A Helpful Review: "We've used this brand for 10 years. Out laundry is clean and fresh. It is safe to use on silk, and tough to clean up your laundry. For very tough stains and soil, I pre-treat the dirty areas, pre-wash and then toss it in the laundry.Great for regular washing machines and HE as well. Be sure to follow instructions for HE machines because you require a smaller amount of detergent for those loads."
2. A Delicate Detergent For Cashmere & Wool
- Total Washes: 32
The Laundress, a luxury nontoxic brand, makes it easy to keep your favorite sweater looking new season after season (without going to the dry cleaner!) with their wonderfully scented pH-neutral wool detergent that is enzyme-free (that means no protease) and uniquely formulated for everything from merino and cashmere to expensive mohair. It helps preserve the delicate fibers, cleansing and conditioning in a concentrated formula. The formula is also plant-based and cruelty-free, free of dyes or fillers, and is biodegradable as well. And that gorgeous cedar-based fragrance with notes of sandalwood, rose, and orange? It not only smells wildly indulgent but also serves as a natural moth repellent — that really works.
A Helpful Review: "This wool detergent is amazing! I’ve used it to wash at least 20 cashmere or merino wool sweaters so far, and they came out cleaner and softer than when I dry cleaned them. Because this product adds some of the natural lanolin back to the wool, my sweaters felt softer than before I washed them! There is a slight fragrance, which usually bothers me, but isn’t too bad in this case. [...] I’m never sending my wool to the dry cleaner again!"
3. A Bulk Detergent That's 99.96% Natural
- Total Washes: 256
Puracy ranks as one of the, well, purest on the market with a plant enzyme-based formula that's over 99.9% natural. It's sulfate- and bleach-free, nontoxic, hypoallergenic, and safe for use with children and pets (also septic safe!). According to the brand, it has been tested to be gentle enough for silk and wool (although note the ingredient list does contain protease). This pick also has a slightly higher pH balance (around 8) but still falls close to neutral. While gentle, it's one of the most concentrated detergents on the market, so a little will go a long way, and it comes in eco-friendly packaging that's notably sparse.
A Helpful Review: "It cleans my smelly [workout] gear. Completely. That says a lot about its cleaning ability...I've been using this detergent for all my laundry, including delicates. My garments are still in a pristine condition. That says a lot about this detergent's gentleness."
4. A No-Rinse Detergent That You Can Use On Anything
- Total Washes: 75
Available in an unscented formula, Soak is widely recommended as the no-rinse detergent of choice because it’s ultra-effective yet gentle — plus, it requires hardly any work since you simply soak, squeeze, and dry flat. The detergent can be used to hand-wash just about anything and it can also be used in your washing machine whether it's standard or high-efficiency. It earned Wirecutter's top spot for a detergent for delicates, citing its use on all fabrics, including wool, cashmere, and silk. While a pH isn't provided, the formula is biodegradable and free of sulfates, dyes, and phosphates (and protease is also not included on the ingredient list). Soak is widely touted as a game-changing alternative to Woolite. If you need a no-rinse detergent exclusively for wool, Eucalan packs lanolin to condition and it smells like fresh eucalyptus. (However, Eucalan not recommended for non-woolens because the lanolin will actually hold dirt on anything that isn’t wool.)
A Helpful Review: "Got this less than a week ago and I’ve already used it almost every day. [...] I started with delicates (it worked great), then (skeptically) moved onto sneakers I had worn to hike through the Badlands in South Dakota — after a good soak and a very quick scrub with a shoe brush they were as good as new!"
Also Nice: A Set Of Wildly Popular Mesh Laundry Bags
For clothes you prefer to wash in the machine (or if, like me, you loathe hand washing but still want to be safe), a set of mesh laundry bags will be a must-have. Mesh laundry bags protect delicates, whether that's preventing delicate lace from snagging, maintaining a sweater's shape, or keeping bras from getting deformed in a spin cycle. You'll still probably have to air dry most garments, but the messy work will at least be handled. This seven-piece set comes in multiple sizes, including two specifically for bras. "For the amount of bags you get, you can’t beat the price. Even at stores like TJMAXX, you will not be able to get a 7 piece set for just over a dollar each," one fan pointed out, adding, "The material feels very sturdy and the zipper looks strong to hold." This set has over 19,000 ratings, which makes it a quality set that's one hell of a bargain.