In our third and final test of household products in the NordQual project, we tested color laundry detergents. Sixty products were tested from Denmark, Finland and Sweden. Most products were in liquid form but we also tested three single-dose capsule products, a washing egg, and washing berries.

Our independent testing laboratory tested for stain removal and color maintenance. For stain removal, cloth soiled with fourteen different types of standard stains from make-up to grass to red wine were washed with the product.  Percent of soil removal was then measured by the different in light reflection by a spectrophotometer.

Color maintenance testing involved washing colored fabrics twenty times with the product to see how much the different colors faded, again using reflected light measurements.

Some products were tested in both hard and soft water to account for water differences between the countries.

While the laboratory tested the products' performance, the project team collected other information about the product such as ingredients, marketing claims, hazard warnings, and packaging material.

Some interesting results:

Ingredients Information

At least 21 of 60 products did not have an accurate ingredients list on their webpage. For ten of the products, it took more than one week to receive the ingredients information from customer service. Manufacturers of Favorit (Bergendahls/City Gross) in Sweden and Perfekt+ (Tokmanni) in Finland did not respond to multiple requests for the ingredients information that they are legally obliged to provide according to the EU detergents legislation (EC) 648/2004.

According to the Danish Consumer Council, Asthma-Allergi labelled products in Denmark (Blå Krans) should have all ingredients listed on the label (article here). This would be a good practice across the all the Asthma Allergy labelled products (or ideally, all products).  However, even in Denmark, only 8 of 11 Asthma-Allergy labeled laundry products in our test had the full ingredient list on the bottle. But that is much better than Finland and Sweden, where only 2 of 10 and 3 of 10, respectively, Asthma-Allergy labelled laundry products from our test had the full ingredient list on the bottle. 


Laundry detergents can contain many chemicals including surfactants, soaps, preservatives, enzymes, colorants, and perfumes.  Companies can choose from many different chemicals for each purpose, for example, there are many types of surfactants.  Some of these chemicals are more problematic than others to health or the environment.  We looked out for the following problematic ingredients in our product evaluation, listed below. Products labeled with both the Nordic Swan and Asthma Allergy Nordic labels did not contain these substances.

Allergens (known and suspected)

Perfumes – can cause a skin allergy. Limonene, geraniol, and linalool are just some of the sensitizing fragrances that can cause skin allergy. For those who wish to avoid perfumes, there are many perfume-free products available including all those with the Asthma and Allergy label.

Allergenic preservatives – preservatives are used to extend the life of the product.  Some preservatives can cause a skin allergy, including isothiazolinones such as methylisothiazolinone, whereas other preservatives are considered safer. The allergenic preservatives can be avoided by choosing a product with the Asthma-Allergy label.  They are also either banned or restricted to low concentrations in Nordic Swan and EU Ecolabel products.

Harmful to Health

Suspected Endocrine Disruptors – these chemicals have shown potential to disrupt the hormone system and are under further investigation in the EU. Suspected endocrine disruptor benzyl salicylate was found in Lidl’s Formil Colour in Denmark, Finland and Sweden. In Denmark, butylphenyl methylpropional is a suspected endocrine disruptor in Savin's Color Protect. Butylphenyl methylpropional is also suspected of damaging fertility and the unborn child. Suspected endocrine disruptors are forbidden in Nordic Swan and EU Ecolabel products.

Boron compounds – boric acid is a Substance of Very High Concern and is toxic for reproduction. Other borates form boric acid in contact with water. Therefore, the following ingredients used as binders or stabilizers in Lidl’s Formil (DK, FI, SE), Savin (DK), Minirisk (FI), and Perlana (FI) laundry detergents are considered problematic: 2-aminoethanol, monoester with boric acid; Boric acid; Sodium borate; and Sodium metaborate, anhydrous. 

Problematic in the environment

Environmentally problematic substances – these chemicals can be harmful to aquatic life with long-lasting effects if they are released into the environment. Nordic Swan and EU Ecolabels forbid or restrict many environmentally problematic substances including limonene, methylisothiazolinone, and cyclohexyldimethylpropanol.

Linear alkylbenzene sulfonic acids (LAS) are anionic surfactants that are not readily degradable in anaerobic conditions leading to high concentrations in sewage sludge. LAS is also toxic to aquatic organisms. The Danish EPA includes LAS on its List of Undesirable Substances (LOUS), 2004. LAS found in some laundry detergents include: sodium dodecylbenzenesulfonate (also called benzene sulphonic acid, C10- 13 alkyl derivatives, sodium salt); Dodecylbenzene Sulfonic Acid; MEA dodecylbenzenesulfonate; and TEA dodecylbenzenesulfonate.  

Generally avoidable chemicals

Optical brighteners / whiteners – Lidl’s Formil 3-in-1 Caps Colour Detergent has the optical brightener disodium distyrylbiphenyl disulfonate, which is under assessment as Persistent, Bioaccumulative and Toxic.

Colorants – are often added to products to make the detergent in the bottle a certain color but serve no purpose in cleaning. Some colorants can be harmful in the environment.


Hard plastic bottles vs. soft plastic pouches? Nordic Swan does not specify that one is preferred over the other and has two separate criteria for them. However, it seems that many plastic pouches use layers of different types of plastic making them more difficult to recycle. On the other hand, less plastic is used and transported, which is a benefit.  

White/clear plastic is most easily recycled so Nordic Swan has decided only to accept non-colored materials, the exception being packages made from post-consumer recycled plastic can be colored/tinted.  

Compostable/biodegradable plastics are not currently suited for recycling in Nordic countries, so they are not accepted materials for the Nordic Swan label.


The bottle for Ica Skona's Naturlig product is made from 77 percent sugarcane-based bioplastic. We wondered if that is as environmentally preferrable as using recycled plastic or even virgin plastic. Given that no sustainability certification was listed for the sugarcane, we were even more doubtful.

Bioplastics' lifecycle analysis is an area of current research. Nordic Swan is developing policies for how and when bioplastic should be used.

Swedish eco-label Bra Miljöval allows bio-based plastic if the feedstock is not palm oil. This is to avoid new demand on palm oil as a raw material.  

In general, raw materials for bio-based plastic should be certified as sustainable from an authorized scheme so as not to contribute to environmental degradation or lead to social problems in competing with food sources.  However, when available, recycled material is likely a better alternative for promoting a circular economy.

The Swedish test results

The Finnish test results

The Danish test results