Laundry Detergent Buying Guide
Champion Stain Fighters

Our tests of dozens of laundry detergents show there are real differences, and not all get clothes clean. We bring on chocolate ice cream, tea, grass, blood, red wine, clay, and sebum (body oil), and test using cool water. Why cool? It's one way to help you save money on your energy bills. Whether you’re brand loyal or buy what’s on sale, here’s the dirt on suds.

1

Match Your Detergent to Your Machine

Detergents are available as liquids, powders, and single-use packets or pods (see below for our take on these). Most are concentrated, which reduces the plastic needed to make the bottles and the fuel for the delivery trucks. But old habits die hard, so follow the usage directions and measure the concentrated detergent—no more free-form pouring. Here are the detergent types to choose from.

 

Photo of a high-efficiency (HE) laundry detergent.

High-Efficiency (HE) Laundry Detergent

Washing machine manufacturers recommend HE detergents for front-loading washers and high-efficiency top-loaders, which use significantly less water than agitator top-loaders so they require low sudsing detergent. Most HE detergents are dual-use, and can also be used in agitator top-loaders.



Did HE Detergents Clean Up in Our Tests?
Photo of a standard top-loader detergent.

Standard Top-Loader Laundry Detergent

Dual-use detergents are so common that it’s hard to find detergent meant only for agitator top-loaders. That's why you won't see any in our ratings.



Photo of a cold water detergent.

Cold Water Laundry Detergent

Using less hot water saves energy and money. With cold water detergents, the cleansing enzymes are designed to work better in cold water. We test these detergents in 60°F water, instead of the 75°F water used in our cool water tests.  



Click Here for Laundry Detergent Ratings

Green Laundry Detergent

Detergents we've tested that make green claims haven’t delivered the same cleaning power of the top-rated detergents. One possible factor is that green detergents may lack the enzymes and other chemicals that give many regular detergents their stain-fighting power. 

Need to know: The names of these detergents may include "green," "eco," or "natural," but there's no federal standard and no required verification for these terms. If the label says "organic," it's meaningful if the product also has the "USDA Organic" seal, because third-party verification is required and it must contain at least 95 percent organic ingredients. The other 5 percent that aren't organic should pose no risks to human health and the environment.



 
For More on Natural Detergents See Our Ratings
2

The Trouble With Pods and Fabric Softener

Pods and Packets
Single-use laundry pods and packets are convenient to use, but between 2012 and 2015, the American Association of Poison Control Centers received reports of 38,021 people suffering exposure to the liquid detergent in the packets in some way: ingesting or inhaling it, getting it in their eyes, or absorbing it through their skin. Children under age 6 account for 91 percent of the reported incidents. Consumer Reports' advice to consumers has been to keep laundry packets out of households where children under 6 years old may be present. 

The Consumer Product Safety Commission is aware of eight deaths related to ingesting liquid laundry detergent packets in the U.S. between 2012 and early 2017: two were young children and six were adults with dementia. As a result of this new data from the CPSC highlighting the potential risks of laundry detergent packets to adults with dementia, we are amending our advice and recommending that family members caring for anyone who is cognitively impaired not keep these packets in the home. To learn more, see "Liquid Laundry Detergent Pods Pose Lethal Risk for Adults With Dementia."

Did You Know?
As early as 2012 Consumer Reports called on manufacturers to make pods and packets safer, and many responded by switching from clear to opaque plastic containers and, on some, adding child-resistant latches. We're also part of the committee that has set a new voluntary standard for the industry, which includes adding a bitter-tasting substance to the outer film of the detergent packets, and ensuring they're tougher to burst when squeezed by young kids. Some manufacturers have already made these changes. 

Fabric Softeners
Softener is added to some detergents, which claim to clean and soften clothing in a single step. A caveat: We have long advised against the use of liquid fabric softener on children's sleepwear and on any clothes that have been treated with fire retardant. It's been shown to reduce flame resistance.

3

Laundry Lessons

Even the best detergent can’t make up for bad laundry practices. Here are four rules to live by when you do the wash, plus our expert advice for tackling the toughest stains. Our textile experts show you how to remove tough mustard, red wine, chewing gum, and ink stains. Some of our advice involves weird but solid science.  

Drawing that illustrates best laundry practices and helpful hints.
Illustration: Brown Bird Design
4

Interpreting the Labels

Choosing a detergent should be easy, but labels can be confusing. Here's what you'll want to know.

5

Brands

Many people choose a detergent brand and stick with it for years. But there are some alternatives on the market including a few newcomers.

Formerly owned by the Sun Products Corporation, Henkel purchased Sun’s portfolio of consumer household brands in 2016, including All, as well as Wisk, Sun, Snuggle, and Sunlight detergents. All is available in liquid, powder, and single-use packs, and is sold through retail chains across the U.S.
The Arm & Hammer logo, which dates back to the 1860’s, has been synonymous with baking soda since the 1890’s. In the 1970’s, Church & Dwight expanded Arm & Hammer to multiple household products, including laundry detergent, with baking soda as a deodorizing ingredient. With the purchase of the OxiClean brand in 2006, Arm & Hammer with OxiClean has become one of their most popular lines of laundry detergent. Arm & Hammer is available in liquid, powder, and single-use packs, and is sold through discount, food, and drugstore retailers nationally.
Introduced to the American market in 1950, Cheer quickly became Procter & Gamble’s second leading brand of laundry detergent, after Tide. Since then, Cheer has been repositioned as P&G’s entry-level brand, and is available through mass retailers nationwide.
A Procter & Gamble brand, Gain is best known for its fragrant laundry detergent and complementary clothing-care and cleaning products. Gain is available in liquid, powder, and single-use packs.
One of Europe’s leading brands of laundry detergent, Persil was introduced to the American market in 2015. Manufactured by Henkel, which also makes the Purex brand of laundry detergent, Persil was originally sold exclusively in Wal-Mart stores across the U.S.. In 2016, Persil expanded its retail distribution, and now is available in other mass discount, drug, and grocery retailers. Persil is available in the following forms: liquid, “pearl” (powder-like), and “caps” (pre-measured capsules).
Originally founded as a brand of bleach in 1922, Purex has evolved into a leading brand of laundry detergent in the U.S. Manufactured by the Dial Corporation, a subsidiary of Henkel (which also makes Persil), Purex is available at most national big-box, food, and drugstore retailers.
Seventh Generation is a major brand in the green product category that has plant-derived cleaning agents and enzymes. Formulations include Natural Powder HE, which can also be used in conventional washers.
Introduced in 1946, Tide has been a mainstay in American households since the 1950’s. Tide, which is manufactured by Procter & Gamble, is the leading brand in laundry detergent, and is sold through every national mass market retailer from the big box discount chains to drug stores and grocery retailers. Tide makes a wide variety of different detergents—liquid, powder, and detergent pods—for specific uses, such as for high-efficiency washing machines, for use in cold water, and detergents with Febreze, bleach alternative, and Free & Gentle formulas.
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