Laundry detergents

Laundry Detergent Buying Guide
Laundry Detergent Buying Guide
Champion Stain Fighters

There's been a dust-up in the detergent aisle. When Persil, a recent import from Germany, took away the top spot from Tide in Consumer Report’s laundry detergent Ratings, it was news on supermarket shelves. Tide held that spot for years and is a big seller. Persil touted their top rating in a Super Bowl commercial: ”Rated #1 by a leading consumer publication. Boom.”

To test dozens of laundry detergents, we bring on chocolate ice cream, tea, grass, blood, red wine, clay, and dust-plus-sebum (politely referred to as ring-around-the-collar). We also see how the detergents do in cool water, which can help save you energy and money. Our tests show there are real differences, with overall scores ranging from fair to excellent. Some did especially well with specific stains, such as grass, blood, or ring-around-the-collar. 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 packs 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.You'll see a few in our Ratings.

How did Standard Detergents Do 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.  

Check Which Detergents Worked Well in Cold Water

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. Some greens delivered decent results in our tests

Need to know: There's no federal standard and no required verification for terms such as "natural" and "earth friendly," but "organic" is a meaningful label if the product also has the "USDA Organic" seal, because third-party verification was required and 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
These are convenient and some are impressive at cleaning, but poison-control centers nationwide received 12,594 reports of children 5 and younger ingesting or inhaling pods, or getting pod contents on their skin or in their eyes in 2015, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers. Given this continued danger, we do not include pods on our list of recommended detergents. And we strongly urge households where children younger than 6 are present to skip pods altogether.

Did You Know?
As early as 2012 Consumer Reports called on manufacturers to make pods safer, and many responded by switching from clear to opaque plastic containers and, on some, adding child-resistant latches. Consumer Reports has worked to help bring other changes aimed at making the pods safer, such as adding bittering agents. These changes are expected to hit the market in late 2016, and we will continue to monitor this.

Fabric Softener
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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