Laundry detergents

Laundry detergent buying guide

Last updated: February 2016
Getting started

Getting started

High-efficiency top-loaders and front-loaders use a lot less water than agitator top-loaders and require low-sudsing detergents--you'll see HE on the detergent label. Most labels say the HE detergent can also be used in agitator top-loaders. With dual-use detergents on the increase it's harder to find detergent meant only for agitator top-loaders.You'll see four in our Ratings, along with dozens of HE and dual-use detergents in liquid, powder,and pod form.

Pods are convenient and some we tested are impressive at cleaning, but they're a serious health hazard for young children. From January through November 2015, poison-control centers nationwide received 11,552 reports of children 5 and younger ingesting or inhaling pods, or getting pod contents on their skin or in their eyes, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers. As early as 2012 Consumer Reports called on manufacturers to make pods safer, and many repsonded posivitely by switching from clear to opague plastic containers and, on some,adding child-resistant latches.

But too many children are still getting their hands on pods. Given this continued danger, we have decided not to include pods on our list of recommended detergents. None were impressive enough in the latest tests to make the cut, but some have been in the past. And we strongly urge households where children younger than 6 are ever present to skip pods altogether. See this story for more details.

Concentrated detergents

Manufacturers tout the environmental benefits of concentrated detergents.The packages require less plastic for bottles, less corrugated cardboard for crating, and less fuel for the trucks that deliver the detergent to the stores. Retailers are benefiting too as they can carry a wider array of detergents. For consumers, it means it's important to follow the usage directions and measure the detergent--no more free-form pouring.

Oxy power?

You'll see claims for "oxi" or "oxy" cleaning power. However it's spelled detergents with this "power" did not do as well as our top-scoring detergents. Made from sodium percarbonate, oxi is a color-safe bleach found in many powder detergents. Certain liquid detergents also come with oxi claims, even though they don't use percarbonate. Our advice: Pick a detergent that cleaned up in our tests, even if it's oxi-free, and use a mild oxidizing agent in powder form, such as OxiClean, when needed. We've found that oxygen powders are effective and milder than chlorine bleach, so you can use them with most whites, including cottons and cotton blends.

Tough tests

Our tests show that some laundry detergents deal especially well with specific stains, such as ring around the collar, grass, tea, chocolate, or clay. But most people need a detergent that can tackle a wide range of common stains. CR's tough tests of dozens of laundry detergents revealed that most cleaned reasonably well overall, with scores ranging from fair to excellent.

Bottom line

Use our Ratings to compare the cleaning performance and price per load of dozens of detergents.

Types

Check the label to make sure the laundry detergent you use is best for your type of washing machine. Different formulas are available as liquids, powders, and single-use packs or pods.

High-efficiency detergents


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

Conventional detergents


These work in agitator top-loading machines, which typically use a lot more water than HE top-loaders and front-loaders.

Dual-use detergents

Manufacturers claim they are safe and effective in all washing machines.

Features


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

Organic formulas

Some manufacturers make green claims. Though there's no federal standard for terms such as "natural" and "earth friendly", there is a Department of Agriculture organic standard, which requires at least 95 percent organic ingredients for its "Organic" seal. Performance has been an issue so far for those products we've tested that meet the standard, but that could change as manufacturers fine tune their organic formulas.

Fabric softener

Some detergents are claimed to clean and soften clothing in a single step and eliminate the need to add softener separately. A caveat: CR has 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.

Brands

All arrow  |  Arm & Hammer arrow  |  Cheer arrow  |  Gain arrow  |  Method arrow  |  Purex arrow  |  SA8 arrow  |  Seventh Generation arrow  |  Tide arrow  |  WIN arrow

The following are the top five liquid laundry detergents listed in order of market share. Use these profiles to compare laundry detergents by brand.

All

Sun Products Corporation's All Small & Mighty formula has a brand share of 11 percent. The All Small & Mighty 3X Concentrated detergent is available in 64- and 32-ounce sizes and with a variety of ingredients and fragrances for specific uses, such as Stainlifter, Free & Clear HE, and Fresh Rain HE.

Arm & Hammer

Arm & Hammer, owned by Church & Dwight, holds an 8.25 percent share. New Arm & Hammer 2X Concentrated laundry detergent is available in conventional and HE formulations and also in a Free of Perfume and Dye formula.

Cheer

Cheer is a Proctor & Gamble product. It is available in HE and standard formulations. Special formulations include Original Color Guard and 2X Ultra Dark Formula Color Guard for conventional and high-efficiency washers.

Gain

Gain, which is owned by Proctor & Gamble, holds a market share of 7 percent. New Ultra Gain 2X Concentrated is available in conventional and high efficiency, and a variety of scents and ingredients for specific uses.

Method

Method HE has a triple-concentrated formula, is phosphate-free and biodegradable, and can be used to pre-treat laundry. Method is a "green" product that can be used in conventional and high-efficiency washing machines.

Purex

Purex has brand share of 12.5 percent. Dial Corporation launched New Purex Ultra Concentrate 2X liquid in 2007. The New Ultra Purex is 2X more concentrated than regular Purex, and the 50-ounce package does 32 loads. It’s available in conventional and HE formulas and with additional ingredients such as Purex Plus Fabric Softener, Purex Ultra Concentrate plus Renuzit Fresh Scent, and Purex UltraConcentrate HE After the Rain.

SA8

SA8 Premium with "bioquest" is an Amway product. It is super concentrated with biodegradable cleaning agents and biological enzymes. It can be used in standard or high-efficiency machines.

Seventh Generation

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.

Tide

Tide is the leading brand in liquid laundry detergent with a 28 percent share. In 2007 Proctor & Gamble introduced a full replacement of its liquid laundry detergent lineup, which includes Tide and Gain. The new 2X concentrated formulation provides the same number of loads in a more compact bottle. Tide also makes a wide variety of different detergents for specific uses: HE, Coldwater, Totalcare, Tide With a Touch of Downy, and Tide Ultra with Dawn Stainscrubbers are just a few formulas.

WIN

Win claims that its high-performance sport detergent is designed to target offensive odors and stains. The oxy-cleaning technology is supposed to eliminate embedded sweat molecules and odors from athletic gear and other clothing.

Cleaning tips

Pens, crayons, and chocolate are some of the things that people have accidentally left in pockets, according to our Facebook followers and staff. The results weren't pretty. Couple that with the fact that fabrics and washers have changed, and your laundry routine may need an update. So we asked manufacturers and our laundry and fabric experts for their latest tips. Start by following the instructions on garment labels, then try the following:

Chocolate-covered laundry

Use your machine's soak cycle and one of our higher-rated detergents that's very good at removing chocolate, such as Persil ProClean 2in1 liquid detergent. It can be used in all washer types. Then wash. Don't put the stained item into the dryer until you're satisfied with the stain removal. If the stained clothes have already been in the dryer, it will be even more difficult to remove stains, so you might have to repeat this process.

Clothes with spandex

Skip the chlorine bleach; it can damage spandex. (So can a very hot iron.) For jeans with special fading or a distressed finish, turn them inside out before washing and pull up the zipper; its teeth can get caught on other clothing.

Ink and crayon marks

To tackle ballpoint-pen marks, place a clean white paper towel under the stain, then blot a small spot with rubbing alcohol and another piece of paper towel. Keep blotting the stain with a clean part of each paper towel over and under the stain until it is gone, then launder. For crayons, Crayola suggests scraping off as much as possible, then working liquid dish soap into the stain. (Do that and the following steps on an inconspicuous spot first.) Wait several minutes, then rub the fabric under warm water to remove the stain. Machine-wash using the heavy-soil setting, with the hottest water the care label recommends, and OxiClean. Air-dry the item and repeat if necessary.

Rogaine-stained pillowcases

A reader alerted us that Rogaine, an FDA-approved topical treatment used to help regrow hair, stains his pillowcases after he applies it at bedtime. Try soaking pillowcases in white vinegar for 15 to 30 minutes, then toss them in the washer with detergent but no bleach. Repeat if needed. Line dry.

Small stuffed animals

If there are no glued-on parts, wash using the gentle cycle in cold water and with a mild detergent, then put in the sun or another warm place to dry.

Waterproof items

Consult your washing machine manual if you have an HE top-loader. Waterproof or water-resistant items increase the chance of loads becoming unbalanced in some HE top-loaders, which can cause excessive shaking and damage. Some HE top-loaders now have a waterproof cycle that slows down the spin cycle, while other manufacturers may suggest using a low-spin or no-spin cycle when washing waterproof items.

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