In this report
November 2011 Ratings

Best laundry detergents

Last reviewed: November 2011
Latest on Laundry detergents
A basket of laundry

Different types of detergents have joined the long lineup of liquids and powders on store shelves, and we included some in our latest tests. Dropps 6X Concentrated is a pod sealed in a single-dose capsule that dissolves in the laundry. Purex Complete 3-in-1 is a sheet containing detergent and a fabric softener that's released in the dryer. We also tested two gels from Arm & Hammer: Essentials Power Gel and Power Gel Plus OxiClean Stainfighters.

The verdict

Though convenient, those new types aren't among the better choices. Plenty of more conventional detergents are higher-rated. A dot under blood or grass in our Ratings (available to subscribers) means that a detergent did a very good job on that stain. Cost per load is based on the price of the biggest container that's widely sold.

A few words about packaging. More detergents are claimed to be concentrated. So you'll use more per load of a brand's 2X version than you will of its 3X detergent, but price per load is similar. "Cold water" detergents generally include stain-lifting enzymes that work better in cold water than hot. (We tested those products in cold water and the rest in warm.)

Consumers should be skeptical about green claims for laundry detergents because there are few or no governmental regulations for many of the claims. (There's no standard for "natural" in these products, for instance.) The Design for the Environment logo on some detergents indicates that EPA criteria were used to ensure that the product doesn't contain ingredients that may harm human health or the environment. We haven't formally evaluated the label. Best cleaning of the greens: Seventh Generation powder.

Bottom line

In a powder vs. liquid contest, there's no clear winner. The best detergents were liquid, but so were lower-rated products. None of the Tides or Wisks were duds. Several HEs did well, including Up and Up from Target, a CR Best Buy at 11 cents per load. Wisk, at 17 cents per load, was the best detergent for conventional top-loaders.