This article is the archived version of a report that appeared in July 2009 Consumer Reports magazine.
Seventh Generation and Costco's Kirkland Signature are among the high-efficiency brands you can use in a regular top-loading washer. But these multiuse detergents still worked better in our better-washing, front-loading machines. Here are some other tips for navigating the detergent aisle:
Win High Performance Sport Detergent, 64 cents per load, is claimed to remove odors and stains. It worked on odor but was unimpressive on stains. Tide promises its TotalCare, which costs 45 cents per load, protects colors and fights stains, among other things. It did well at protecting the color of several cotton dresses after 30 washes. But Tide's 2X Ultra cold-water detergent protected color comparably and cleaned better for far less. And whichever detergent you buy, be aware that brighteners for whiter-looking whites can over-whiten cream-colored fabrics and turn dark colors gray.
Simplicity Hypoallergenic Non-Toxic 2X and Seventh Generation Natural Powdered HE are among the detergents said to have more plant-based ingredients than petroleum. Both cleaned well and claim to be hypoallergenic. The Simplicity is said to be nontoxic. But manufacturers can make those claims without any checks or federal standards. In fact, safety warnings for all the laundry detergents we tested, including those two, say that they can cause eye, skin, or respiratory irritation.
Stick to the recommended amount of detergent. Using too much raises costs and might require added rinse cycles, wasting water.