The best laundry detergents for smelly clothes

The best laundry detergents for smelly clothes

Here's what to do with those bags of filthy camp and gym clothes

Published: August 20, 2014 01:00 PM

All across America, kids are coming home from summer camp with duffel bags full of seriously soiled clothing, some of which haven't have seen the inside of a washing machine in weeks. At the same time, pre-season sport camps are ramping up just as temperatures are peaking. The result is a fearsome mix of smell and stains, including grass, mud, blood, sweat, syrup, and more. If you're the unlucky parent in charge of these rank, festering laundry piles, you don't want to leave the job to just any detergent. Here are the few winners from our latest laundy detergent Ratings that can stand up to the end-of-summer challenge.

High-efficiency champ
If you have a front-loader or high-efficiency top-loader, consider Tide Ultra Stain Release. At 25 cents per load, this liquid detergent costs more than most, but it was tops in our tests at overall cleaning power, vanquishing grass, blood, and dust sebum (which simulates ring-around-the-collar and other body stains). It's also superb at cool water cleaning, which should lead to big energy savings over time. Prefer powder? The Tide HE Plus Bleach Alternative, 23 cents per load, kept pace with its liquid brand mate in our tests.

Tide Ultra Stain Release

Bargain buys
Paying top dollar for Tide can get expensive in a hurry if your washer is running nonstop to keep up with multiple campers. Sam's Club members should consider Member's Mark Ultimate Clean, which can be used in high-efficiency or conventional washers. It costs just 12 cents a load, and it was tough on grass and dust sebum. It had a tougher time with blood, so if you have a house full of athletes, be sure to pre-treat heavily stained clothing before adding it to the laundry. Costco shoppers should consider the Kirkland Signature Free & Clear liquid detergent. While it didn’t make the current recommend list, it is still a very good choice at 11 cents per load. Like the Member’s Mark, it can be used in all washing machines.  

Most convenient
Single-dose laundry detergents are helpful during busy laundry times, since they eliminate the need for measuring. While none make our current recommended list, All Mighty Pacs Oxi, 17 cents per load, were tough on the types of stains kids are likely to bring home from camp, especially grass and sweat. Just make sure to keep these pacs (or those from any brand) out of reach of small children, who might mistake them for candy.

Whichever laundry detergent you choose, it's important to follow best practices, especially when you're dealing with large, smelly loads. Sort by colors as well as fabric types—jeans and heavier items in one load, and t-shirts and lighter fabrics in another. Don't overload the machine, or you’ll probably have to wash the items a second time. And follow the manufacturer's measuring directions for large or very dirty loads. You might be tempted to add even more detergent, but this can leave residue in your machine and on your clothing.

—Daniel DiClerico (@dandiclerico on Twitter) 

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