Laundry Detergent Buying Guide

Our tests of dozens of laundry detergents show there are real differences, and that not all detergents get clothes clean. We bring on chocolate, tea, grass, blood, red wine, dirt, and body oil—tough stains that challenge the detergents so that we can see real differences among them.

Whether you're brand loyal or buy what's on sale, here's the dirt on laundry detergents.

Types of Laundry Detergents

Detergents are available as liquids, powders, and single-use pacs or pods. Most liquid detergents powders are concentrated. This reduces the plastic and cardboard needed to make the containers, and the fuel needed 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

HE detergents have pretty much replaced regular detergent on stores shelves, which is why most HE detergents can be used in any type of washer. Washing machine manufacturers recommend these low-sudsing detergents for front-loading washers and high-efficiency top-loaders since these washers use significantly less water than most agitator top-loaders. But even new agitator top-loaders use less water than they once did, and many now come with instructions to use HE detergent. 

Did HE Detergents Clean Up in Our Tests?
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.

Click Here for Laundry Detergent Ratings

Environmentally-Friendly Laundry Detergent

Detergents in our tests that make these 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. 

Need to know: The names of these detergents may include "green," "eco," or "natural," but there's no federal standard and no required verification for these terms. If the label says "organic," it's meaningful if the product also has the "USDA Organic" seal, because third-party verification is required and it must contain 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

The Trouble With Pods and Fabric Softeners

Because of the risk they pose to young children and adults with dementia, Consumer Reports does not recommend laundry pods at this time.

Single-use laundry pods and pacs are convenient to use, but between 2013 and 2017, the American Association of Poison Control Centers received an estimated 56,594 calls related to liquid laundry packet detergent exposure in children under age 6. Exposure can occur in several ways: ingesting or inhaling it, getting it in the eyes, or absorbing it through the skin. CR doesn't recommend the use of these detergent pacs in homes where children under 6 years old may be present. 

The Consumer Product Safety Commission is aware of eight deaths related to ingesting liquid laundry detergent packets in the U.S. between 2012 and early 2017: two were young children and six were adults with dementia. As a result of this data from the CPSC highlighting the potential risks of laundry detergent packets to adults with dementia, we also recommend that family members caring for anyone who is cognitively impaired not keep these packets in the home. To learn more, read "Liquid Laundry Detergent Pods Pose Lethal Risk for Adults With Dementia."

And as part of a social media trend, teens have put pods into their mouths, even biting into them, which is not safe. Check out "What Eating a Laundry Pod Can Do to You" for all the details.  

Did You Know?
As early as 2012 Consumer Reports called on manufacturers to make pods and packets safer, and many responded by switching from clear to opaque plastic containers and, on some, adding child-resistant latches.

We're also part of the committee that set a voluntary standard for the industry, which includes adding a bitter-tasting substance to the outer film of the detergent packets, and ensuring they're tougher to burst when squeezed by young kids. 

Fabric Softeners
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.

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. 

Drawing that illustrates best laundry practices and helpful hints.
Illustration: Brown Bird Design

Interpreting the Labels

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


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 its 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.
Another 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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