Laundry detergents

We find some bargain buys and a big-name loser

Last reviewed: July 2010
July issue cover This article appeared in
July 2010 Consumer Reports Magazine.
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Tide outshone a plethora of other brands when it came to delivering the cleanest clothes. But our latest tests of more than 50 detergents show that you can pay far less for comparable cleaning—or waste your money on a celebrity brand that washed about the same as plain water.

We test all laundry detergents on seven common stains and soils, using a color-sensitive instrument called a colorimeter to see how much stain remains after washing. Several versions of Tide 2X Ultra topped our tests of conventional detergents and those made for high-efficiency front and top-loading washers. Price: around 23 cents per load.

Looking to spend less? Gain Original Fresh HE cleaned almost as well as the top-scoring Tides for just 15 cents per load. And it edged out several pricier competitors among high-efficiency detergents, including Target's Up & Up HE Fresh Breeze.

Our tests also include more detergents that claim plant-based, hypoallergenic formulas. Kirkland Signature Free & Clear Ultra 2X (Costco) and Seventh Generation Natural Powdered HE are two "greener" detergents that cleaned reasonably well. But products by Biokleen, Ecos, Method, and, yes, Martha Stewart delivered spottier results. What's more, manufacturers can make green claims without checks or federal standards. In fact, safety warnings for almost all detergents we tested include eye, skin, or respiratory irritation.