Detergent doses: 'Ultra' confusing

Consumer Reports magazine: March 2012

Although today’s washers have made doing laundry easier than ever, concentrated laundry detergents have not. Some claims are puzzling, measuring cap sizes are all over the place, and if manufacturers really wanted to lighten your load on washday, they’d make it crystal clear how much detergent is needed to get the job done.

Concentrated detergents—2X, 3X, and even 8X—have less water (and other nonessential ingredients) than conventional products, and packaging is smaller, so less plastic and cardboard are used and transport is more efficient. The X’s don’t have a standard definition, says Petra Stovickova, a spokeswoman for Procter & Gamble, Tide’s maker, but they’re “usually linked to a previous formula,” so 2X would give equal performance for half the dose. But the benefits go down the drain if you use too much detergent.

That’s easy to do. Some of the caps’ fill lines are hard to decipher, and the line for the largest load may be only halfway up the cap. Many people use twice the recommended amount, says Brian Sansoni, spokesman for the American Cleaning Institute, a trade group that includes detergent manufacturers. That could be due to poor cap design, a “more is better” philosophy, misreading the caps’ lines, or simply not reading directions. Using too much detergent not only wastes money but also can prolong the rinse cycle: Some washers keep going when the water is too sudsy.

In time, measuring detergent may become easier. Starting this spring, for example, caps on Arm & Hammer and Extra will bear a thick vertical dosing line instead of a thin horizontal line, said Kevin Kuchinski, a spokesman for Arm & Hammer detergents. In February, according to Stovickova, P&G planned to launch Tide Pods, with pre-measured detergent. A few manufacturers have already introduced detergents in pre-measured capsules and easier-to-dispense pump bottles.

Bottom line. Until caps are crystal clear, follow label directions. Use a marker to highlight fill lines, and measure, don’t just pour. For a front-loading washer or high-efficiency top-loader, use HE detergents. Others produce too much suds.

Washday blues

Refer to the photograph above, moving from left to right:

Purex vs. Purex. Both bottles, found side by side on a store shelf, contain 50 fluid ounces and claim 33 loads. Why the different caps? The company launched the newer, wider one, a customer rep said, to standardize its cap sizes.

Silly claim. "50% more loads," says this 75-ounce bottle of Xtra. Great ... until you read the fine print: "vs. 50 oz. detergents."

X marks the spot. Era 2X Ultra contains 50 ounces and does 32 loads, two more than Tide Plus Febreze, whose bottle makes no Ultra or X claim. And 32 ounces of 3X Ultra All (white bottle)? It does 28 loads.

Easy does it. Sometimes the fill lines are so close together (about one-sixteenth inch between two doses in the blue Era cap in the foreground of the photograph) that you'd need an eyedropper to measure properly.

Hidden lines. You can't see the lines in this All cap, but neither could we, unless we held it an inch from our eyes.

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