Best and Worst Laundry Detergents From Consumer Reports' Tests
Formulas from Tide and Persil prevail, while some other detergents can barely clean clothes
Stroll your grocery store’s cleaning aisle and you’ll see a rainbow of products boasting Marvel movie-like superpowers—Ultra Oxi, Stain Fighter, Power Pods, O2 Blitz, Boombastic Clean, etc. And that’s not even counting so-called natural or eco-friendly options.
How do you know which superlatives to believe and which detergent to choose? Some CR readers tell us they have strong preferences, especially when it comes to the detergent’s scent: “Great smelling,” one CR reader commented. “The scent is extremely strong,” says another—and they were both talking about the same formula. CR market analyst Kelly Moomey says shoppers tend to fall into one of two camps: price-based—they buy what’s on sale—or brand-loyal.
But our tests find that even within a single brand, performance varies from one formula to the next.
Here’s how we determine which detergents fight the good fight. In the lab, CR’s test engineers launder fabric swatches that are saturated with blood, body oil, chocolate, coffee, dirt, grass, and salad dressing. We use stains that are exceedingly hard to remove so that we can detect real differences among detergents. Even the best detergents can’t remove every stain completely. Using cool water, we wash swatches in two identical washers with each detergent, then allow the swatches to air-dry. (A dryer is out of the question because the heat can alter the stains.)
Testers use a colorimeter, a device that measures color intensity, to see how much of the stain remains on each dry swatch, compared with stained swatches that have been laundered using only water. The best detergents we’ve tested earn an Excellent rating for removing body oil and dirt—common stains—but they can also tackle tougher ones, such as grass and blood. The worst detergents? They’re barely better than water when it comes to removing most stains.
Below, a closer look at five of the best liquid detergents in our ratings, listed alphabetically—along with the two worst. For more information, including details on other types of detergents, see our laundry detergent buying guide. Among our top performers, choose based on your needs. Do you have young kids or pets? Do you often deal with tough-to-eradicate stains? Does anyone in your household have sensitive skin?
A quick note about pricing: In our laundry detergent ratings, we calculate the price per load based on what we paid. The prices below, however, reflect overall prices; in some cases, the prices listed are for multipacks.
CR’s take: Kirkland Signature Ultra Clean is about half the price of higher-scoring detergents from Persil and Tide. Kirkland cleans up nicely in our tests, earning an Excellent rating for removing stains from body oil, one of the chemicals in sweat (think sweaty workout clothes). But Kirkland doesn’t pack the same punch when it comes to blood and grass stains, so consider the types of stains you typically have to contend with. And this is one of the handful of detergents in our tests that cleans well in hard water.
CR’s take: The American Academy of Pediatrics says that regular detergent is fine for washing baby clothes, unless your baby’s skin becomes irritated. Some baby detergents contain allergens such as fragrance, however, so consider a detergent meant for sensitive skin. Most major manufacturers say their hypoallergenic formulas do not contain dyes or perfumes, and Kirkland Signature Ultra Clean Free & Clear carries that claim. It earns a Very Good rating for removing dirt and is one of the least expensive of the hypoallergenic detergents we’ve tested—something to consider, given how much laundry you’ll be doing with a little one at home. (For an even better clean, consider the higher-rated Persil ProClean Sensitive Skin, but you’ll pay a premium.)
CR’s take: Persil ProClean for Sensitive Skin is the best of the detergents in our tests that are marketed for sensitive skin at tackling grown-up stains like body oil, dirt, and salad dressing, snagging an Excellent rating in that test. But heads up: Detergents that are supposed to be free of dyes and perfumes may still have some scent from the chemicals used to make the formula. This Persil detergent cleans very well in our tests, but it’s also among the priciest.
CR’s take: Of the dozens of liquid detergents in our tests, only two easily tackle stains from body oil, dirt, and chocolate, and earn a Very Good rating for removing tough stains such as blood and grass. Persil ProClean Stain Fighter is one of those detergents. You can also use it to pretreat stains. Our tests find that it’s better than most of the spray-on laundry stain removers we’ve tested.
CR’s take: Procter & Gamble’s Tide is widely sold, which is why you’ll see 10 liquid Tide detergents in our ratings, including Tide Plus Ultra Stain Release. Stains from dirt and body oil? No sweat. Chocolate? No problem. Tide Plus Ultra aces our pretreat tests—that means you can pretreat stains with a dab of this detergent, and the results are better than most spray-on stain removers we’ve tested. And Tide works impressively in hard water. Tide vs. Persil? They both pack a punch and top our laundry detergent ratings, performing similarly and earning the same Overall Score. Tide is slightly pricier.
CR’s take: Era 3X Oxibooster, from P&G, is near the bottom of our ratings, in part because it’s one of the worst at removing stains from dirt and chocolate, earning a Poor rating in both tests. Grass and blood proved tough to take on, but Era is better at removing body oil stains (though no match for most of the other detergents in our tests). So go ahead and sweat, but don’t get dirty.
CR’s take: Sun Triple Clean costs less than most detergents in our ratings, and it’s also the worst overall, earning the lowest Overall Score of the dozens in our tests. Henkel makes this budget brand, but it can’t match the cleaning power of Persil, Henkel’s premier brand. Sun Triple earns only a Fair rating in our tests for removing dirt, and performs worse when it comes to tougher stains like chocolate and coffee.