Dirty laundry is big business: Sales of detergents tallied about $7 billion last year. Detergents come and go, but Tide has been around for more than 70 years. Persil, long familiar to Europeans, first appeared in U.S. stores in 2015. And since then we’ve seen a continual dustup in the detergent aisle between these two big brands. 

Tide Plus Ultra Stain Release and Persil ProClean Power-Liquid 2in1 were the top scorers in Consumer Reports’ tests in late 2016, with Tide ahead by less than a single percentage point. Both products have been reformulated recently, so we put the new detergents to the test.

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“Most major brands are reformulated at least once a year,” explains Kelly Moomey, a senior market analyst at Consumer Reports. “These manufacturers keep researching how to better their laundry detergents—better stain removal and improved overall cleaning performance, for starters.” 

Our latest tests of 57 laundry detergents—liquids, powders, and pods—show that cleaning performance varies widely. So does price, from 4 to 56 cents per load.

Lab-Tested for Your Washer

We test a variety of brands, including detergents that are claimed to be gentle on sensitive skin or friendly to the environment. Beyond Tide and Persil, we test All; Arm & Hammer; Gain; Kirkland Signature, from Costco; and Up & Up, from Target. You’ll also find Green Works, Honest, Method, Mrs. Meyer’s, and Seventh Generation in our laundry detergent ratings, among others. 

CR’s testers wash fabric swatches that are saturated with blood, chocolate, red wine, dirt, grass, tea, and body oil. These are tough stains to remove, and we use them to challenge the detergents so that we can detect real differences among them. Using cool water, we wash the swatches in three identical washers with each detergent. We 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.

Liquid Detergents Clean Up in CR’s Tests

The difference between a detergent that proves top-notch in any of our stain-removal tests and one with subpar scores is extreme.  

“When a detergent scores Fair, it’s barely better than washing your clothes in water alone,” says Rico de Paz, the engineer who oversees CR’s laundry detergent tests. “A detergent that scores Excellent removes most of the stain.” 

Our tests found that Tide Plus Ultra Stain Release liquid detergent is the best of all the detergents we tested and the only detergent to score top marks overall.

“Grass stains are one of the toughest to remove, and this detergent removes more than any we tested,” de Paz says. “It removed 50 percent more of the grass stain than the runner-up, Persil ProClean Power Liquid 2in1. That’s the major difference between how these two detergents perform.” Another difference? Tide is formulated for HE washers, while Persil can be used in any type. 

These detergents are the only two that do really well with the toughest stains and are superb at removing dirt and body oil. Each costs about 21 cents per load. 

Several other detergents from Tide and Persil round out the list of high scorers, including one formulated for sensitive skin, Persil ProClean Power Liquid Sensitive Skin, 23 cents per load.

This group of detergents does not pack the same punch, however, when it comes to grass and the other stains. That’s also true for the warehouse detergent, Member’s Mark Ultimate Clean, from Sam’s Club. It costs about 12 cents per load, about half the price of some of the other high-scoring detergents. 

So if grass stains and grimy work clothes aren’t usually in your laundry basket, you’ll save money by zeroing in on detergents in our laundry detergent ratings that earn scores of Very Good or Excellent at removing dirt and body oil.

The Top Pods

Also known as laundry detergent pacs, packets, and caps, pods are convenient to use, eliminating the need to measure the detergent. They’re typically more expensive than liquid and powder detergents. And yet even the best pacs aren’t as tough on stains as the best liquid or powder detergents we tested.

We tested 12 different detergent brands of pods. Most contain liquid detergent, and a few contain powder. Persil ProClean Power Caps 2in1 is highly rated, and does an excellent job removing body oil and a very good job tackling dirt. But the caps are just good at removing grass and other stains. So they’re better than water alone but not among the best for removing these stains. They cost 23 cents per load.

Persil ProClean Power Caps Original performed similarly. Tide Pods Plus Febreze 4-in-1 scored nearly as well overall, and are even better at removing grass stains. The same is true for Gain Flings 3-in-1. All three cost about 33 cents per load. 

The Problem With Pods
In the past five years, poison-control centers have received an estimated 56,000 calls related to liquid laundry detergent exposure in kids younger than 6. At least eight people have died, two young children and six adults with dementia. And as part of a recent social media trend, teens have been putting pods in their mouths, even biting into them. That’s not safe.

CR’s experts recommend steering clear of liquid-filled pacs if children younger than 6 may be present in your home or if you’re caring for a person who is cognitively impaired. To keep your teens safe, have them read “What Eating a Laundry Pod Can Do to You.”

CR won’t recommend pods until we see a meaningful drop in injuries.