The best laundry detergent
The laundry detergent aisle is packed with promises of bright, clean, deliciously fragrant clothing. But why does one bottle cost so little while another bottle is at least triple the price? Much of the variation in cost has to do with proprietary ingredients, formulations, and branding.
To make it easier, our shopping guide breaks down what you need to consider when choosing a laundry detergent. We offer our favorites at the end of this article, including our top pick, Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day Laundry Detergent. We like its top-notch cleaning abilities and selection of lovely, lingering fragrances.
Considerations when choosing laundry detergents
Laundry detergents come in powders, liquids, or single-use pods. There's no one type that cleans better than the other, so it's more a matter of preference. Over the years, liquid detergents and pods have become more popular than powdered detergents. Single-use pods are pre-measured for convenience. It may take two pods for a large and grimy load.
All manufacturers have proprietary ingredients, varying amounts, and colorants in their formulas that differentiate brands on the market. The main part of a formula that you want to be aware of is whether it's an HE -- high efficiency -- detergent (if you have an HE washing machine). If you predominantly use cold water for washing clothes, look for cold-water detergent formulas with enzymes that perform best in cold water. Then, there are the eco-friendly formulas that often use organic ingredients. If you opt for eco-friendly and organic, look for the USDA Organic seal on the bottle or package. If you're sensitive to detergents, look for a fragrance- and dye-free formula.
To make life -- or at least doing the laundry -- easier, consider the cap. Though there haven't been major innovations for the liquid detergent cap, it helps to have a readable one. Look for easy-to-read measuring caps with contrasting colors or a translucent cap with clear red lines, for example. Spouts and drip channels that direct excess detergent back into the bottle are often found on larger sizes of liquid detergents.
Sometimes, people become attached to a detergent's fragrance regardless of how well it performs on stains. Everyone has a different perception of what "clean" clothing is supposed to smell like. Some users prefer no fragrance at all, while others like some scent. Consider how long the fragrance lingers on your fabric after it's been washed. Some scents fade away almost immediately, while others linger for hours.
Laundry detergent prices
Price out laundry detergent either by the load or by the unit price in a store. Certain brands are pricey because they are high-performance detergents. The lowest-priced laundry detergents are powdered and generic or lower-quality liquids. Better liquids fall into the middle price range. Single-use pods are priced the highest because of their pre-measured convenience.
Q. Why can't I use other types of liquid soap in my washing machine?
A. If you do, there may be a mess. Laundry detergent is formulated specifically to wash clothing using surfactants, which allow water and oil to mix and rinse well to clean your clothes. Other soaps leave a filmy residue and dishwasher detergents may permanently stain your clothing with their dish-specific formulas.
Q. Can you explain in simple terms what HE detergent means?
A. An HE (high-efficiency) washer uses less water to clean clothes. An HE washer needs special HE or HE-compatible detergent to perform and rinse well with reduced water. Using HE detergent in a non-HE washer is fine -- you may see little sudsing, but it'll clean clothes. Using non-HE detergent in an HE washer can result in an overflow situation and poor rinsing.
Q. When should I use an oxygen bleach laundry detergent?
A. Oxygen bleach, though thought of as a relatively new term, is actually an ingredient used in laundry detergents for years. It's listed on a package as "oxi" or "oxy" in the brand's name. It's a color-safe, non-chlorinated bleach ingredient, and it's also known as a brightener or whitener for stain removal and to brighten white clothing. It's fine to use for any regular loads, but refrain from using it on silk, wool, or leather.
Laundry detergents we recommend
Best of the best: Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day Laundry Detergent
Our take: A hallmark of Mrs. Meyer's products are their fresh and inviting fragrances -- this laundry detergent's scents include basil, lemon, and lavender.
What we like: Nontoxic, HE-compatible formula includes essential oils. For such a gentle detergent, it cleans exceedingly well.
What we dislike: Pricey for its size.
Best bang for your buck: Tide HE Turbo Clean Liquid Laundry Detergent
Our take: Tide continues to be a top HE performer in the laundry room and buying in lightweight pouches is an economical way to enjoy a perennial favorite.
What we like: Even the most challenging odors and stains in clothing come out, leaving behind bright colors and Tide's fresh, beloved original scent.
What we dislike: Reports of some damaged shipments.
Our take: Compact bottle means it's highly concentrated, easy to store and handle, and lasts a longer time than expected.
What we like: Amazon's own Presto brand wins with a pleasant, clean fragrance and a nontoxic HE formula that cleans well. It's recommended for sensitive skin.
What we dislike: The scent may be a bit underwhelming for some users.
Marilyn Zelinsky-Syarto is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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