Laundry Detergent

Sunday, 27 January 2008

Doing laundry is one of those unavoidable chores, but it can be a lot easier if you use a good detergent. Since laundry detergent manufacturers are constantly evolving their products, we compare a few to find out which one cleans best.


The Basics

  • Laundry detergent manufacturers are listening to consumers by changing packaging to reduce waste, and reformulating products to be less harsh on the environment.

  • Manufacturers are also giving consumers much more choice, e.g. perfume/dye-free, added bleach, high efficiency, a variety of scents and more. Some brands have up to 6 different formulations to choose from! Note: this is more about gaining shelf space over competitors than giving consumers choice.

  • Don’t be fooled by the labels and commercials touting claims like “whitest whites” and “rejuvenating your clothes”. There are few regulations when it comes to these promises.

  • The type of washing machine you use may also determine the detergent you choose. Some brands offer products specifically for front loaders, but they can be more expensive.

  • There are at least four types of laundry detergents to choose from these days:

    • Liquids are all-purpose and are especially effective on food and grease stains. They’re also good for pre-treating spots. We also asked some laundry experts (laundromat managers) and they say liquid detergents seem to be gentler on clothes, but are not always effective on tough stains.

    • Powders are all-purpose as well and work effectively on deep, ground-in stains. They are harsher than liquids, but are a good choice if you’ve got dirt-magnet kids.

    • Ultra detergents are concentrated formulas (either liquid or powder) that require less product per load and less packaging. But make sure you do the math. Ultras can often be more expensive per load than regular.

    • Combination detergents are liquid or powder, but also include fabric softeners, colour-safe bleach, or bleach alternatives. Again, do the math to figure out if this is worth it for you.

  • It’s important to pay attention to weight (volume), scoop size, and number of loads listed on the label. This can make a big difference in price per load. We found that soaps made by the same brand (one with bleach, one with a special scent) had the same price, but one gave 15 loads while the other gave only 12.

Other Considerations

  • If you’re trying to live more eco-consciously, you may be eyeing the environmentally-friendly brands since most regular detergents contain bleach, perfume, synthetic chemicals and enzymes. Not only is this hard on the environment, it can also be hard on you since residue is left on your clothes, which may cause an allergic reaction.

  • Natural choices include fragrance-free formulas and formulas that use ingredients like coconut and corn by-products.

Be Aware

  • Always use the right amount of detergent as directed on the packaging, and pay attention to load sizes.

  • Don’t overload your machine! If you’ve got too many clothes jammed in there, the soap will not get to the fabric, nor will it rinse out very well.


We dirtied up some white and coloured t-shirts using the same stain-makers (dirt, grass, red wine, grease, etc.) and tried out four different detergents:

  • No-name brand (powder): $0.16/load
  • Environmentally-friendly brand (powder): $0.44/load
  • Brand name liquid – $0.58/load
  • Brand name powder – $0.23/load

Clean Test

  • The environmentally-friendly brand yellowed the white shirts and didn’t take the stains out completely

  • The powder took out stains the best.

  • The liquid was the gentlest on fabric, provided the whitest white, and did a good job on the stains.

  • The no-name brand was mediocre.


After 180 loads of laundry, we found that national brands did a slightly better job at stain removal than store brands, and environmentally-friendly products didn’t do as well as the others. Powders performed best for getting out dirt and grime, while liquids were the gentlest on clothes.




top of page | | back to posts |
  • Subscribe to the A&K Newsletter