Choosing the best laundry detergent to use from the dozens of liquids, powders, and single-use packs or pods lining grocery store shelves can be a challenge.
Add in high-efficiency (HE) detergent, standard top-loader detergent, cold water detergent and green wash detergent, and things really get complicated.
How do you know which detergent to use - and which of all the brands performs the best?
There are real differences in how detergents perform, and not all get clothes clean, according to a recent study by Consumer Reports. Liquids outperformed powders overall, and since most are concentrated, which reduces the plastic needed to make the bottles. Everybody wins!
The top five detergent brands ranked in overall score, including price, cost per load, brightening and stain removal are:
The following 7 are detergents you should cross off your list, having performed so poorly in testing that the only thing they really seem to wash down the drain is your money.
According to Consumer Reports, the first two on this list "cleaned only slightly better than plain water":
1. Xtra ScentSations
2. Trader Joe's Liquid Laundry Detergent
3. Woolite Everyday
4. Home Solv 2X
5. Xtra Plus OxiClean
6. Sun Triple Clean
7. Arm & Hammer Toss 'N Done Ultra Power Paks.
Detergent brands are available as liquids, powders, and single-use packs or pods (see below for safety issues on these) so be sure to match your detergent to your washing machine for best results.
Washing machine manufacturers recommend HE detergents for front-loading washers and high-efficiency top-loaders, which use significantly less water than agitator top-loaders so they require low sudsing detergent. Most HE detergents are dual-use, and can also be used in agitator top-loaders.
This basic detergent is so common that it's difficult to find detergent meant only for agitator top-loaders. Be sure to use the recommended detergent amount and follow the usage directions - no more free-form pouring.
Excessive use of detergent products can cause oversudsing in you machine, causing it to stop mid-cycle to allow the foamy bubbles to dissipate, making your machine work harder and use more energy.
Using less hot water can save you money on your energy bills. A detergent created specifically for cool (75 degrees F) or cold (60 degrees F) water has cleansing enzymes designed to work better in cold water.
If this is your go-to laundry temperature for most loads, choose a cold water detergent to ensure your clothes get clean.
Detergents tested that make green claims haven't delivered the same cleaning power of the top-rated detergents, according to Consumer Reports. One possible reason is that green detergents may lack the enzymes and other chemicals that give many regular detergents their stain-fighting power.
What you should know: There are no federal standards or required verification for terms such as "natural" and "earth friendly. So take these claims with a grain of salt (which also happens to be a natural substance but like any substance, can be hazardous in too high a concentration.)
Should you always use the recommended detergent amount? The answer varies by load.
When reading the product directions, keep in mind that, because laundering conditions differ from home to home and from load to load, recommended detergent amounts should be considered only a starting point.
The amount of basic detergent you use will depend on water hardness (the harder the water, the more detergent needed), the amount of soil (more soil requires more detergent), and the water temperature (cooler water requires more detergent).
The hotter the water, the more effective the enzymes in detergent will be. When washing clothes in cold water, increase the amount of detergent to one-and-a-half to two times the recommended amount.
Beware the laundry pod - those all-in-one, squishy packs that are so convenient to toss in and go, no measuring required - if you have children under 6 years old.
As you have probably noticed, laundry companies are taking out ads on television and in print to remind parents that these colorful plastic packs are very attractive to children, and as a result should be kept well out of reach.
Poison control centers nationwide received 12,594 reports of children age 5 and younger ingesting or inhaling the pods, or getting pod contents on their skin or in their eyes, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers.
Even the top-ranked detergent brands can't make up for corner-cutting on wash day. It's still important to separate lights, dark clothes and white clothes, pre-treat stains before you wash, and always make sure you haven't overloaded your washing machine.
If the clothes can't move around freely, the best detergent in the world isn't going to get them clean.