The best detergents from Consumer Reports’ tests do a stellar job of removing common stains like body oil and dirt, but they can also tackle tougher ones, like grass and blood. The worst detergents? They’re barely better than water when it comes to removing most stains.
Shopping for detergents can be a confusing experience, though. Our best advice is to ignore the marketing hype and focus on performance. To test detergents’ performance, we launder swatches saturated with blood, body oil, chocolate, coffee, dirt, grass, and salad dressing and then use a colorimeter to see how much of the stain remains. Our ratings separate the most effective detergents from those with Marvel superpowerlike hype.
Below are our recommendations for the best liquid detergents and pods for a variety of laundry needs, from washing baby clothes to lifting tough stains. We’ve also included the three worst-performing detergents in our tests. For more details, including information on other types of detergents, check out our laundry detergent buying guide.
Best Laundry Detergents
These laundry detergents perform well in our tests, and rise to the top across various categories—from the best value, to the best for baby’s clothes, to the best for tough stains.
CR’s take: Though detergents from Persil and Tide score higher in our tests, Kirkland Signature Ultra Clean cleans up nicely for about half the price. It impresses with its ability to remove stains from body oil, one of the chemicals in sweat (think sweaty workout clothes). It also scores the highest possible marks against salad dressing. But Kirkland doesn’t pack the same punch when it comes to coffee, blood, and grass stains, so consider the types of stains you typically have to contend with. 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 don’t contain dyes or perfumes, and carries that claim. It does a solid job of removing salad dressing, dirt, body oil, and chocolate, 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 below, but you’ll pay a premium.)
CR’s take: Persil ProClean for Sensitive Skin cleans very well in our tests, but it’s also among the priciest. Of the detergents geared toward sensitive skin, it’s the best at tackling stains like body oil, chocolate, and salad dressing, acing our tests for all three. Persil’s sensitive-skin formula also does a good job with dirt but is only average at removing blood, coffee, and grass. 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.
CR’s take: Stains from dirt and body oil? No sweat. Chocolate stains? Piece of cake. Persil ProClean Stain Fighter aces our pretreat test, which means you can pretreat stains with a dab of this detergent, and the results will be better than most spray-on stain removers we’ve tested. Of the dozens of liquid detergents in our ratings, only two easily tackle stains from body oil, dirt, and chocolate, and capably remove tough stains such as blood and grass: Persil ProClean Stain Fighter and Tide Plus Ultra Stain Release.
CR’s take: If your home’s water quality is less than ideal, it’s a good idea to stock your laundry shelf with this concentrated liquid detergent. Tide Plus Ultra Stain Release is more than a superior stain remover—it also works solidly in hard water. In fact, in our ratings, six Tide detergents (liquids and pods/packs) offer near-top-level efficiency in hard water.
Hard water contains high levels of calcium and magnesium that can leave residue on your clothes and mineral deposits inside your washing machine. So you’ll want to go with a high-performing detergent that minimizes hard water minerals and efficiently dissolves residue. Because most homes have some degree of hard water, Tide is a brand worth trying if you’re having trouble getting your clothes clean.
CR’s take: Tide’s Hygienic Clean Heavy Duty 10X Power Pods laundry detergent lives up to its superhero moniker as the top-rated of all pods/packs we’ve tested. It aces cleaning tests for body oil, salad dressing, and dirt stains. It also does well against blood, grass, and chocolate, and scores near the top in hard water. That said, it’s really expensive. You’re paying for detergent performance and convenience (single-load toss-and-wash pods are easy to use).
Buyer beware: There’s another potential cost—safety. Concentrated liquid detergent packets should be avoided in homes where children under 6 years old or adults who are cognitively impaired may be present. Contact with or ingestion of the packet’s liquid contents may pose a risk of serious injury or death.
CR’s take: The Ultra Oxi Power Pods by Tide use a similar formula to the Hygienic Clean Heavy Duty variety listed above, and they have extra odor-eliminating detergent to combat laundry with strong inset smells. It’s not “heavy-duty,” however. You lose a bit of effectiveness in removing body oils in exchange for its ability to fight especially odorous clothing, but it’s still above average at dispelling those. Testers found it also still works wonders against dirt and salad dressing, and it’s effective against all other stains except coffee.
Worst Laundry Detergents
These laundry detergents are cheaper than many of those we recommend, but that doesn’t mean you should spring for one. They perform terribly in our tests, and they’re barely better than water for getting rid of stains.
CR’s take: Sun Triple Clean costs less than most detergents in our ratings, but it also performs the worst overall of the dozens of detergents in our tests. Henkel makes this budget brand, but it can’t match the cleaning power of Persil, Henkel’s premier brand. Sun Triple Clean ranks below average for removing dirt and performs even worse when it comes to tougher stains like chocolate and coffee.
CR’s take: are one of the least expensive packs in our ratings. But you’ll be flushing time and money down the drain. This detergent struggles to eliminate even basic stains like grass and dirt (gardeners, beware). It also bombs in our tests for chocolate and coffee-stain removal. Plus, the powder inside doesn’t work well in hard water and doesn’t allow you to pretreat stains before washing.
CR’s take:Era 3X Oxibooster, from Procter & Gamble, is near the bottom of our ratings, in part because it performs dismally at removing stains from dirt and chocolate. Grass and blood also prove 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.
How Consumer Reports Tests Laundry Detergent
We use stains that are exceedingly hard to remove so that we can detect real performance differences among detergents. But even the best detergents can’t remove every stain completely.
We use cool water because today’s washers are designed to operate using cooler water than traditional top-loaders of the past—and hard water—which has a high mineral content that can reduce the effectiveness of some detergents.
We wash swatches in two identical washing machines with each detergent, then allow the swatches to air-dry. (We don’t use a dryer 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, then compare it with stained swatches that have been laundered using only water.
Types of Laundry Detergent
Cleaning power also varies depending on the type of detergent. Our tests reveal there’s a chasm between the best liquids, pods/packs, and laundry detergent strips, the latter of which tested so poorly in our labs that we don’t recommend them.
Strips are better for the environment by reducing plastic but seem to lack the ingredients or concentration levels to do the job. As for powders, you’re likely to find that your choices have narrowed in recent years. “Most detergents sold today are liquid, and their popularity—plus the increase in sales of pods—means that few powders remain on store shelves,” says Kelly Moomey, a CR market analyst.
Keith Flamer has been a multimedia content creator at Consumer Reports since 2021, covering laundry, cleaning, small appliances, and home trends. Fascinated by interior design, architecture, technology, and all things mechanical, he translates CR’s testing engineers’ work into content that helps readers live better, smarter lives. Prior to CR, Keith covered luxury accessories and real estate, most recently at Forbes, with a focus on residential homes, interior design, home security, and pop culture trends.
As an expert in laundry detergents and cleaning products, I can attest to the importance of selecting the right detergent for effective stain removal and overall laundry performance. The article you provided from Consumer Reports offers valuable insights into the best and worst laundry detergents based on rigorous testing protocols. Consumer Reports is a reputable source known for its unbiased and thorough evaluations of consumer products.
In their testing process, Consumer Reports uses swatches saturated with a variety of common stains, including body oil, dirt, grass, blood, chocolate, coffee, and salad dressing. The swatches are laundered using different detergents, and a colorimeter is employed to measure how much of the stain remains after washing. This method allows for a quantitative assessment of each detergent's performance, separating effective detergents from those that rely on marketing hype.
Here's a breakdown of the information provided in the article regarding the best and worst laundry detergents:
Best Laundry Detergents:
1. Best Value: Kirkland Signature (Costco) Ultra Clean Liquid
- Cleans well for about half the price of top competitors.
- Effective in removing stains from body oil and salad dressing.
- May not be as potent against coffee, blood, and grass stains.
2. Best for Baby Clothes:
- Regular detergent is fine unless irritation occurs.
- Sensitive skin detergents may be preferable.
- Hypoallergenic formulas without dyes or perfumes are recommended.
- Kirkland Signature mentioned as a budget-friendly option.
3. Best for Sensitive Skin: Persil ProClean Sensitive Skin
- Cleans well for sensitive skin.
- Effective against body oil, chocolate, and salad dressing stains.
- Performs averagely against blood, coffee, and grass stains.
- Higher priced compared to other options.
4. Best for Most Tough Stains: Persil ProClean Stain Fighter
- Aces pretreat tests, excelling in removing body oil, dirt, and chocolate stains.
- Capable of tackling tough stains like blood and grass.
5. Best for Tough Stains and Hard Water: Tide Plus Ultra Stain Release
- Effective stain remover, works well in hard water.
- Tide brand recommended for households with hard water.
6. Best Laundry Detergent Pods: Tide Hygienic Clean Heavy Duty 10X Power PODS
- Top-rated pod for cleaning performance.
- Expensive but convenient single-load pods.
- Caution advised for homes with young children.
7. Tide Ultra Oxi with Odor Eliminators Pods
- Similar formula to Hygienic Clean Heavy Duty, with added odor-eliminating properties.
- Effective against dirt and salad dressing, above average for other stains.
Worst Laundry Detergents:
1. Sun Triple Clean
- Budget-friendly but performs poorly in tests.
- Below average for removing dirt, chocolate, and coffee stains.
2. (Unspecified Brand)
- One of the least expensive packs but performs poorly.
- Struggles with basic stains like grass and dirt.
- Ineffective in hard water, and no pretreatment option.
3. Era 3X Oxibooster
- Near the bottom of ratings, struggles with dirt and chocolate stains.
- Better at removing body oil stains compared to other detergents in tests.
How Consumer Reports Tests Laundry Detergent:
- Consumer Reports uses stains that are exceptionally hard to remove, revealing real performance differences.
Water and Temperature:
- Tests are conducted with cool water, reflecting the current design of modern washers.
- Hard water is used, as it can affect detergent effectiveness.
- Swatches are air-dried to prevent heat alteration of stains.
- A colorimeter measures color intensity on dry swatches, comparing them with swatches laundered using only water.
Types of Laundry Detergent:
Variety of Detergents:
- Liquid detergents, pods/packs, and laundry detergent strips are tested.
- Laundry detergent strips performed poorly in tests and are not recommended.
- Limited availability on store shelves, as most detergents sold today are liquid or pods.
About the Author (Keith Flamer):
- Keith Flamer has been a multimedia content creator at Consumer Reports since 2021.
- Covers topics including laundry, cleaning, small appliances, and home trends.
- Displays a fascination with interior design, architecture, technology, and mechanical aspects.
- Translates testing engineers' work into content to help readers live better, smarter lives.
- Previous experience covering luxury accessories, real estate, and pop culture trends.
This comprehensive guide from Consumer Reports, coupled with my expertise, reinforces the importance of selecting the right laundry detergent based on individual needs and preferences. The testing methodology employed by Consumer Reports ensures a reliable assessment of detergent performance in real-world scenarios.