The Best Laundry Detergent

Everyone needs laundry detergent. Which detergent is the best? Tide powders with bleach alternatives like Tide's HE Plus Bleach Alternative lift stains better than anything else, as product testing from trusted sources like Consumer Reports and Good Housekeeping have confirmed.

Last Updated: June 24, 2014
Tide HE Vivid White + Bright's name has changed to Tide HE Plus Bleach Alternative. It's the same pick, but we changed all references to the new name. It's currently out of stock at Walmart.com, however, so we changed the buy button to Target.com.
Expand Previous Updates
March 14, 2014: Based on new tests from Consumer Reports, we switched our club brand pick from Costco's UltraClean Pods to Sam's Club's Member's Mark Ultimate Clean Liquid. The Sam's Club brand came in second to our Tide pick in their cleaning tests and it's super budget-friendly if you have a membership.
December 26, 2013: Tide HE Vivid White + Bright's name has changed to Tide HE Plus Bleach Alternative. We confirmed with Tide -- same product, different name/package. (HT to reader Brad!)

And if you prefer a greener detergent, a pod (for easy toting to the laundromat) or a cheaper liquid, we’ve got a few other choices, too–even if they’re not quite as good at cleaning as our main pick.

What to look for in a laundry detergent

It has to clean well! Keep in mind that our picks and research below were focused on providing detergents for “high-efficiency” models of washing machines. Since most washers are designed to last 5-7 years and someone might keep them 10-12 (and HE washers have been on the shelves for 10 years) we figured it would be better to focus on high-efficiency detergents. If you need to know about stuff for non-HE machines, you can check out Consumer Reports‘s piece here. (Subscription required; we really love CR so we recommend you subscribe if you can.)

Our pick

What distinguishes Tide from its competitors is pure stain-lifting power.
What distinguishes Tide from its competitors is pure stain-lifting power. It sounds like marketing hype, but Tide simply scores the best in testing from trusted sources, whether as a powder, liquid or pod. That’s why the obvious choice is Tide’s HE Plus Bleach Alternative.

Consumer Reports had the most comprehensive tests. Tide’s HE Plus Bleach Alternative was the only one to be ranked “excellent” in warm/hot and even cold water cleaning, and it swept the “blood,” “grass” and “ring around the collar” tests. Only 3 other kinds of detergent, out of dozens, could say the same. It earned a final score of 82/100, making it the best in CR’s findings among any type or brand of detergent.

According to Good Housekeeping (which recommended a similar but now unavailable version of Tide with powder and bleach alternative), Tide just plain removes more kinds of stains, which makes it valuable no matter how thoroughly you’ve sullied your socks. Their tests were a little more opaque by way of explanation, but still laudably extensive: “We took 74 formulas — 49 liquids, 19 powders, and six single-use tabs — for a spin to see how well they removed 20 common stains (oil, coffee, mascara…) from polyester and cotton. Surprise: Powders packed the most power.”

Oh, if you happen to not have a high efficiency washer, there’s a version of Tide powder available that’s suited for your washer.

Budget laundry detergent

Also Great
*At the time of publishing, the price was $18.
At 18 cents a load, this is the best-performing cheap laundry detergent: better than Tide pods but not better than Tide Powder.
 Tide—in liquid form, specifically—is not as good at cleaning as Tide powder, but Tide’s HE liquid earned a respectable 66/100 score. The best thing about it is its cost of 18 cents per load, making it ideal for budget-conscious people perhaps cleaning up after a large family. It doesn’t do as well with blood, and it won’t work in cold water—if you have to clean in either of those conditions, we recommend the powder version.

Pods

Cheapest
Tide pods are easy to tote and impossible to overuse. They cost as much as powder, but are more convenient, even if they don't clean quite as well as our main pick.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $19.
 Even though Tide pods don’t clean as well as our powder pick, being less capable (scoring 72/100) specifically in Consumer Reports’s blood removal tests, pods have two things going for them: They’re easy to tote to the laundromat and they’re impossible to over-soap, which is a common thing with high efficiency washers needing less soap and soap mixes getting more concentrated.

Best detergent if you are a Sam’s Club member

Killer Value
With cleaning power that's next to only the best on the market, it's hard to go wrong with Member's Mark Ultimate Clean. But you'll need a Sam's Club membership to buy it at a reasonable price.
In a new comparison test conducted in March 2014, Consumer Reports found again that our Tide pick was No. 1 in cleaning power. But the new No. 2 best-cleaning detergent is a discount club brand: Sam’s Club Member’s Mark Ultimate Clean. CR found that this new formula of Member’s Mark was very effective on ring-around-the-collar and grass stains, but not that helpful for removing blood. If you’re a Sam’s Club member, this is ends up being quite budget-friendly too: it costs about $14 for 115 loads of laundry. So if you do 300 loads a year, you’ll spend about half as much, $36, on Member’s Mark as you would on an equivalent amount of the best Tide, $69.

We still recommend Tide for most people, but if you are a Sam’s Club member, you might give it a try and save a few bucks.

A green/Eco laundry detergent that’s also good for sensitive skin

Also Great
This detergent is, of all the green/eco kinds, the best at cleaning according to Consumer Reports. It's free of irritants and is Design for the Environment certified.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $14.
Green cleaners won’t match our Tide powder pick when it comes to brute cleaning force, but they’re less likely to have iffy chemicals that can irritate your skin and affect your health. Seventh Generation tests well (but not excellently) in both Good Housekeeping and Consumer Reports, as well as at Grist.com. Consumer Reports went so far as to say it was the best of all green detergents, saying, “While all the detergents tested cleaned reasonably well overall, with scores ranging from fair to very good, one of the ‘green’ brands did better than the others: Seventh Generation Natural Superconcentrated Powder.”

Let’s be clear—if it cleaned better, we’d pick this detergent.
Let’s be clear—if it cleaned better, we’d pick this detergent. Why would anyone want to deal with unnecessary chemicals if they didn’t have to? It also may be worth stepping back and remembering that most detergents clean pretty decently, and giving up some cleaning power to avoid less gentle chemicals that might not be the greatest for the environment or your family’s health isn’t a crazy choice.

Here’s more on those chemicals: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency provides a handy shorthand for greener products: the Design for the Environment (DfE) certification. Products allowed to display the DfE logo have undergone screening that determines that “the product contains only those ingredients that pose the least concern among chemicals in their class.” In addition to DfE certification that declares its ingredients cause the least possible harm to human health and our world, Seventh Generation is free of optical brighteners and Leaping Bunny-certified to not test on animals. Note that the list of DfE-certified laundry partners doesn’t include Procter & Gamble.

To drive that point home, in 2012 Women’s Voices for the Earth had a variety of laundry detergents tested, and two Tide formulations contained a carcinogenic byproduct called 1,4-dioxane. Forbes reports that P&G’s Herbal Essence shampoos were earlier found to contain the same contaminant, and that the company reformulated those products because of greater sensitivity around stuff you actually slap onto the human body. However, in part because laundry detergents are not covered by California’s Prop 65 standards, P&G won’t be reformulating Tide, according to the New York Times. We won’t jump to conclusions here, but if this concerns you, go with Seventh Generation, which is still rated to clean well.

The worst thing about Liquid Tide is the presence of propylene glycol, which might explain why some people (including me, my daughter and my brother-in-law) get rashes and/or headaches when exposed to the detergent. While the chemical has been cleared for human consumption and airplane de-icing, there is some evidence that exposure to it is associated with asthmatic symptoms in children. GoodGuide is not too keen on this.

Cost and other imperfections for our picks

Despite a strong recommendation for Tide powder, no one brand can be a perfect choice for everyone.

 Tide’s HE Plus Bleach Alternative, the best at cleaning of the powder candidates, was also the most expensive per load (excluding Seventh Generation). Consumer Reports says it’s 23 cents a load, whereas most in the upper ranks are between 10-20 cents. Not a dealbreaker for most, but there you have it.

Tide Pod closeup

Tide Pods feature a three-chambered design.

Product design led to my biggest complaint about Tide Pods. The pod itself is made up of a gooey white section overlaid with colorful yin-yang liquid cells. As science writer Patrick DiJusto (and Sweethome expert) explained for WIRED, “the three chambers keep the detergent ingredients separated so that they don’t destroy each other while sitting on the shelf.” With all those seams, it’s no surprise one of them failed. I ended up with a burst pod in the bag even before I ran the tests, which meant all the pods were covered with a light slime of detergent. It was tactilely unpleasant, and it was annoying to think that I lost at least 25 cents for that broken pod.

Note that, like the liquid version of Tide, Tide Pods (as well as the liquid-filled All and Purex competitors) contains propylene glycol. This is one more reason for those sensitive to propylene glycol to choose the less delicious-looking—if not as effective—Seventh Generation powder-filled pods.

Other competition

…you have to really love All’s scent, because there is tons of it.
Besides our selection of Tide, I researched Seventh Generation, Wisk, Gain Ultra, Arm & Hammer, and All Stainlifter, using them in multiple loads of laundry at home over the course of several months. Gain doesn’t come in a scent-free version, but otherwise it is fine. Despite its highly touted dermatologist-led testing, some Arm & Hammer users reported itchiness they attributed to the detergent. All Stainlifter does not disclose its ingredients; in addition, you have to really love All’s scent, because there is tons of it.

There are dozens of kinds of detergent, and a lot of these are fine, but Tide just beat mostly everyone else.

Thinking about going DIY?

There are a dozen recipes for DIY laundry detergent on the internet, and it can be tempting to use a homemade option. If your top priorities are spending less money, and making sure you know the exact proportions and source of every ingredient, this might be an option. But if you want a serious clean, premade is a far better value. Reviewed.com tested four DIY recipes against Tide, and the results weren’t terribly surprising: for sweat, oil and carbon, blood, and cocoa, Tide handily beat the homemade detergents (for red wine, one homemade detergent did a slightly better job, but that recipe did drastically worse in every other test). For the cleanest whites, store-bought detergents are the clear winner.

Wrapping it up

Anyone whose highest consideration for laundry detergent is stain-lifting power cannot go wrong with Tide’s Ultra HE Plus Bleach Alternative. If you or your family are sensitive to ingredients in Tide, or if you just want the best balance of environmental responsibility and cleaning ability, go with Seventh Generation.

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Sources

  1. "Best Laundry Detergents", Good Housekeeping
    "We took 74 formulas — 49 liquids, 19 powders, and six single-use tabs — for a spin to see how well they removed 20 common stains (oil, coffee, mascara...) from polyester and cotton. Surprise: Powders packed the most power."
  2. "Best Laundry Detergents", Consumer Reports, November 2011
    "In a powder vs. liquid contest, there's no clear winner. The best detergents were liquid, but so were lower-rated products. None of the Tides or Wisks were duds."
  3. "It’s a wash — none of the detergents fully removed all of the stains, but they all produced otherwise-clean clothes. And though all claimed to be free of perfumes, each had a singular scent. For maximum eco-claim and stain removal with the lowest price and least-perfumy scent, we suggest Seventh Generation Free & Clear."
  • Deathalo

    Love the site, answering questions that pretty much everyone asks at some point. You should do dishwasher detergent next!

    • Karen Spiegelman

      Thank you so much! I’d love to look into that further — or maybe have one of our other writers do the hard work for me. I tried dishwashing pods and BOO! Skin and undissolved powder a-poppin’. The kind I tried put me off all pods for a year; I only tried laundry pods when I was researching this story. Thanks for the feedback!

    • cnccnc

      Finish Powerball tabs work absolutely great for me, and they’re cheap. I almost never have dishes come out dirty.

      • Deathalo

        My mom actually recently recommended the same, and I hear they’re better than the gel packs that will clog your jets up. I will be buying them next :D

  • http://jimmypautz.com Jimmy Pautz

    I use liquid Era. I’ve compare to Tide and All and I it does equal or better at stain lifting and costs way less (I pay $8 for a 96 load jug).

    • Karen Spiegelman

      I’m so glad you found a good, cheap alternative! Era didn’t do quite as well in formal testing as the other brands I looked at (41 points at Consumer Reports, compared to Tide’s 61) — but keep in mind that it’s a pretty flat grading curve. Most detergents work quite well. Thanks for your recommendation!

  • Kent Wang

    Tide is not available in the UK. What are the best options in the UK and/or EU? I’m currently using Ecover, which is unscented.

  • Ashevillian

    My detergent needs to be HE and unscented. Is Seventh Generation free of extra fragrance?

    • Karen Spiegelman

      Yes, there is an unscented version. That’s what I use on my kid’s clothes, and it does great. The clothes come out just smelling like fabric (if that makes sense). Cheers!

  • DB

    Thank you for the information, though I can’t stand the smell of Tide, in any form. It’s just plain nasty to me. Gain (the original stuff, for HE) is my favorite….may they never change much! (With Oxi-clean added, as needed, and appropriate temperature’d water.)

  • Marie

    No Method? Works great, smells amazing, not too pricey if you get it on sale, bulk refill available in a sturdy plastic bag.

    • http://about.me/karen_spiegelman Karen Spiegelman

      I love the smell of Method too, but it did not do very well against the other detergents in Consumer Reports testing. It only got a 45, compared with 73 for Tide and 57 for Seventh Generation. But yep, it’s a fine detergent, and if you’re happy with it, great! :)

  • tarun

    Atsko sport wash – inexpensive, no residue, no odor,

  • zlindsey

    If you’re interested in diving deeper into detergents, I suggest a perusal of cloth diapering blogs/forums. Though the above article is helpful and a good aggregation of the cited sources, I’ve learned that parents (usually mothers) who use cloth diapers have obsessed over detergents and have developed a very nuanced perspective on effectiveness including stains, damage to fabric fibers, soap residue, color fastness, absorbency etc.

    Again, only if you’re very, very interested in detergents.

    Good job and thanks!

    • Tony

      That’s interesting. Is there a summary of their findings anywhere? I wish this article included aspects like damage to fabric fibers and color fastness. What’s the point in cleaner your clothes better if it just fades them or shortens their life-span.

  • Tommy Z

    I subscribe to CR and if I recall correctly, I read in the magazine a few months back that they said Wisk was the best detergent. I also found this using Google:

    http://news.consumerreports.org/home/2013/06/wisk-deep-clean-free-pure-he-great-laundry-detergent-if-you-can-find-it.html

    I’d be curious to hear a response on this!

  • Roger Sadowsky

    If you have a front loader, I strongly recommend you stay with powdered detergents. Liquid detergents are the cause of a really bad smell in front loaders.

  • Roger Sadowsky

    If you have a front loader, I strongly recommend you stay with powdered detergent.
    There are tons of stuff on the internet about front loaders developing a really bad odor. Having been there, I tried every remedy on the internet. The only one that actually worked was switching from liquid to powdered detergent. We have switched to Tide HE powder and have had no odor problems since.

  • elijahnicolas

    I didn’t know that you could use powders in front-loading HE machines?! Doe you just fill the cartridge like normal? I have the previous 2nd to high end LG machines and have just been using liquids, but I’ll give the powders a try.

  • ravegoboom

    a lot of my stuff (underarmour) says do not bleach. is this safe for those items? I noticed you said this is a ‘bleach alternative’ so I must ask. Thanks!

  • Kush

    What about the best detergent for black clothes? Any research there?

    • http://www.twitter/jontycampbell Jonty Campbell

      Dreft? Soap flakes? Woolite?

  • Stefano

    Just wanted to point out that I just bought the recommended Tide Liquid on Amazon and not only was it $11.97 but they also have a $1.50 coupon. Which makes it much cheaper than the $18 listed here.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Pf-Wag/100002575167071 Pf Wag

    Add a little (5% by volume) trisodium phosphate (TSP) to any detergent and it will clean like detergent’s did in the days of old. That is because TSP is what was taken out. You can buy it in the paint section of most home improvement stores.

    • BobTX2

      It will also damage local waterways & fish populations, and raise the costs to cities of treating water from these areas. There’s a reason it’s gone now.

  • poiuytman

    The “Vivid White + Bright” line is no longer listed in the products section of Tide’s website (although the page can still be found with Google). Has it been rebranded “Tide Plus Bleach”? The packaging looks similar.

  • Louie

    This product has been renamed to “Tide HE plus Bleach Alternative”. The Tide rep I just spoke with said that the formula is still the same–just a name change.

    http://www.tide.com/en-US/product/tide-he-plus-bleach-alternative-powder.jspx

  • Michele Clark

    It is very hard to find powdered detergent anymore in any store I go to in Central Vermont. Very annoying in my opinion. Powdered is, I believe, much less expensive than liquid. I haven’t seen either powdered Seventh Generation or powdered Tide in – at least a year – maybe longer.

  • Steve Camuti

    The Seventh Generation detergent is only 14.39 on Amazon… not on sale. Did the price change from when this article was written, or am I blind?

    • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

      Yep it recently changed!

  • alanjay

    I dislike the Tide’s fragrance. What is your pick for an unscented detergent?

  • Brian Schack

    Can you recommend a hypoallergenic detergent?

    • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

      From our guide above:

      “Tide Free and Gentle High Efficiency Unscented Detergent”

      From Tide’s website:

      “Tide Free has been specially designed for sensitive skin. It’s made with no dyes or perfumes and is dermatologist tested to provide your fabrics with a great clean that’s gentle on your skin.”

      • Brian Schack

        Looks good, thanks.

        • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

          No prob. Happy to help!

      • http://www.twitter/jontycampbell Jonty Campbell

        If there is no dyes or perfumes then surely it must be more effective?

        • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

          We recommend the Tide HE Vivid White + Bright.

  • Tony

    @karenspiegelman:disqus maybe you can add a section about the best detergent for color fastness and gentleness on fabrics?

    • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

      I’ll try to bring this to the attention of our writer, but I think cold water is the #1 rule to colorfast’ing.

      • Tony

        You might be right. I’m mainly interested in knowing if there’s really any merit to detergents like Woolite (esp the Dark version) and their claims of better color fastness and gentleness on fabrics.

  • LyndsayWaugh

    what does it main quality for the Detergent to clean the dirt from clothes?
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/117604589@N03/12532479385/

  • Adam Leach

    Hands down the BEST laundry detergent I have ever used. I have very sweaty and smelly socks that NEVER smell fresh. Read this review and decided to give it a try. BAM! No more stinky socks! Finally! Thanks for your research efforts! :D

  • April

    Thanks for the great guide! Quick question though: I keep seeing “the new Tide Plus collection” in stores. Are these new formulas or just new packaging? If new formulas, are you guys planning to test them? Thanks in advance for any info.

  • Josh

    I had read in consumer reports not long ago that Costco brand powder detergent tested better in removing blood than did the Tide and was the recommend detergent. You list Sam’s but was Costco a oversite or do you guys not have a Costco near by. They also pay there employee’s better than Sam’s.

    • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

      IIRC, you have to pay a membership fee even to shop online at Sam’s Club, whereas you don’t have to pay the one-day pass fee to shop online at Costco.

  • J. Garrett

    What about the best powder detergent to use without bleach if you plan on using your own oxy bleach separately sometimes?

    • J. Garrett

      P.S. That’s not from a membership store…

    • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

      The Tide we picked uses a bleach alternative, not actual bleach (and non-membership Walmart). And our other pick is the Seventh Generation (Amazon). The rest I believe are liquid or pods only.

  • OLGA SERAFIN

    I USE THE SAMS CLUB ONE AND WHY SPEND THE EXTRA MONEY RIGHT? IT IS LIKE BUYING GENERIC MEDICATION VS BRANDS. IT CLEANS JUST LIKE TIDE AT A FRACTION OF THE PRICE.

  • OLGA SERAFIN

    THE TRICLK TO BLOOD STAINS IS HYDROGEN PEROXIDE. THIS WILL GET RIDE OF ALL BLOOD STAINS.

    • Donna

      Actually the best way to remove fresh blood is with a strong mixture of salt water. I never measure, but it should taste like ocean water. It works best if you can pour it through the stain immediately without too much scrubbing, which breaks the cells. I try it first even on dried stains, then you may need to add some hydrogen peroxide to bleach out any hemoglobin (the pink color) that is left. How it works is that it shrinks the fragile, balloon like red blood cells without popping them like water does, and they basically wash through the fabric. What stains is the hemoglobin inside the cells, so keeping them intact is the objective. I’m a former hospital laboratory scientist, so have had to remove a lot of blood from my clothes and white lab coats.

      • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

        Thanks for the tip!