Laundry Detergent Buying Guide

The number of laundry detergents available has exploded in the last few years. When it comes down to it, you need something that will get your clothes clean without ruining them. When choosing your laundry detergent, keep in mind any special considerations that you may need, like sensitive skin or allergies.

Types of Laundry Detergent

High Efficiency (HE) Detergent

HE detergents are often recommended for HE and front loading washers. These types of washers use less water; therefore, they need a low sudsing detergent. With new design and technology, HE detergents are being used in traditional agitator washers as well.

Conventional Detergent

These are used in traditional top-load agitator washers. They are not recommended to HE or front load washers because the cause more suds.


These detergents are designed to be used in any machine whether it is a traditional top-load or HE.

Pay Attention to


Liquid detergent has the same cleaning agents as powder detergents; however, those ingredients are already dissolved. As far as cleaning power, they have been shown to have equivalent power as powder detergents. They do allow you to pretreat stains by pouring the detergent directly on the stain before washing. Liquid is more expensive than powder varieties and does tend to drip down the bottle and get onto the washer on occasion.


Powder detergent has the same cleaning chemicals as liquid detergent. They do contain more filler which does add a few additional chemicals but the cleaning ingredients are the same. You can make a paste with powder detergent and water with which to pretreat stains. It can be easy to use too much powder as the cups that come with them are usually much larger than the recommended amount needed. Powder is less expensive than liquid detergent.


Pods are compact and have adequate cleaning power. They are easy to store and can't be spilled to leave a mess in your laundry area. However, a note of caution, pods are often mistaken as candy by young children and have been ingested causing serious injury. If you have small children, they may not be the right detergent for you.

Within the basic types of detergents there are specialty formulas that are used for varying reasons. These add-ins and types are worth keeping in mind when you are deciding on a detergent.


These highly concentrated detergents require less detergent per load to get the same cleaning power as a non-concentrated detergent. They are often advertised as environmentally friendly because they use less plastic in their packaging, less cardboard, and, consequently, trucks can carry more of them per load. Concentrated detergents require careful measuring as many people, accustomed to traditional detergents, will use too much in their washing machine.

Oxi or Oxy Power

These detergents include sodium percarbonate as one of their ingredients. Oxi is a color safe bleach used in some powder detergents. While some detergents include sodium percarbonate in their formula, it can also be purchased and added to your washer separately.

Cold Water Formulas

Designed specifically to clean in cold water, these varieties will help you save on energy costs without sacrificing cleaning power.

Organic Formulas

These detergents are required to use 95% organic ingredients to qualify as organic.

Fabric Softener Included

Some detergents eliminate the need to add separate fabric softener. If you use a fabric softener, be aware that it has been shown to break down the flame resistant ability of children's sleepwear.


This falls under personal preference but is important. Some detergents have a strong soap smell, while others have added scents and perfumes that may not work well for those with a sensitive nose or skin. It's worth taking a sniff before you purchase.

Top Brands and Product Lines


Tide has been a leader in detergent products for years. Their Ultra Tide Plus Bleach and Ultra Tide Powder have consistently been top performers and there are HE types available. A cold water formula and pod varieties also perform well. They provide good cleaning power for both whites and colors. They come in both powder and liquid. Tide does tend to be more expensive because of its popularity.


Wisk Deep Clean performs as well as many Tide products and is less expensive. It is available in both traditional and HE varieties.

Kirkland Signature Brand

This Costco exclusive is a consistent performer when it comes to cleaning power while also being one of the least expensive.


Cheer Colorstay for Darks liquid performs well in traditional washers.

Choosing a detergent is a personal choice for many people. Liquid, powder, and pod detergents can roughly clean the same but one may work better in your machine than another. Liquids can drip onto your machine while powders allow you to easily add too much detergent. If you have hard water, that too can affect the efficiency of your laundry detergent.

Carefully consider what works best with your machine, your personal habits, and your family.