Washing detergents are not all the same. It turns out that some brands pack more of a cleaning than others. It means someone is better than others by lifting stains and cleaning the fabric dirty with food, wine, fat and other common contaminants. And even the form of detergent, liquid or pod can affect how clean your clothes will get.
After comparing the options from various stores, including Amazon, Walmart and Costco, we dealt with nine detergent brands. We chose them since they are top sellers on these sites and because they are all-purpose detergents intended for common use of sinks. We have deliberately not included special products designed to primarily tackle baby clothes or delicate items.
We systematically put these detergents through our washing machine. The process involved weeks of washing, over 100 hours at all. In other words, there are more than 80 washer cycles pluscycles to match. We also carefully examined 135 fabric color strips with an industrial reflective colorimeter to accurately determine the effectiveness of each detergent. And when all was said and done, the clear winner was Tide HE Turbo Clean liquid. It was far from the best by eliminating a host of different types of stains and soils.
The second best cleaning in our group was another tidal product, Tide Pod 3 in 1 HE Turbo pods. Its stain removal capabilities came close to floating tides. It is cleaned with consistently good results from the load to load as well. It was something the other detergent item in our test group, All Mighty Pac's Free and Clear, failed to do. In general, All's laundry does not remove stains either.
Dirt on Detergent Test
Scientific evaluation of detergent efficiency is a strictly laborious process similar to the method we use to test. However, there are some important differences. First we get stuck with a washing machine. In this case we used . We chose this appliance partly for our own convenience. It was already in a bunk inside our test lab. And since we thoroughly tested the washing machine during the review process, the performance was a known amount. Use of the same washing machine through testing is also controlled for any device-related variables.
For each brand of detergent, we performed three test runs. With nine specific detergent brands, there are at least 27 washing machine cycles. And after we had completed the test cycles, we ran additional wash cycles with just water to clean the remaining soap. We did not consider the mechanical effect of the wash cycle, as we do when testing individual discs. It is because where a machine is physically hard or gently on fabric is a property of each washing machine, not the detergent it uses.
Otherwise, our methodology is identical. Inspired by AHAM's guidelines, we use 8 pounds of laundry, with the same test elements in each race. It includes a blend of "fillers" such as sheets, towels and pillow cases, plus specially calibrated cloth strips. These strips, which we purchase from Swiss test material company Swissatest, meet AHAM's strict guidelines for soil consistency.
Each cloth test strip has five stain areas, each soiled by another blend of contaminants. The spots are as follows: sebum (skin oil), carbon (black), blood (pig blood), cocoa (chocolate and milk) and red wine (age). Each is designed to represent the chemical and physical properties of many similar substances.
For example, sebum mimics natural oils produced by your skin. Carbon represents petroleum by-products such as engine oil and mineral oil. Blood is a good prerequisite for protein-based pigments, including grass spots. Cocoa simulates a variety of organic pigments, such as stains caused by coffee and chocolate.
We score the results for each load using a reflectance farimeter. The sensitive tool makes it possible to measure the percentage reflection of each test strip spot, both before and after washing. Comparing these two values then gives us the percentage change that has occurred. From there, we can calculate a percentage of how much stain a detergent removes (and leaves behind).
The best detergent for everything
Hands down, Tide HE Turbo Clean liquid is the best detergent. Throughout the board, Tide got our test load cleaner, and with the smallest spots left, regardless of the fabric. It really shone when it came to stains for wine and cocoa. Only an average of 36.6% of the wine surfaces remained after washing. That number may sound loud, but in general it's actually pretty good, especially when compared to the other detergents.
For example, the worst cleaning agent was to remove the braids Arm & Hammer Clean Burst. The floating washcloth left 52.3% (average) of its spots on the back of our test cloth strips. And on average, Tide left only 40.2% of cocoa stains behind. All free and clear liquids were least effective in ridding cocoa. After washing, 79.6% (average) cocoa stains were still on their test strip.
Over all five tough spots, Tide left 52.1% (average) of rear spots. It makes it the best parent in this group of detergents. The tide doesn't come cheap though. The price of $ 11.97 for a 100-ounce container (12 cents per ounce) is the most expensive liquid detergent we tested.
The best detergent plate
Tide triumphed here again. Every little Tide Pod 3 in 1 HE Turbo got test load almost as spotless as Tide fluid did. With an average of 53.5% of the remaining spots, it was second best. Tide Pods were also skilled fighters of red wine (43.6% remaining) and cocoa spots (44% remaining).
However, the consistent cleanness of these seeds was more impressive. Across three test runs, Tide-pods notched stain results which were substantially identical (52.8%, 53.5%, and 54.2% spot remaining). The other wash plate in our group (All buckets) went much worse. Not only did the clothes leave dirt on average (58.2% spot remaining), the performance was wildly inconsistent between each wash (57.1%, 63.2%, and 54.3% spot remaining).
If you save money, your motivation is, but look elsewhere. At $ 20 for a container of 81, these pods are expensive. They train for about 25 cents per pod (one pod per load).
The best budget detergent
Rounding off the list of top three detergents is Costco Kirkland Signature Ultra Clean HE Liquid. It came in third in our group with an average of 56.9% spot left. It left several of our test wines behind (45.3%). The same goes for cocoa stains with 54.8% of those still clinging to our test strips.
However, you can take a large 194-ounce container for $ 13.59. It calculates only 7 cents per ounce, the most affordable detergent in this group. Despite its rock bottom price, the detergent came close to Tide's stain-removing power.
Here is the complete list of detergents in our test group
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Tyler Lizenby / CNET
A note about high-efficiency washing machine
Several decades ago, washing machines used much more water than today's high-efficiency (HE) models. According to Energy Star, modern HE washers use 14 liters of water per load. Standard washing machines, however, need 20 liters. Because of this difference, you cannot use regular detergent in a HE washing machine. Instead, these devices require specifically formulated HE detergent. However, most of the washing machine models sold are highly efficient though. The popularity of HE detergents has also increased, and therefore we chose HE instead of the standard soap for our test group.