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Best and Worst Laundry Detergents From Consumer Reports' Tests

Kimberly Janeway

Consumer Reports has no financial relationship with advertisers on this site.

Consumer Reports has no financial relationship with advertisers on this site.

Walk down the cleaning products aisle of any grocery or big-box store and the sheer number of laundry detergent choices can feel overwhelming.

The detergent names and descriptions only add to the confusion: Ultra Stain Release, Turbo Clean, Simply Clean and Fresh, Simply Clean and Sensitive—and that’s just a handful of detergents from Tide.

In terms of detergent types, however, the laundry detergent market has narrowed: “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 senior market analyst at CR.

Some Consumer Reports readers tell us that they buy what’s on sale, but others have strong preferences, especially when it comes to the detergent’s scent. “Great smelling,” one CR reader commented. “The scent is extremely strong,” says another—and they’re both talking about the same detergent, in this case, Persil ProClean Power-Liquid 2in1.  

Lab-Tested for Your Washer
Our test engineers launder fabric swatches that are saturated with blood, chocolate, red wine, dirt, grass, tea, and body oil. We use stains that are exceedingly hard to remove so that we can detect real differences among detergents. Even the best detergents can’t remove every stain completely.

Using cool water, we wash swatches in three identical washers with each detergent, then allow the swatches to air-dry. (A dryer is out of the question 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, compared with stained swatches that have been laundered using only water.

The best detergents we’ve tested earn an Excellent rating in removing body oil and dirt—common stains—but they can also tackle tougher ones such as grass, red wine, and blood.

And the worst detergents are barely better than water for removing most stains.

Below, a closer look at five of the best liquid detergents we tested, listed alphabetically, along with the two worst.

In our detergent ratings, we calculate the price per load because detergents vary in the number of ounces or pacs in each container. The prices below, however, reflect overall prices; in some cases, the prices listed are for multipacks.

Kirkland Signature (Costco) Ultra Clean Free & Clear

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 do not contain dyes or perfumes, and Kirkland Signature Ultra Clean Free & Clear carries that claim. It earns a Very Good rating in removing dirt stains and is one of the least expensive of the hypoallergenic detergents we’ve tested. (That’s something to consider, given how much laundry you’ll be doing with a little one at home.)

Member's Mark (Sam's Club) Ultimate Clean

CR’s take: Member’s Mark Ultimate Clean is almost half the price per load of higher-scoring detergents from Tide and Persil. It earns an Excellent rating in removing dirt stains. But it doesn’t pack the same punch when it comes to grass stains and other toughies like red wine, so consider which types of stains you typically have to contend with.

Persil ProClean Power-Liquid Sensitive Skin

CR’s take: Persil ProClean Power-Liquid for Sensitive Skin is the best of the detergents we tested that carry the claim of being for sensitive skin. This detergent snags an Excellent rating in removing body oil, such as ring-around-the-collar. But 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.

Persil ProClean Power-Liquid 2in1

CR’s take: Of the dozens of liquid detergents we tested, only two easily tackle stains from body oil and dirt, and earn a Very Good rating in removing tougher stains such as red wine, chocolate, blood, and tea. Persil ProClean Power-Liquid 2in1 is one of those detergents. 

Tide Plus Ultra Stain Release

CR’s take: Tide is widely sold, which is why you’ll see seven liquid Tide detergents in our ratings, including Tide Plus Ultra Stain Release. Stains from dirt and body oil? No sweat. And Tide Plus removed more grass stains from our fabric swatches than any detergent tested, earning an Excellent rating in this test. 

Sun Triple Clean

CR’s take: Sun Triple Clean costs less than any detergent in our ratings, and it’s also the worst, earning the lowest Overall Score of the 41 tested. Henkel makes this budget brand, but it can’t match the cleaning power of Persil, Henkel’s premier brand. Sun Triple earns only a Good rating in our tests for removing dirt, and performs worse when it comes to grass and tough stains like chocolate and red wine.

Xtra Plus OxiClean

CR’s take: Xtra Plus With OxiClean is another one of the cheapest detergents we tested, and it makes sense to spend a little more. This detergent struggled to clean even common stains like body oil, earning only a Fair in this test, so it’s no match for tougher stains.

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