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Published Sep. 10, 2021

Choosing from the myriad of options in the detergent aisle can be a burdensome task. With so many options available, it’s hard to know what will work best to remove pesky stains and odors from your laundry. Do you need powder or liquid? Scented or sensitive? Will a basic drugstore version be enough or do you need a higher-end detergent? 

We’ve researched the best laundry detergents and found the top products for different uses. Read on to learn which detergents can tackle tricky messes and keep your clothes looking, feeling, and smelling fresh. Here are our top picks.

How We Picked the Best Laundry Detergents

Methodology

Laundry detergent is more than just soap. Detergents have intricate formulas that need to strike a balance between being powerful against stains while also being safe for your clothing and skin. To make our selections, we looked at a few different criteria.

Formula: We looked at what kind of chemicals and enzymes are part of the detergents’ formulas and avoided anything that was too abrasive for normal skin. We also favored detergents that were environmentally friendly and free of phosphates.
Performance: We looked for detergents that are effective at removing stains while also keeping our clothes in good shape without fading colors.
Ease of use: Life is busy, so we liked detergents that are easy to use and don’t overcomplicate laundry day. We shied away from powder detergents that need to dissolve and sometimes clump, and we preferred color safe bleach alternatives over detergents that will bleach colors or make them run. 
Value: We paid attention to the price of the detergent per load of laundry. Aside from brands that have a proven performance rating to justify a higher price, we tried to avoid more expensive detergents.

The Best Laundry Detergents: Reviews and Recommendations

Best Overall: Tide Pods 3-in-1

One Simple Step

Pod detergents offer more efficiency in each load. Tide

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Why It Made the Cut: Tide’s 3-in-1 pods are a detergent, stain remover, and color protector in one small, easy-to-use package.

Specs:  

  • Phosphate free
  • High efficiency
  • Low cost per load
ProsCons
  • Pods require no measuring and no guesswork
  • Candy-like appearance is potentially hazardous to children
  • 3-in-1 formula contains all the elements for a complete wash
  • More expensive than liquid detergent
  • Top-tier stain removal
  • Tide Pods 3-in-1

    Beyond the many shelves of detergents at the store, you’ll also find other laundry products including stain removers, bleach, and fabric softeners. The Tide Pod 3-in-1 formula works as all three of these, limiting the need to buy more than one product.

    One of the best benefits of the laundry pod versus a liquid detergent is that the pod eliminates the need to measure—just toss the pod in the machine and start the wash cycle. While Tide Pods are technically more expensive per load than most liquid detergents, with liquids you run the risk of overpouring, which can discreetly drain your pocket, not to mention cause product build-up in your machine.

    Recently there’s been concern that because the brightly-colored pods resemble candy, young children may be tempted to eat them. The childproof container prevents accidental poisoning by keeping little fingers out.

    For the best performance from your Tide Pods, read the instructions carefully to ensure that the pods dissolve properly in your wash.

    Best for Sensitive Skin: Persil ProClean Free and Sensitive

    Gentle and Hypoallergenic

    People with sensitive skin will be comfortable with this perfume-free, dye-free detergent. Persil

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    Why It Made the Cut: Persil ProClean is a liquid detergent that won’t aggravate skin sensitivities but still gets the job done.

    Specs:  

    • Phosphate free
    • Dye free
    • Liquid detergent
    ProsCons
  • Removes tough stains
  • More expensive than other brands
  • Works well in cold water
  • Difficult to pour
  • Gets rid of stubborn odors
  • Persil ProClean Free and Sensitive

    For some people, the same chemicals that make clothes nice and soft and give it that fresh scent can aggravate the skin, causing rashes and itchiness. Persil ProClean detergent is our favorite choice for a detergent that’s gentle on sensitive skin while still getting clothes crisp and clean. 

    This detergent is free of dyes and perfumes, but still has a refreshing scent that customers rave about. Despite being easy on sensitive skin, Persil ProClean is powerful on dirt and stains and will leave your clothes and linens spotless. As it’s a liquid detergent, there’s no worry about it not dissolving.

    One concern among customers is that the design of the opaque plastic cap makes the detergent difficult to measure and pour correctly. But once people become accustomed to the appropriate amount to use, there shouldn’t be any problems. This is a great choice for people with reactive skin.

    Best for Babies: Dreft Stage 1

    For Delicate Skin

    Dreft’s gentle formula is a favorite among parents of newborns. Dreft

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    Why It Made the Cut: Dreft strikes a balance between a powerful wash to remove the many stains that come with having a baby, and a gentle formula that’s easy on brand new skin.

    Specs:  

    • Hypoallergenic
    • High efficiency
    ProsCons
  • Works well in all types of washers
  • Strong scent
  • Made with biodegradable ingredients
  • Removes protein stains
  • Dreft Stage 1

    Nothing needs to work harder than laundry detergent for baby clothes, and we found that Dreft is the best choice for removing the endless stains that come with a newborn. Dreft Stage 1 is formulated specifically for newborns and contains enzymes that remove protein stains…meaning that’s the milk, formula, and poop stains that babies are known for.

    A baby’s safety and comfort is a top priority for new parents, and this detergent is hypoallergenic and easy on a baby’s tender skin, which can be prone to rashes and eczema. Like most baby products, this detergent is slightly more expensive than standard products, but it’s mid-priced among other baby-specific detergents.

    The jury is out on the very identifiable Dreft fragrance. Some consumers find the scent too strong, while others love it. You’ll have to make up your own mind.

    Best Detergent with Bleach Alternative: Tide Plus Bleach Alternative

    Brilliant Whites

    Bleach alternative greatly boosts the cleaning power of regular detergent. Tide

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    Why It Made the Cut: This liquid detergent contains an effective bleach alternative that whitens whites and brightens colors, for a worry-free wash you can throw in together as one load.

    Specs:

    • High efficiency
    • Liquid detergent
    • Eliminates the need for bleach
    ProsCons
  • Great for whites and colors
  • On the pricey side
  • No need to pretreat stains
  • Muted fragrance
  • Tide Plus Bleach Alternative

    If you want all your colors to pop but you don’t have the time or energy to sort your laundry, Tide Plus Bleach Alternative is a safe way to wash everything together in one load. The bleach alternative is oxygen-based rather than chlorine-based, so your colors won’t run and turn your white clothes pink. 

    While this detergent is pricier than most basic detergents, you won’t need to buy any additional stain removers to add to your wash. The Tide formula attacks stains quickly and eliminates the need for adding bleach or pretreating stains.

    Best Value: Purex Liquid Laundry Detergent

    Clean and Color Safe

    Powerful performance at a reasonable price. Purex

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    Why It Made the Cut: Purex is our choice for best value because of its ability to lift tough stains in any kind of washing machine at a reasonable price.

    Specs: 

    • Liquid
    • Bleach free
    • Fresh scent
    ProsCons
  • Color safe
  • Doesn’t whiten as well as other formulas
  • Works with high-efficiency washing machines
  • Purex Liquid Laundry Detergent

    If you’re shopping on a budget, Purex Liquid Laundry Detergent comes in at the most reasonable price while also getting your laundry clean and fresh. The formula contains no chlorine bleach, making it safe for colors. 

    This version of the product contains Clorox 2 which boosts the overall performance. While other detergents boast a strong, overly perfumed scent, Purex detergent has a light and subtle fragrance that smells clean but not overwhelming.

    At the lower price, you may not notice the dazzling whites some of the higher-end detergents offer, but this liquid detergent will still leave your clothes clean and smelling fresh at a fraction of the cost.

    Things to Consider Before Buying Laundry Detergent

    Skin Sensitivities

    Laundry detergent can have a big impact on our day-to-day comfort—after all, our clothing is the one thing in contact with our skin almost 24 hours a day! That’s why the best detergents are gentle on the skin and free of abrasive chemicals. If you notice a rash or breakout on your skin, you may want to try changing detergents.

    Liquid, Powder, or Pod

    Each form of detergent has its own pros and cons to consider. Powder is the least expensive but can be difficult to dissolve in environmentally-friendly cold water, while pods cost more but are easiest to use. Liquid strikes a good balance between the two, although the viscous texture can be tough to pour and measure accurately. 

    Additives

    Many detergents now come equipped with everything you need to get your clothes clean, including bleach, bleach alternatives, stain removers, and fabric softener. Take a look at what’s included in the product you choose so you’ll know if you can omit any part of your laundry process. You may be able to save some steps and some money by buying an all-in-one formula, like our top pick: the Tide Pod 3-in-1.

    FAQs

    Q: What does laundry detergent actually do?

    This should come as no surprise, but humans are messy creatures. Dropped crumbs and grease stains aside, we sweat, we shed skin, we drool in our sleep. Our clothes and linens need to be cleaned frequently. Laundry detergent differs from other kinds of soap because it includes formulas specifically designed to clean fabric instead of skin. The formula includes chemicals called surfactants, which separate grime from fabric so it can be washed away in the rinse cycle. Laundry detergent may also include things like bleach or bleach alternatives to make colors whiter and enzymes to break down stains from proteins, fats, and starches. 

    Q: What is considered the best laundry detergent?

    You can’t go wrong with a tried and true brand that has proved itself again and again over nearly a century of production, so we’re giving the award for best laundry detergent to Tide. Since the 1940s, Tide has produced detergents that get out tough stains and has kept modifying its products to keep up with breakthroughs in skin sensitivity and environmental impact. 

    Q: What’s the best inexpensive laundry detergent?

    We chose Purex as our favorite value laundry detergent. Purex detergents can be found on Amazon and other stores where detergent is sold. Another alternative for a lower-cost detergent is Kirkland Signature laundry detergent, which is from Costco, though it can be found at different price points on Amazon as well.

    Final Thoughts on Choosing the Best Laundry Detergent

    For best overall laundry detergent, Tide Pods 3-in-1 are the top choice due to their ease of use, efficiency, and overall washing and stain removal performance. While we chose another detergent as the best for sensitive skin, Tide Pods are also available in a free and gentle formula if you need something easier on your skin but still like the convenience of a pod.

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