Americans spend billions of dollars every year on laundry detergents. Most people will buy a detergent that they like the smell of, has features they like or, let's be honest, is on sale. All of this is fine—provided you don't care about getting your clothes as clean as they can be. Our lab tests found some liquid detergents clean much better than others. This extra cleaning power can mean the difference between there being subtle stains left behind on a garment and spotlessness. To find the best laundry detergent, we pitted the top-selling liquid cleaners against each other to see which clean reigns supreme.
We subjected the detergents in this guide to a variety of tests including stain removal, scent ratings, and cost analyses. In the end, Persil ProClean(available at Amazon) came out on top. ProClean had the best stain-removing prowess for removing tough stains.
(If you prefer more environmentally-friendly laundry detergents, we tested and evaluated those, too, and found Tide Purclean (available at Amazon) is the best eco-friendly laundry detergent. Plant-based alternatives are a great choice if you're wary of the chemicals found in optical brightening agents.
These are the best laundry detergents we tested ranked, in order:
Persil ProClean Sensitive Skin
Arm & Hammer CleanBurst
All Free & Clear
Recommendations are independently chosen by Reviewed’s editors. Purchases you make through our links may earn us a commission.
Persil ProClean Sensitive Skin
How We Tested Laundry Detergents
What You Should Know About Buying Laundry Detergents
Though Persil has only been on sale in the U.S. since mid-2015, it has long been a best-selling laundry detergent in Europe. Our photospectrometer revealed that—across all our tests—Persil removed an average of 2 percent more stains than Tide detergents were capable of. While that difference isn't clearly visible to the naked eye, it does make a difference over repeated washings—and that's how Persil eked out a win over a longstanding favorite.
Unfortunately, at most retailers, Persil is more expensive than Tide, which works very well, despite it's a lower price. While the price gap isn't extreme, over a year's worth of washing with Persil ProClean power liquid, it can add up.
Our in-house survey and review of online opinions also show that many consumers think Persil smells "sweet"—which may be a turnoff. Still, if stain removal is critical, Persil is the undisputed winner.
Tide has been the best-selling laundry detergent in the U.S. for 68 years. While it lagged slightly behind Persil in our stain-fighting test, it stood toe-to-toe or bested it in all other categories.
The Tide we tested was Tide Original—a product that's optimized for high-efficiency washers. It's currently Amazon's best-selling liquid laundry detergent. Not an Amazon shopper? No problem: it's available from nearly every major retailer. Other detergents may cost less, but Tide out cleaned them by as much as 14 percent. There is also no substitute for the convenience of tide pods.
Because of Tide's ubiquity, its scent has become ingrained in the fabric of American life. One survey respondent even wrote, "When I think of clean laundry, this is the smell that comes to mind." Tide is widely known for its cleaning power and provides the best value among laundry detergents available to Americans today.
Persil ProClean Sensitive Skin came out on top in our cleaning tests for detergents for people with sensitive skin. The results did not surprise us as regular Persil currently holds the number one spot in this guide.
In fact, we prefer the aroma of this version much better than the regular ProClean. When we popped open the Sensitive Skin bottle, we mercifully found a very mild scent. We also appreciate the fact that it is formulated to work in cold water. Those who like to cook will enjoy that our testing showed Persil did best against red wine and protein stains.
While testing showed that it’s a great cleaner, we did have some concerns over some of the ingredients. Most notable was the usage of Sodium Borate, also known as borax, which can cause skin irritation. There is also some concern about Propylene Glycol, prolonged exposure to which could cause contact dermatitis.
Persil Sensitive Skin sits on the fence between hypoallergenic laundry detergents and the standard set we’ve been familiar with for years. In exchange for having more harsh chemicals than most free-and-clear detergents, you’re getting a superior clean.
When it comes to eco-friendly detergents, our testing showed that Tide Purclean came out on top, removing the most amount of stains.
Tide Purclean is a brand-new detergent with a familiar name and a reduced environmental impact. It claims to clean as well as conventional Tide, and our tests proved that claim to be 100% true. In fact, it's far and away the best-cleaning eco-friendly detergent we tested.
However, there are two drawbacks: cost and content. Tide is typically considered a big name brand, and Purclean is no different. Tracking its price overtime on Amazon, we can see that it’s one of the more expensive detergents we’ve tested.
Purclean can be described as a hybrid detergent—only 75% of its ingredients are plant-based, and some of the rest are petroleum-derived. If you want to do Mother Earth a small favor without sacrificing performance, Purclean is the best choice for clean laundry.
Best cleaning eco-friendly detergent
75% of ingredients plant-based
Higher cost than most other eco-friendly detergents
Hi, I’m Jon Chan, the senior lab manager at Reviewed. If you use a product to clean your home with, I've likely tested it. Over the years, I've tested dozens of laundry detergents, including eco-friendly detergents and even detergent alternatives. When it comes to detergents, I'm most interested in stain removal and cost-effectiveness.
We tested all the detergents on the Maytag MVWC565FW top-loading washer on the Normal cycle with warm water, not hot water. To ensure that our test results were consistent, we used mechanically dyed swatches that are covered in common household substances like sweat, oil, pig’s blood, red wine, and cocoa. All stains are carefully sourced, for example, all the red wine is made in the same vineyard and all the blood comes from the same breed of pig.
In addition to mechanically created stains, we produced some stains of our own. We dragged a colleague through dirt and grass to create stained t-shirts and to make things for the shirt even worse, added tomato sauce and fresh red wine into the mix.
We placed our stain swatches into standardized loads of laundry, each consisting of eight pounds worth of pillowcases, towels, and bedsheets. We then repeated this process only, this time, placing the swathes in designated places inside of the washing machine.
After we ran the Normal cycle, we took each strip and let them dry overnight then analyzed them with a photospectrometer–a device designed to detect changes in color. This allowed us to assign an empirical number to how much of each stain the detergent lifted.
What You Should Know About Buying Laundry Detergents
How Much Laundry Detergent to Use?
It may sound counterintuitive, but using too much detergent will actually leave your laundry dirty. This happens because the base components of detergent work in specific concentrations. When those concentrations are too high, bad laundry mishaps can occur.
The more detergent you use, the more suds there will be. Newer washing machines have sensors that check for remaining dirt in the suds. Smart washers have programming that makes the assumption that you used the correct amount of detergent.
If you use too much detergent, then you'll get too many suds. These extra suds won't pick up any dirt and will obscure the fact there are more stains to be removed. When the sensors see only clean suds, then the machine will think that the wash is done, prematurely ending the cycle.
Using too much detergent can also cause damage your washer. Detergent that doesn't get washed away dries up as residue inside your machine. Repeated overuse of detergent causes residue to build up, which eventually leads to blockages. In turn, these blockages force water to back up into places where it shouldn't be, like the control panel or your floor. More importantly, when your washer breaks down you can't wash your clothes effectively, so they stay dirty.
In a nutshell: Follow the instructions on the detergent bottles, as this will have the best guidance specific to whichever detergent you’re using. Beyond that, we recommend for a normal load of laundry, never fill the cap up more than a third of the way. On heavier loads, up to half way on the cap should do.
What is HE Laundry Detergent?
HE laundry detergent, also know as high efficiency laundry detergent, is formulated specifically for washing machines that use less water—up to 60% less—and can deliver a better clean in these machines than using regular laundry detergent can. It suds up less, and it disperses more quickly.
It is not recommended to use regular detergent in a high-efficiency washing machine. However, you can use HE laundry detergent in a machine that's not high-efficiency. You just need to use a little bit more of it.
Does Laundry Detergent Expire?
Laundry detergent does not expire in the same sense that food expires. However, laundry detergents do have a “best use by date.” Liquid detergents contain a lot of water, which can evaporate over time, leaving behind a sticky and clumpy mess.
The opposite is true of powder detergent, if moisture gets in, it can turn the detergent into a difficult-to-use rock.
Does Laundry Detergent Kill Germs?
On its own, laundry detergent does not kill germs. There are products called laundry sanitizers and chemicals like bleach that are designed to kill germs in the wash, but generally, laundry detergents on their own do not do this.
Many washing machines have Sanitize cycles that are proven to be effective against common diseases like the flu and E. coli. However, your better bet for sickness prevention is to wash your hands regularly.
Is Laundry Detergent Toxic?
The short answer is no, but you should be careful.
OSHA has a detailed scheme to indicate chemical hazards. Laundry detergents are a mixture of many chemicals. Most help with cleaning; others provide color and scent. Some ingredients irritate the skin or eyes and are harmful if swallowed. Toxic chemicals cause severe harm even in small amounts. By this definition, laundry detergents aren’t considered toxic.
Liquid detergent is irritating if splashed on the skin or eyes, but rinsing usually clears this up. Long-term damage is unlikely. We’ve all gotten soap in our eyes; it’s basically the same deal, but laundry detergent is more concentrated than shampoo or body wash.
Unsurprisingly, not many people drink laundry detergent, and if they do, they’re usually young kids. Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea are the most common symptoms, and drinking plenty of milk or water usually clears things up.
So, don’t drink your laundry detergent, keep it away from the kids, and handle it with care.
Can Laundry Detergent Cause Hives?
By law, manufacturers are not required to list the ingredients in their fragrances. So it can be difficult to know if you’re allergic to certain products. Even products labeled “unscented” can contain fragrances.
However, companies like P&G have vowed to be more transparent with what goes into making the scents of its products. If you’re worried about fragrances, look for products that have the EPA’s Safe Choice seal.
There are many laundry detergents on the market that are marketed for people with sensitive skin. They have phrases like “free-and-clear'' and “hypoallergenic.” On the surface, hypoallergenic translates to products low in allergy-causing compounds.
However, according to the FDA, these terms have no legal meaning. A study done at Northwest University showed that out of the 100 top-selling moisturizers labeled “hypoallergenic,” 83% contained potential allergens. While this isn’t exactly the same as detergents, our research into various ingredients of the detergents in our roundup yielded similar results.
“Free-and-clear” typically refers to a lack of dyes and perfumes, which can cause irritation. It also usually means that the detergent lacks any optical brighteners. We frown on the addition of optical brighteners because they use an actual trick of the light to make clothes look cleaner without removing any stains.
The race for our best value pick was neck-and-neck between Kirkland and Tide. In the end, Beyond the science, Tide won us over, as it can be bought most anywhere, while Kirkland products can only be found in Costco stores and, occasionally online.
Our tests revealed that their detergent combines a great balance of affordability and performance, with a cent that is fresher and lighter than what you'll get with Tide... although you'll notice that less of its scent will remain on your clothes after they've been washed than when they're washed with Tide or our main pick. The Kirkland detergent removed 6 percent fewer stains than Persil and 4 percent fewer than Tide. We really liked its container design–it comes with a no-mess dispenser. As far as scent goes, we thought it to be average.
Limited availability with best deals available only at Costco
Gain is best known for its fresh scent. It's also decent at removing stains: of all the detergents we tested, Gain had the most liked scent and staying power, with its bouquet transferring strongly to our laundry.
While we found Gain to be superior to bargain-priced detergents, it lagged behind our winners. It was roughly 10 percent less effective than Persil. However, for the average urbanite that doesn't get that dirty, Gain will leave you with a more pleasant-smelling laundry experience.
Arm & Hammer Clean Burst, made by Church & Dwight, is the only detergent on our list that isn't made by either Henkel (Persil and All) or Procter & Gamble (Tide and Gain). It tied for third place in the area of stain-fighting and stands out for its affordability.
That said, while this detergent might seem like a good deal, its weaker stain removal abilities didn't make us feel like it was a good buy, once we used it—as it doesn't remove stains as well as other detergents in this guide, you may wind up having to wash a garment multiple times with it before it's clean. Additionally, this detergent left a sharp, citrusy smell on laundry that many may find unappealing.
Purex is well-liked for its affordability. Our testing showed that you get what you pay for with this product. It came in second to last in stain removal testing. We found that result surprising, since the same people that make Persil, our top performer, makes Purex. As for its price-to-performance ratio, we think Purex is on the mark. We'd recommend Purex to anyone on a budget who need a cheaper detergent with cleaning power.
All Free & Clear is a perfume-and-dye-free detergent that tied for third place in our cleaning contest. While it might be perfume-free, it does have an odor: we noticed that it has a strong medicinal smell—a side effect of having no added scents to mask the natural odors of its ingredients. Luckily, this odor does not transfer onto laundry.
That might be a detriment if you're trying to eliminate an odor from your laundry, but for consumers with sensitivities to dyes and perfumes, this detergent remains a popular choice. We've tested a few perfume-free detergents that barely cleaned better than no detergent at all. All Free & Clear proved to be leagues better than other perfume-free options. On the pricing front, it has an average price of around 25 cents per load. That's not bad considering this detergent is meant for a more niche market of people with sensitive skin.
Jonathan Chan currently serves as the Lab Manager at Reviewed. If you clean with it, it's likely that Jon oversees its testing. Since joining the Reviewed in 2012, Jon has helped launch the company's efforts in reviewing laptops, vacuums, and outdoor gear. He thinks he's a pretty big deal. In the pursuit of data, he's plunged his hands into freezing cold water, consented to be literally dragged through the mud, and watched paint dry. Jon demands you have a nice day.
Our team is here for one purpose: to help you buy the best stuff and love what you own. Our writers, editors, and lab technicians obsess over the products we cover to make sure you're confident and satisfied. Have a different opinion about something we recommend? Email us and we'll compare notes.