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 detergents clean much better than others. This extra cleaning power can mean the difference between their 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 seven detergents featured 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, a bearable scent, and it is sold at a reasonable cost.
(If you prefer more environmentally-friendly laundry detergents, we tested and evaluated those, too, and found Seventh Generation Free and Clear 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:
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.
Though Persil has only been on sale in the US 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 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, but it stood toe-to-toe or bested it in all other categories.
The Tide we tested was Tide HE 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 it's cleaning power and provides the best value among laundry detergents available to Americans today.
Hi, I’m Jon Chan, the senior lab technician 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. 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.
A Short History of Clothes Washing
The way that we clean our laundry has changed slowly, but dramatically over the centuries. Where dunking our clothes in the clean running water of a stream or river, beating them on a rock and letting them dry in the sun was once the height of garment hygiene, every once in a while, a shift in how we wash our clothes pops up.
Over the centuries, people have used a wide variety of substances, such as ash, sand, charcoal and even sulfur (you'll get no fresh scent out of that one) to grind the dirt out of their clothing. Sometimes these things would be used together in a laundry cleaning concoction. Other times, when few options were available, the substances may have been used all on their own. Once humanity nailed down the ability to make solid bars of soap, we began using the same stuff we washed our bodies with to also refresh our garments. This worked just fine for generations, right up until the First World War rolled around. During the conflict, Germany's war efforts used many of the components required to make soap to make equipment for soldiers on the front lines. As such, little soap could be found to do the nation's washing up. In 1916, the nation's chemists figured out the chemical means for cleaning clothing and laundry detergent was born.
Once the war was over, a large majority of folks went back to using traditional bars of soap and soap flakes as they had before all the fighting broke out. It wasn't until the 1950s when the use of washing machines skyrocketed in North America, that detergent became a popular product for cleaning clothing.
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, occasional 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.
We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.