For the most part, that’s fine. Using a good washing machine and pretreating correctly get half the job done. However, our lab testing found there are performance differences. To find the best laundry detergent, we decided to put seven of the top-selling liquid cleaners to the test, having everything from Kirkland ProClean to Tide battle it out for supremacy.
We subjected the detergents to a variety of tests including stain removal, scent ratings, and cost analyses. In the end, Persil ProClean(available at Amazon for $11.97) 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.
These are the best laundry detergents we tested ranked, in order:
Arm & Hammer CleanBurst
All Free & Clear
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Though Persil has only been on sale in the US since mid-2015, it has long been a best-selling laundry detergent in Europe. It crossed the Atlantic to take on Tide, which has long been the dominant brand in the U.S.
Our photospectrometer revealed that—across all our tests—Persil removed an average of 2 percent more stains than Tide. 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.
However, Persil isn't perfect for everyone. Although it's now sold at multiple retailers, it was originally launched as a Walmart exclusive. At most retailers, Persil is more expensive than Tide. While the price gap isn't extreme, over a year's worth of washing, 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. It's no wonder it did well in our evaluations of price, scent, and cleaning ability. Yes, it lagged slightly behind Persil in the 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, and that is currently Amazon's best-selling liquid laundry detergent. It is available nearly every major retailer. Other detergents may cost less, but Tide out cleaned them by as much as 14 percent.
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." We agree that, for most consumers, Tide remains the best value among laundry detergents.
Hi, I’m Jon Chan, the senior lab technician at Reviewed. If you clean with it, it’s likely I oversee its testing, whether you’re asking about a vacuum or laundry detergent. 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 the 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 further, we added tomato sauce and fresh red wine.
We placed these stains strips into standardized loads of laundry, each consisting of eight pounds worth of pillowcases, towels, and bedsheets. Next, we place the strips and laundry in designated places in the 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.
Kirkland is synonymous with the Costco brand, though, it can be found at various online retailers as well. It came in third overall. It combined affordability and performance. However, it removed 6 percent fewer stains than Persil and 4 percent fewer than Tide. We also really liked the bottle design–it comes with a no-mess dispenser. As far as scent goes, we thought it to be average. The scent is fresher and lighter than Tide, but we found that less of it carries over to the laundry.
The race for best value was neck and neck between Kirkland and Tide. What it came down to was ease of purchase and stain removal. While Kirkland Ultra Clean is cheaper per wash than Tide, you can only really get a good deal on it at Costco and if you don't live near one you're out of luck. Still, it's detergent you won't regret buying.
Gain is best known for its fresh scent. Luckily, when we tested it this year, it showed it was not a one-trick pony. It's also decent at removing stains, earning itself fourth place. Of all the detergents we tested, Gain had the most liked scent and it had staying power, transferring strongly to our laundry.
We found Gain to be a head and shoulders above bargain brand detergents, it lagged behind the winners–about 10 percent less effective than Persil. For the average urbanite that doesn't get that dirty, Gain will leave you with a more pleasant laundry experience.
Arm & Hammer, 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). Clean Burst tied for third place in the stain-fighting contest but stood out for being affordable.
Although Arm & Hammer might seem like a good deal upfront, weaker stain removal kept it from being as good a value. In addition, Clean Burst left a sharp, citrusy smell on laundry that may wrinkle your nose. If you want the absolute lowest initial cost, however, Arm & Hammer can deliver.
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 far as price to performance goes, we think Purex is on the mark. We'd recommend Purex to cash-strapped college students and people who have a lot of turnover in their wardrobe can rely on Purex.
All Free & Clear is a perfume- and dye-free detergent that tied for third place in our cleaning contest. We noticed that it has a strong medicinal scent, which is unsurprising since there are no perfumes to mask the natural odors of its ingredients. Luckily, that smell does not transfer onto laundry. In fact, Free & Clear lived up to its name and left virtually no scent behind.
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, and All is leagues better. On the pricing front, All is in the clear: A roundup of various retailers brings up an average price of around 25 cents per load. That's not bad considering this detergent is meant for a more niche market.
Jonathan Chan currently serves as the Senior Lab Technician 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.