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12 Best Laundry Detergents to Buy in 2021, According to Cleaning Experts

Stubborn stains and odors are no match for these powerful detergents.

best laundry detergent
Good Housekeeping

One thing we've learned about laundry detergent in all our years of testing them at Good Housekeeping is that no detergent gets out everything, but every detergent gets out something. That's why laundry detergents are some of the most frequently-tested products in the Good Housekeeping Institute Cleaning Lab: It's the one cleaning essential that virtually everyone uses and there's always a constant stream of new ones coming our way.hot, warm, or cold water

All laundry detergents claim to remove stains, whiten, brighten colors, and generally just be "new and improved," so it's difficult to know which really work best. That's why we put them through such a rigorous gamut of tests in our Labs. Here are our top laundry detergent picks to tackle every kind of mess, based on our testing:

    How we test laundry detergents

    For every new laundry detergent we test, we first review the labeling for thoroughness of the directions, how much is recommended to use for medium, large, and heavily soiled loads, and whether it contains the required safety labeling cautions required by law based on the ingredients. We then apply a battery of 20 carefully measured stains (think grease, coffee, wine, and more) to white cotton and polyester woven and knit fabrics and allow the stains to set for 24 hours before we wash them. In just our last test of 42 detergents, we applied and rated over 2,500 stains!

    The next day, the swatches are washed in top- and front-loading machines in hot, warm, or cold water with seven to eight pounds of additional items like towels, t-shirts, sheets, and pillowcases to simulate an actual at-home load. We add in the amount of detergent recommended on the label for a load with heavy soil and run the cycle. When it's done, we remove the swatch and allow it to air dry.

    Then, we take the fabric to a special dark grading room where — under standard industry lighting — we grade the removal of each of the 20 stains on a one to five industry scale (where five is complete removal and one is no removal). We also have a spectrophotomer that allows us to measure the amount of each stain left behind on the fabric after washing and calculate a soil removal score. Finally, we note how easy the detergent is to dispense, how much suds it produces, and if it leaves any noticeable residue behind on our test loads.

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    Best Overall Single Dose Detergent
    3-in-1 Laundry Detergent Pods

    • Excellent stain removal performance
    • Comes in a variety of scents and Free & Gentle formula
    • Very convenient to use

    It's hard to top detergent packs for convenience and it's also hard to top Tide Pods in our tests, which is why they are backed by our Good Housekeeping Seal. They earned the most perfect scores, removing mud, chocolate, gravy, grass, and more from cotton and polyester fabric swatches in both warm and cold water.  Its 3-in-1 formula consists of a super concentrated detergent, extra stain fighters, and color protector, so for most loads there's no need for extra additives. The easy-to-reach-into container comes with a child-resistant top closure for safety.  

    Cost per medium load: 25 cents

    Best Overall Liquid Laundry Detergent
    ProClean + Stain Fighter Liquid Laundry Detergent
    Now 25% off

    • Works great in cold water
    • Excellent stain removal performance

    • Has a strong scent
    • More expensive than others

    If you prefer liquid detergent, Persil ProClean Stain Fighter won't disappoint. It topped our test of 42 formulas doing the best job erasing stains from all of our swatches in cold water. So, if you've switched to cold water washing to save energy, Persil is a great choice. It totally zapped coffee and beaten egg yolk from all fabrics in all water temperatures. 

    Cost per medium load: 40 cents

    Best Overall Powder Laundry Detergent
    Plus Bleach Powder Laundry Detergent

    • Formula includes whiteners and color brighteners
    • Removes stains well and dissolves in cold water

    • Powders can spill easily and clump near moisture

    If you're a powder detergent diehard, there's no beating Tide Plus Bleach Powder, which works just as well in cold water as hot. It includes a color-safe bleach and activating ingredient to help keep your whites and colors brighter with every cycle. It does not contain chlorine bleach so that's what makes it safe for all washable fabrics and colors. Tide+ Plus Bleach powder is formulated to work in both traditional and high efficiency washing machines. 

    Cost per medium load: 24 cents

    Best Value Laundry Detergent
    Ultra Clean Liquid Laundry Detergent
    Kirkland Signature

    • Inexpensive
    • Works well in cold water

    • Requires membership to buy
    • More expensive from other non-membership retailers

    If you are looking to buy a hard-working detergent at a great value, Costco's Kirkland brand is a great choice. In our most recent laundry detergent test, it tied for first place at getting the most stains out of polyester in cold water. It also did much better than most on removing tea (a surprisingly tough stain to get out!) from both cotton and polyester fabric swatches. The extra large jug can be laid on its side on a counter for easy dispensing into the measuring cap. While this Kirkland detergent is available on amazon.com without a membership, it is significantly more expensive there. 

    Cost per medium load: 12 cents

    Best Deep Cleaning Laundry Detergent
    Hygienic Clean Heavy Duty Power PODS

    • Cleans away dirt you can't see
    • Bigger Pods are great for big loads

    • A big more expensive per load than regular Tide packs

    Believe it or not, even the best detergents may not completely remove all the body soils and stains trapped deep within items in your washload. So the clothing and bedding that looks totally clean, may not be. Eww! That's where Tide Hygienic Clean comes in. It's formulated to better penetrate into and between fibers to dissolve and remove body oils and others nasties you may not even be able to see. 

    A consult with the manufacturer where a UV light was used to show that Tide Hygienic Clean left clothing cleaner than regular detergent proved to us that it works. In our own at-home tests, white t-shirts and bedding washed in this Tide emerged whiter than usual, without the need for bleach. Combine that with the jumbo size of these Power Pods (they equal regular Pods), which in our GH Cleaning Lab tests did an amazing job zapping stains from our test swatches, and they are a great choice for families with lots of big loads of laundry to do.  

    Cost per large load: 57 cents

    Best Laundry Detergent for Babies
    Newborn Liquid Baby Laundry Detergent

    • Removes stains well
    • Gentle on delicate skin
    • Comes in multiple formulas to use as kids grow

    • Slightly more expensive than regular detergent
    • Contains fragrance

    Babies have sensitive skin that needs to be protected, but boy, can they make stains! That's why new moms need a detergent that's an effective cleaner, but doesn't leave harsh residues behind and Dreft is a traditional favorite. It contains enzymes to effectively remove protein stains, like formula (or poop!). 

    In GH Cleaning Lab tests, it cleaned and removed stains as well at traditional adult detergents. This is important because the cleaner clothes are, the less irritating they are on delicate skin. Plus, Dreft's hypoallergenic formula means no skin irritating residues will be left behind. If your child's skin is super sensitive and you prefer a detergent without fragrance, consider the plant-based and fragrance-free version, Dreft Pure Gentleness Liquid Detergent.

    Cost per medium load: 31 cents  

    Best Laundry Detergent for Dark Colors
    All Darks Liquid Laundry Detergent

    • Helps preserve dark colors
    • Works for all delicate and sturdy fabrics

    • Won't tackle tough stains as well as others

    Nothing's as disappointing as seeing your favorite pair of dark black jeans turn a faded gray after just a few washes. The best way to prevent that from happening is to wash them inside out, in cold water, and with a color-preserving detergent, like Woolite All Darks. It's special formula pulls color-fading metal and chlorine ions from the wash water, smooths rough fibers and severs the pills that can make fabrics look old before their time. 

    Woolite's neutral formula removes light everyday soils from all fabrics and is a GH Cleaning Lab favorite for cleaning and protecting delicate fabrics and dark colors from the abrasive effects of washing. And consumers agree. Woolite All Darks has over 3,200 five-star Amazon reviews!   

    Cost per medium load: 22 cents

    Best Liquid Laundry Detergent with Bleach Alternative
    Bleach Alternative Liquid Laundry Detergent
    Tide +

    • Can help remove stains that haven't been pre-treated
    • Can eliminate the need for a separate all-fabric bleach
    • Well-priced

    If you prefer liquid over powder, this liquid version of our best overall powder, Tide Plus Bleach is best in class too. This formula doesn't actually contain any bleach because liquid non-chlorine bleaches don't mix well with the other ingredients in a detergent's formulas. Instead, this Tide version uses a chemistry that simulate an all-fabric bleach's ability to whiten whites and brightens colors, hence its name "bleach alternative." Choose this detergent for some extra oomph if your laundry frequently has stains that get overlooked or you want to help keep colors and whites mixed in the same load each looking their best.  

    Cost per medium load: 20 cents 

    Best Plant-Based Liquid Laundry Detergent
    Botanicals Plant-Based Laundry Detergent

    • 65% plant-based formula
    • Comes in two unique scents
    • Made without dyes

    • Scent may be too strong for some

    Gain Botanicals topped our test with its plant-based formula, proving you don't have to compromise cleaning to do good for the environment. It was the only detergent to remove tea completely from each stain swatch we tested and it did consistently well among all other stains. This Gain formula is a USDA Certified Biobased Product with 65% of its formula coming from plant-based ingredients. We love the translucent cap that makes measuring so easy, plus, it comes in the unique scents of orange blossom vanilla and white tea lavender that one expert called "heavenly!"

    Cost per medium load: 26 cents

    Best Plant-Based Laundry Detergent Packs
    Free & Clear Laundry Detergent Packs
    Seventh Generation
    Seventh Generation

    • Made without dyes and perfumes
    • EPA Safer Choice certified
    • USDA Certified Biobased Product 94%

    • Requires a separate additive to brighten whites and colors

    Seventh Generation Laundry Packs topped our stain removal tests when we washed cotton fabric swatches in hot water. It was the only detergent to completely remove the oil stain out of cotton, a difficult feat to accomplish! And these powder packs are without scent or dye, so they are worth considering for those with sensitive skin. 

    We applaud Seventh Generation for listing the entire ingredient list on the package for transparency. This formula is EPA Safer Choice certified and a 94% USDA Certified Biobased Product. And because these packs are powder — not liquid —could be safer in homes with kids, if you like using a single-dose detergent. 

    Cost per medium load: 27 cents

    Best Woodsy-Smelling Laundry Detergent
    Liquid Laundry Detergent
    Hero Clean

    • Cleans well
    • Portions of profits are donated to charity
    • Also comes in packs

    • Not available in stores

    Hero Clean Laundry Detergent originated from complaints that detergents smell too sweet or floral, so this brand is scented with woodsy juniper notes and — even better — was one of the most consistent performers among the 42 detergents we tested. It did a great job removing coffee and mud from polyester in cold water and cotton in cold and hot water. The lines in the cap were easy to see and it was a mess-free dispense. We applaud Hero Clean, too, for donating a percentage of its profits to veteran and first responder organizations. 

    Cost per medium load: 21 cents

    Best Drugstore Laundry Detergent
    Advanced Laundry Detergent Packs

    • Provides good cleaning
    • Contains enzymes for good stain removal

    • A bit more expensive than other packs

    The next time you're picking up a prescription and realize you also need laundry detergent, CVS's Total Home Laundry Detergent Packs could be a good choice. Its cleaning performance impressed our experts and for all of the wine lovers out there, it did an excellent job getting red wine out of each swatch we tested. Just because it's not a name brand doesn't mean it can't be a great performer!

    Cost per medium load: 29 cents 

    What is the most effective type of laundry detergent?

    There are advantages and disadvantages to each type. Which form you choose will depend on personal preference and which you find most convenient to use and effective based on the brand and the types of laundry loads you do. Here's our take on the three most popular forms of laundry detergent — powder, liquid, and single-use packs.

    • Powder detergent was the first type of laundry detergent to come about and it is typically cheaper compared to its liquid and single-dose counterparts. Detergents in this category tend to perform well on outdoor stains like mud, clay, or grass, so it's great for little one's soccer uniforms, your gardening clothes, and more. Keep in mind: Powder must be stored in a completely dry area to avoid clumping. Also note, if you like washing in cold water, some powders may not dissolve completely and as a result, unwanted residue may settle on your clothing.
    • Liquid detergent, most widely used among consumers, performs particularly well on oil and grease stains. Conveniently, it can be used as a spot pre-treater and you'll never have to worry about it not dissolving. Don't forget to use the correct amount, though: Sometimes they are hard to see, but the lines on the measuring caps are there for a reason! Too much will cause over-sudsing, or the soap may not rinse out when the cycle is over, or it can even shut down your machine. Too little, your clothes won't get clean. Trust us: You get better results when you use the recommended amount.
    • Single-dose packets are very convenient but on average, cost a little more. You don't have to worry about using too little or too much detergent as it is already pre-measured with either liquid or powder detergent. Usually, one pack is recommended for average size loads and two packs for large or heavily soiled loads. One pack may be too much for very small loads and you never want to break them. Keep in mind: Some packs have trouble dissolving in some machines, especially in lower water temperatures, so make sure you add the packs before adding the clothes. Some newer machines now have sections in the dispenser drawer just for these packets so they dissolve better in less water. Last but not least, make sure you store your packets away from children, pets, and anyone else who could be at risk of ingesting them or using them for anything other than laundry.
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