How to Choose a Laundry Detergent Brand

laundry detergent

The Spruce / Ana Cadena

Generic brands of foods, household products and medicines were introduced to the American market shelves in the late 1970s. Consumers were looking for ways to save money and retailers wanted to increase profits. For some products, the differences in name brand vs generic are merely packaging or aesthetic changes. For instance, the drug acetaminophen is the same formula whether it is offered under a brand name like Tylenol or as a generic store brand. It is simple to compare formula strengths whether the pill is white or blue or pink and determine which product you'd like to purchase.

Spoiled for Choice

With laundry detergent, comparisons between brand names and generic store brands are not so simple. As you know, store shelves are packed with many, many different laundry detergents in many different forms-liquid, powder, single dose. Even within one manufacturer's brand name product line (like Tide) there are a variety of formulas each claiming to work best for a variety of fabrics or stains. So how do you select the best laundry detergent for your laundry needs?

Most major laundry detergent manufacturers have a long list of brand name laundry products under their umbrella. For instance, Proctor & Gamble offers all of these laundry products in the United States: Dreft, Ariel, Gain, Era, Tide, Cheer, Downy and Bounce. Henkel North America offers Persil, Purex, 20 Mule Team Borax, Trend, Zout and Fels Naptha and recently purchased Sun Products, the manufacturer of all, Sun, Sunlight, Surf, and Snuggle.

Smaller companies, often specializing in natural or environmentally friendly products, abound with brand names like Country Save, Method, Seventh Generation, and Charlie's Soap. Now add the store brand or generic laundry detergents, fabric softeners and other laundry products. Target offers up & up; Kroger has Home Sense, Costco's brand is Kirkland and CVS offers Total Home laundry products.

Brand Name vs. Store Brand

Now that you are totally overwhelmed with choices, where do you begin when comparing and selecting a laundry detergent? Many of us use the same detergent our mothers used simply out of habit. But there are better ways to find the most effective products for today's laundry.

  • Match Apples to Apples: If you have been using a brand name detergent and are happy with the results but want to try the usually less expensive store brand, be sure that you are comparing apples to apples. The generic store brand is most often placed beside or directly below its brand name detergent equivalent. 
  • Compare the Ingredients List: Whether you choose a premium laundry detergent like Tide or Persil or a less expensive brand name like Arm & Hammer or Purex to compare with the store brand, always read the ingredients list. Unfortunately, some name brands and many generic store brands do not give a complete listing on the container. You can often find the listings on the manufacturer's site. Unfortunately, many generic store brands do not provide the name of the product manufacturer or a complete ingredient list. A request to The Kroger Company for an ingredient list for their Home Sense Advanced Clean laundry detergent received the reply, "Unfortunately, this information is proprietary. I apologize I am unable to assist you." If someone in your home has chemical sensitivities or allergies, rely on a product that offers with full disclosure of ingredients.
  • Compare Actual Per Use Costs: Less expensive laundry detergents usually contain more water-to-cleaning-ingredients ratios. They may recommend a larger recommended amount per load that can actually cost more than the brand name detergent.
  • Weigh Your Time: Single dose laundry detergents have made an impact on detergent sales due to the convenience they offer, especially if your laundry room or facility is not conveniently located. Only you can determine if the added cost is worth it. As the technology for producing the single dose packets has changed, there are more generic store brands of these available.
  • Do Your Own Test: Every family has different laundry needs. Kids' clothes produce very different challenges than a single woman working in an office environment. Just because you are not familiar with the brand doesn't mean that it is not a good product. The big brand names have spent millions to convince us that their laundry detergent or fabric softener is best. You be the judge.