The Best Laundry Detergent: Liquid, Pods or Powder?

When you hit the laundry products aisle or shop online, there are dozens of brands of detergent all promising to make your laundry clean and fresh. While the choices were once limited to boxes of powdered detergent, you can now find all types of laundry detergent in liquid, powdered or single dose pods. 

So which type should you choose?

Liquid, Pods or Powder?

Liquids, pods and powders can all be used in any water temperatures and almost all brands are now formulated to use in high-efficiency front...MORE load or top load washers; just look for the "he" (high-efficiency) symbol to be sure. You may actually have a hard time finding a detergent without the symbol, but rest assured that you can use he laundry detergent in a standard top load washer.

Whether you decide on liquid, pods or powder, remember that price isn't always the best indicator of how well a detergent will perform in cleaning your clothes. The key is to look at the list of ingredients on the product label. The more active ingredients listed in the formula, like enzymes that break down stains and surfactants that lift the soil away from fabric and suspend it in the water; the better the detergent will perform. 

Let's take a look at the pros and cons of liquid, pods or powder laundry detergents.

  • 01 of 04

    Since liquid laundry detergents hit store shelves in the mid-1950s, they have become the most popular detergent format. They are easy to use, distribute well in wash water and come in a huge variety of scents. But as with most products, there are both pros and cons.

    Liquid Laundry Detergent Pros

    • Perfect for using as a stain pretreater or spot cleaning.
    • Particularly effective on oil and grease stains because the liquid will penetrate the fibers of the fabric to help release the stain.
    • Less expensive...MORE than single dose pods.

    Liquid Laundry Detergent Cons

    • The measurement lines on most detergent bottle caps are difficult to read causing consumers to use too much detergent per load, wasting money and leaving residue on clothes and washing machines.
    • Plastic laundry detergent bottles provide an enormous strain on landfills. Most bottles can be recycled but many consumers and municipalities do not participate in recycling programs.
    • Water is the main ingredient in liquid laundry detergent. Water is heavy to transport and shipping adds to consumer and environmental costs.
    • Liquid detergents limit the types of some cleaning ingredients, like oxygen bleach, that can be added because they are not stable for long periods of time when mixed with water.
  • 02 of 04

    If you are looking for convenience, then detergent pods top the list. Laundry detergent pods or pacs appeared in 2012 as one of the biggest changes to laundry products in more than 50 years. The single dose pacs ("pods" a term trademarked by Tide), contain detergent and sometimes other cleaning or softening ingredients in a small polyvinyl film packet that dissolves in water. They are the fastest growing segment of laundry detergent and already outsell powder laundry detergents.

    While the...MORE most convenient to use, especially if you must use a community laundry room or laundromat;  they are also the most expensive to use per load of laundry. They can also be problematic for households with small children and vulnerable adults because they are often mistaken for candy and can cause poisoning. And because the pac is compact, when it is punctured detergent can squirt directly into eyes.  It is essential to learn to use laundry detergent packs correctly and safely

    Pods Laundry Detergent Pros

    • Lightweight to carry or ship and require very small storage space.
    • Convenient and simple to use.
    • Premeasured dose of detergent produces consistent results. Overdosing is eliminated.
    • Manufacturing eliminates most water and allows cleaning ingredients to remain stable for longer periods and produce better results.
    • Less packaging waste for landfills.

    Pods Laundry Detergent Cons

    • Most expensive detergent cost per load of laundry.
    • Pacs are designed for average soil and load size. Heavily soiled clothes and large loads require two pacs and increase costs significantly.
    • Pacs can not be used for pretreating or spot treating stains.
    • Poisoning hazard and easily swallowed by children and vulnerable adults.
    • Outer packaging for the pods is seldom recyclable.
  • 03 of 04

    Powdered detergents have been around since the 1930s and are less expensive to use than liquid or pods per load. When you look at store shelves, there are very few left as more consumers have moved to liquids and pods. 

    Retailers have had a hand in this because the large boxes of powder take up valuable shelf and warehouse space. While the cardboard boxes are more environmentally friendly than plastic bottles, they are heavy and impact the environment with more transportation costs.

    Powder Laundry...MORE Detergent Pros

    • Smallest cost per laundry load of any type of laundry detergent.
    • Packaging is recyclable and more environmentally friendly.
    • Most effective laundry detergent for areas with untreated hard water thanks to additives that are more stable and easily added to powdered formulas.
    • Powder detergent formulas are more stable than liquid or pods. This allows ingredients to be added that perform exceptionally well on tough to remove outdoor stains like grass and mud.

    Powder Laundry Detergent Cons

    • Large, heavy boxes are difficult to handle and store. The detergent must be stored in a completely dry area to prevent caking.
    • Powder detergents can be problematic in extremely cold water by not dissolving completely.
    • Pretreating stains is more difficult because a paste must be made first with the powder detergent and water.
    • Shipping costs are more expensive and make a larger impact on the environment.
  • 04 of 04

    What About DIY Liquid, Pod and Powder Detergents

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    Jamie Grill / Tetra Images / Getty Images

    If you'd rather make your laundry detergent, there are recipes available for liquid, pod and powder forms. As with commercial products, there are some pros and cons with any homemade laundry detergent.

    Homemade Laundry Detergent Pros

    • Homemade laundry detergent in any form saves a few cents per load of laundry. 
    • Homemade detergent has a smaller environmental impact than detergent made by a large manufacturer. Of course, the ingredients in homemade formulas - soap, borax and washing soda - are...MORE made by large manufacturers.
    • Clothes are exposed to fewer chemical ingredients.

    Homemade Laundry Detergent Cons