If you've ever been to the laundry aisle of a grocery store, you know that there's as many types of laundry detergents as there are clothes in your hamper. Whether they come in the form of a liquid, powder, pod, or sheet, laundry detergents are formulated to clean soiled clothes and leave them feeling and smelling fresh.
“Most of us use more detergent than necessary for our wash loads, thinking that more means cleaner clothes,” Marilee Nelson, cleaning expert, environmental consultant, certified building biologist, and cofounder of Branch Basics tells The Spruce. Not only does this waste product and money, but it can also leave residue or detergent stains on your favorite items. Your best bet is to select and properly measure a well-rounded detergent that's not only effective, but also matches your personal preferences when it comes to ingredients, scent, environmental impact, price, and type.
We researched and tested dozens of laundry detergents, assessing their effectiveness and rating them in a variety of categories. Read on for more details, and for our picks in multiple different categories.
Gain Original Liquid Laundry Detergent + Aroma Boost
Effective stain-fighting and cleansing
No unscented options
Our tester, who has used the same brand of detergent for her entire adult life, was wowed by the Gain Laundry Detergent Liquid Soap Plus Aroma Boost results. "The smell is phenomenal and the stain removing power was competitive ... I am considering switching laundry detergents," she raved. "For anyone looking for a dependable time-test detergent that smells awesome, I could easily and happily recommend this detergent."
During the testing process, Gain outperformed a number of other detergents on multiple stains, including chocolate and liquid foundation, and on the red wine stain, too. It also lightened grass stains and tomato sauce. While it didn't display the same stain-fighting capabilities as a targeted stain remover, it handled some of the stains "impressively well." The feel of materials washed with Gain was also pleasant. "All the clothes felt clean, lightweight, and washed ... There was no stiffness or stickiness," our tester reported.
And, that smell! Our tester described it as "incredible ... slightly sweet and fruity, but it also has a nice floral scent mixed into it." For the record, we tried the original scent, but discerning noses will be pleased to know that additional scents like Apple Mango Tango and Spring Lavender are available, too.
As with many detergents, you'll want to be sure to measure carefully so you don't add too much to your loads. Still, "I think [it's] a great value as long as you can resist going overboard with the measurements," our tester said, noting that the average price per load ($0.19) was less than our calculated median price of the group of detergents tested ($0.25).
Price at time of publish: $17 for 2 bottles
Type: Liquid | Size: 65 ounces | Number of Loads: 45 | Scent: Original
Arm & Hammer Sensitive Skin Free & Clear Liquid Laundry Detergent
No dyes or perfumes; hypoallergenic
Formulated for sensitive skin
Not a great stain remover
We appreciate that the Sensitive Skin Free & Clear Liquid Laundry Detergent from Arm & Hammer not only comes at a wallet-friendly price point (and in a big bottle!), but also has a gentle, hypoallergenic formula free of preservatives, dyes, and perfumes. The formula features—you guessed it—Arm & Hammer baking soda, drawing on the legacy brand's well-known staple product.
When our tester put it up to his nose, he found that the detergent had a light chemical smell to it. After washing, everything smelled clean. The bottle's design features an easy handle, plus measured markings on the lid to make for easy pouring and portioning.
The one area where this option fell short was on targeted stain removal. "All of the boxes still had traces of stain," our tester reported. Though, it's worth noting that "[t]he chocolate came out the best." If your household is prone to lots of spills or stains, you may want to keep an extra stain remover on hand, or consider one of the picks that proved more effective in this area. But if you're seeking a budget-friendly choice with gentle cleaning capabilities, it's definitely worth your consideration.
Price at time of publish: $10
Type: Liquid | Size: 144.5 fluid ounces | Number of Loads: 107 | Scent: Unscented
Tide Pods Spring Meadow Laundry Detergent
Convenient and mess-free
Competitive stain-fighting abilities
Pods can be easily ruined if the bag gets wet
Pods have many advantages over traditional liquid detergents. For starters, pods eliminate the need to measure and pour detergent—you’ll always use just the right amount. There’s also no need to worry about spills or drips or leaving the bottle precariously perched upside-down to get just one more load out of the bottle.
They’re just as effective, too. During our testing in The Lab, the Tide Pods rivaled the dozens of other competitors in their stain-fighting prowess. "I would recommend this product," our tester said. "I like the way it cleaned compared to the other soap I used. " He noted that items were "less stiff and smelled better" after they were washed with Tide pods, and that the smell was clean and "not overpowering."
The pods did calculate to be right at the median price of $0.25 per load, and given the overall convenience and pre-measured ease of use, our tester felt like the value was there. "I don't feel like it was overpriced for the better results." The one area of caution with pods is that wet hands can ruin your supply, but this isn't unique to Tide by any means.
Price at time of publish: $21
Type: Pods | Size: 81 pods | Number of Loads: up to 81 | Scent: Spring Meadow
Gain Original Powder Laundry Detergent
High number of loads per container
Easy to use
Less stain-fighting ability
No unscented option
Marking Gain's second appearance on our list, the powder also received rave reviews for its "excellent" fragrance and reasonable price per load. Our savvy tester also noted that it did a "decent job" of fading the majority of stains and removing the chocolate stain, adding, "I would never expect a detergent to remove 100 percent of the stains in this test." In our eyes, Gain Original Powder Detergent is a good staple to keep on hand for regular washes, or to pair with a trusted stain remover when it comes to heavily soiled items.
The package is designed to include a plastic handle for carrying. Our tester said, "It was easy to use the measuring cup (included in the detergent box) to scoop out the needed amount of detergent. There were five marks on the measuring cup for small to extra large." With the exception of the linen napkin, tested items also "were soft to the touch and easily pliable when removed from the dryer."
The fragrance earned high marks too, just as it did in its Gain liquid counterpart. After opening the box, our tester said, "the odor burst from the container and standing next to it with the box on a table I could easily smell it ... After drying the fragrance was less, but it definitely had a positive clean odor which was pleasing." If you want your clothes to feel soft and smell fresh, it's a great choice.
Price at time of publish: $21
Type: Powder | Size: 172 ounces | Number of Loads: 150 | Scent: Original
Grove Co. Laundry Detergent Sheets
Convenient to use and store
Nice and subtle scent
Not as strong as some other detergents
Laundry detergent sheets are, perhaps, the newest, trendy laundry products out there, but they shouldn’t be overlooked. They’re lightweight and compact, plus they’re free of plastic, dyes, fragrances, and optical brighteners. They also have the added bonus of being easy to store, making them perfect for cramped laundry rooms. In the case of these Grove Co. sheets, they've also shown to be effective at caring for your clothes, too. Post washing and drying, "items were less stiff. The towel was noticeably softer and fluffier than before it was washed," our tester said. Plus, thanks to the 100 percent natural essential oils and plant extracts, they have a lavender and bloom scent, and "all of the laundry smelled clean after being washed and dried."
It's worth noting that, consistent with a number of our picks, these are not a one-size-fits all choice that can handle heavy stain removal. Our testing showed them to be better suited for small and medium loads without heavy stains. They're also above the median price per load that we calculated ($0.40 versus the $0.25 median), but with the overall convenience and sustainability, we still felt they earned their Best Sheets title.
Price at time of publish: $13
Type: Sheets | Size: 32 sheets | Number of Loads: 32 | Scent: Lavender
ECOS Plastic-Free Liquidless Laundry Detergent Sheets
Recyclable and compostable packaging
Easy to use
Products get ruined if the box gets wet
Not to be confused with fabric softeners, these sheets are a very eco-friendly laundry detergent. They come tucked in recyclable cardboard boxes, and they're formulated without dyes, phthalates, or formaldehyde—only eco-friendly ingredients. They're a cinch to use, too. Just add one to each load of wash and you're good to go. "The sheet was easy to use and the box would be easy to store," our tester confirmed.
When it comes to spot removal, our tester observed, "There is a difference in all of the stains to different degrees." Like many of our picks, you'll want to supplement with a targeted stain remover for your most soiled clothes, but you can still expect comfy results, as most of the tested items "were less stiff and smelled better." Speaking of the smell, our tester reported that when the sheets were in the box, "the scent was very light of chemicals," but that after washing, clothes "smelled clean and the scent of chemicals was gone."
At roughly $0.25 per load, they come in under the median price per load, too, making them an overall easy-to-use, eco-friendly, and cost-efficient choice.
Price at time of publish: $29 for 2 boxes
Type: Sheets | Size: 57 count | Number of Loads: 114 | Scent: Free & Clear
Best for Sensitive Skin
All Free Clear Liquid Laundry Detergent
Eco-friendly and fully biodegradable
Packaging has a tendency to leak during shipping
For those with sensitive skin, safety and efficacy are of high importance. This liquid detergent by All expertly fits the bill. It's made without any dyes or perfumes and comes recommended by dermatologists, pediatricians, and allergists. This is why we ranked it as our Best for Sensitive Skin. And, in our experience, you can be sure it’ll remove those tough stains and odors. "The detergent does a great job against stains, the best I've seen," our tester summarized.
It's fragrance-free, but still leaves "a very subtle and light clean scent on the fabrics." With the exception of the white shirt feeling a bit stiff, our tester said that the rest of the clothes were soft and pliable, and the towel came out fluffy, too.
"I would definitely recommend this product," she said. "It performs well, has easy-to-carry and easy-to-dispense packaging, and comes at a low cost." On the subject of cost, it's $0.15 a load, well below the median price of $0.25. "I feel that this product outperforms all the other detergents I tested ... I would even pay more for this product than what it goes for," our tester said.
Price at time of publish: $18
Type: Liquid | Size: 80.1 ounces | Number of Loads: 110 | Scent: Unscented
HEX Performance Laundry Detergent
Effective stain removal
Clothing feels soft after wash
Difference between measurements used on cap and bottle
In a competitive category, this Hex liquid detergent squeaked out ahead of its peers. "All laundered items feel light and not stiff. The washcloth came out light and fluffy," our tester observed. Plus, "this detergent seemed slightly above average in removing stains."
Here's what we love about it: The bottle isn't hard to use to use because it's "small, as the detergent is concentrated. Therefore it is light and easy to lift. It is easy to pour from, as well." It did leave a light chemical smell, but our tester was quick to note that it "wasn't obnoxious at all." One area of potential improvement is the clarity between the packaging and the measurements on the cap. "It's not unclear, but it is odd that ounces are the primary measurement listed, but ounces are not listed on the measurement cap," our tester noted.
Overall, our tester would recommend HEX, noting, "It fights stains relatively well, it is in lightweight and compact packaging, and does not cost much more than average." At $0.34 per load, it's above the $0.25 median, but our tester summarized, "I do think that this price is reflective of the product's value and all of its features, considering it is an above-average stain fighter [and] is relatively scent-free, lightweight, and compact."
Price at time of publish: $24 for 2 bottles
Type: Liquid | Size: 2 32-ounce bottles | Number of Loads: 64 | Scent: Fresh & Clean
Gain Original Flings Laundry Detergent
Pleasant but not overpowering scent
Easy to use
Not as effective at stain removal
Another contender that comes as pods, perhaps it not a surprise that another Gain product made it to the top of the list for scented detergents. Our tester, who confirmed that they wouldn't change a thing about this product, said, "The items smelled clean and the scent wasn't overpowering at all ... I would recommend this product. I like the way it cleaned compared to the other soaps I used."
In the case of Gain Flings, even the packaging earned a thumbs-up. "The plastic container was light and easy to use and lift," our tester observed, adding that the pod itself was "easy to use and not messy." Usually one pod will do, but if you're ever distracted or find yourself wanting to double-check instructions, they're right on the container, so you won't need to go searching for them. When it came to stain removal, like many of the detergents we tested, a marked difference was made in the stains but they were still visible, so these pods won't fully replace your favorite stain remover. But for a regular wash, our tester confirmed that the whites came out brighter and the towel felt fluffier, too.
These pods are priced right at the median of our tested products too, ($0.25 per load), but provided "better results" than many others. They're available in multiple scents, and we also like that refill packs are sold, so you can reuse the plastic container to your heart's content.
Price at time of publish: $21
Type: Pods | Size: 81 pods | Number of Loads: up to 81 | Scent: Original
Molly's Suds Unscented Laundry Detergent Powder
Easy to use
Average stain-fighting abilities
Our tester found a lot to appreciate with Molly's Suds Unscented Laundry Detergent Powder, including many of the thoughtful details behind that package design and usability. "I like that the scoop is small, so it seems that you can get a lot of product and uses from just one bag. It is also very light and would be easy to carry when buying groceries," she said, also noting that the packaging was comparable to a plastic bag with a sandwich-like seal on top. Also, "I liked that when laundered, the items smelled clean, but there was no overwhelming artificial scent."
As far as stain-fighting abilities, she described those as fairly average, but added that it "has a lot of features in terms of its makeup ... includ[ing] unscented, earth-derived, and for sensitive skin." It was consistent with a lot of our favorite picks in that it didn't excel in targeted stain removal, but still showed prowess as a detergent for those regular washes where you're not dealing with heavily soiled items. Oh, and if you find that you enjoy the formula but want a scented option down the road, they have plenty of options including citrus, eucalyptus, and peppermint.
Price at time of publish: $15
Type: Powder | Size: 80.25 ounces | Number of Loads: 70 | Scent: Unscented
For our Best Overall pick, we recommend Gain Laundry Detergent Liquid Soap Plus Aroma Boost. It's effective, has a pleasant smell, and is easy on your wallet. There are plenty of other great options on shelves and online, though, including our favorite Best Budget pick, Arm & Hammer Sensitive Skin Free & Clear Laundry Detergent. Not only is it cost-effective, it has a baking soda-based formula that's easy on your skin, too.
Other Options We Tested
Love Home and Planet Ultra Concentrated Laundry Detergent: There was plenty to appreciate when it came to this eco-friendly option. "All of the laundry smelled clean after being washed and dried," our tester reported, adding that the smell was great. Our tester also appreciated the auto-dose cap that was easy to use and didn't lead to messes like certain other cap styles. However, ultimately, these pluses didn't quite elevate it above other choices that performed better on stains and offered better value.
Blueland Laundry Starter Set: "I did not have a whole lot of stain removal success with the Blueland laundry detergent tablets," our tester said, noting that it was particularly disappointing to see that bits of spaghetti sauce remained on the napkin and to find that the grass stain seemed to transfer onto other clothes. "And after the materials were dry, I couldn't smell anything but the leftover stains and their smells, subtly mixed together, which means a lot of these stains are still in the textiles wholly, it's not just the color that's leftover," she said. It's worth noting that we've had good experiences with other Blueland products, so we still see potential in their line and will be keeping an eye to see if they make any changes to their formula.
Seventh Generation Concentrated Laundry Detergent Liquid Free & Clear: During lab testing, our tester reported that "the majority of the stains remained and were very visible." However, in this unique case, our tester had used Seventh Generation at home with the brand and had good experience with it. She explained, "I am personally happy with this brand of detergent but do not use it solely on tough set-in stains such as [those] that were tested." If you have a trusted stain remover you'd use in conjunction with it, you may still want to take a close look.
How We Tested the Laundry Detergents
We put 29 laundry detergents to the test in The Lab during a rigorous hands-on process. First, using detergent brand guidelines, our testers started wash cycles with previously-stained items. One each of a cotton T-shirt, athletic polyester T-shirt, terry cloth towel, and linen napkin were included, all marked with three to four stains that included jojoba oil, chocolate, foundation, mud, grass, and in the case of the linen napkin, spaghetti sauce. While the items were washed, duplicate fresh stains were created so our testers could compare results.
Once items were washed and dried, testers assessed the overall cleanliness and stain removal effectiveness of each laundry detergent, paying careful attention to each stain. Testers also carefully assessed scent by smelling each item and noting whether or not it smelled clean or contained residual smells from the stains. A feel, or texture examination, was completed too, allowing testers to check for things like softness, fluffiness, and any other changes noticeable by touch. Each product's ease of use was noted as well, with testers rating how simple it was (or wasn't!) to measure and add detergent to washers.
After testing was completed for all 29 detergents, participants considered the overall value of each product, and determined whether or not they would recommend a detergent, and why. This set of data was then shared with our editors, who then boiled it down to a clear and concise set of categorized recommendations that we believe are the best laundry detergents available.
What to Look for in a Laundry Detergent
Laundry detergent powders, liquids, pods, and sheets all effectively clean your clothes, says Angela Bell, cleaning expert and Grove Guide at Grove Collaborative. It’s largely a matter of preference. “Liquids and powders are the more traditional forms that many people are familiar with,” she says. “Pods or powder packs are great options for people traveling to a laundromat, as they are super portable.”
Laundry detergent sheets, a newer option in the laundry world, are also great—they’re lightweight, plastic-free, great for the environment, and save space. “These sheets, similar in appearance to dryer sheets, dissolve completely in the drum of any machine, even HE, and get clothes as clean as anything else,” she explains. Two examples of laundry sheets are included on this list: Grove Co.'s Laundry Detergent Sheets (our recommendation for Best Sheets), and Ecos Plastic-Free Laundry Detergent Sheets (Best Eco-Friendly)
Most modern detergents are designed for both traditional and high-efficiency (HE) machines, says Bell. Still, it’s worth checking the label because HE machines do need a detergent that doesn’t produce excess suds, adds Marilee Nelson, cleaning expert, environmental consultant, certified building biologist, and cofounder of Branch Basics. In some cases, the dosage varies, too. “If using pods or sheets in a HE machine, it is best to place the pod or sheet in the drum of the machine, rather than in the detergent compartment. This ensures it will dissolve completely during the cycle.”
Beyond form (pods versus liquid, for example), there are many different types of laundry detergent—stain-fighting, fragrance-free, etc. But all types of detergent effectively clean your clothes when used properly, says Bell. More importantly, take note of the care instructions. Different fabrics require different temperatures and sometimes require hand-washing or dry cleaning, says Bell. “To prolong the life of your clothing (and save energy), use cold water and a laundry detergent that tackles stains even in cold water, when possible,” says Nelson. You should also wash all delicate fabrics on a shorter, less agitated cleaning cycle.
Laundry detergents also come in many different scents, from florals to fresh linen. A number of our selections came with rave reviews for their scents, including our Best Scented, Gain Original Flings Laundry Detergent, and our Best Overall, Gain Laundry Detergent Liquid Soap Plus Aroma Boost. Just note: Artificial fragrances can irritate those with allergies or especially sensitive skin, like babies. In these instances, look for a laundry detergent scented with essential oil or a free and clear version, which won’t contain any synthetic fragrance. To start, consider our recommendations for Best for Sensitive Skin, All Liquid Laundry Detergent, and Best Unscented, Molly's Suds Laundry Detergent Powder.
Does laundry detergent expire?
“Laundry detergent will grow less effective after the expiration date, so it’s ideal to use it up before or shortly after,” says Bell. “The oils in many fragrances, especially natural essential oils, can lose their scent or become rancid-smelling over time, and certain ingredients will break down, leaving your clothes less than clean.”
How do you get laundry detergent stains out of clothes?
The best way to get detergent stains out of clothes is with plain old water, says Bell. “Soak in cool or lukewarm water, using your hands to agitate and mix around. If the stain remains, run the garment through a wash cycle, without adding detergent.”
Can you mix bleach and laundry detergent?
“There is no reason to use bleach to clean laundry,” says Nelson. “It is much safer for you and your clothes to team up a nontoxic whitener or brightener with your laundry detergent.” And regardless, it’s always best to follow the manufacturer's instructions on your washing machine for using bleach in your laundry cycle, says Bell. Plus, bleach and detergent are most often best used separately, she adds.
How much laundry detergent should you use per load?
“Many detergents these days are ultra-concentrated and require only a tablespoon or two per load,” says Bell. Always use the product according to directions on the label, adds Nelson.
How should you store laundry detergent?
Laundry detergents should be kept in a cool dry place, where they can't be reached by children. If you're worried about spills in the cabinet, consider placing them in a plastic container to keep them organized. Never remove detergents from their original packaging.
Why Trust The Spruce?
This roundup was written by Dena Ogden, who's been writing professionally since 2016, and with The Spruce since August 2022, specializing in appliances, cleaning, and organizational topics. For this piece, she reviewed insights and results from our savvy testers who participated in hands-on laundry detergent testing in The Lab, and she completed thorough research on products, evaluating options based on key specifications, reviews, and cleaning methods. We also consulted the following experts in compiling this list of top detergents:
- Marilee Nelson, cleaning expert, environmental consultant, certified building biologist, and cofounder of Branch Basics
- Angela Bell, cleaning expert and Grove Guide at Grove Collaborative
Brigitt Earley, a freelance writer who has written and edited hundreds of buying guides, from laundry products to kitchen appliances, also contributed to this piece.