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Store shelves are packed with laundry detergent bottles, powders, and pods of every color. So, which one should you buy? Maybe you're loyal to the formula your mother used, the one with the scent you love, or perhaps you just buy whatever is on sale. But is there one, in particular, you should be looking at?
Not necessarily, says Angela Bell, cleaning expert and Grove Guide at Grove Collaborative. “Laundry detergent powders, liquids, pods, and sheets all effectively clean your clothes,” she explains. “It really just comes down to preference.” Liquids and powders are the more traditional forms, so many people are more familiar with them. But pods, powder packs, and even sheets (a relative newcomer to the market) are also great options—especially for people traveling to a laundromat since they’re super portable.
In order to make this list, our writer consulted experts and researched some of the most highly rated detergents on the market in a variety of styles and formulas. We also sent some of them to our testers to use in their own washers and on their family's clothes. Our testers then noted how the detergents smelled, how they cleaned and treated stains, and how easy they were to use.
Based on our research and testing, here are the best laundry detergents on the market.
Best Overall: Seventh Generation Free & Clear Natural Liquid Laundry Detergent
Free of dyes and scents
Laundry doesn’t smell fresh after use
The Seventh Generation detergent is available in various forms, including liquid and single-dose pods. The line also includes companion products like dryer sheets and stain removers, so you can stock your entire laundry room with all of the essentials. A nice bonus that tips the scales for many: The products are all widely available in drug, grocery, and mass merchandise stores, as well as online.
All of the ingredients in Seventh Generation products, including this detergent, are plant-based and don’t contain any optical brighteners, synthetic chemicals sometimes used in detergents to make colors and whites appear brighter. Still, the formula contains all of the necessary enzymes, surfactants, and water conditioning agents needed to effectively clean clothes and remove stains. In fact, our tester has been using Seventh Generation laundry detergent for nearly two years, thanks to the product’s superior cleaning performance and ingredients.
It’s plenty versatile, too. The detergent can be used in front-loading, top-loading, or high-efficiency washing machines. Our tester found it can even be used to safely clean hunting gear and military uniforms.
Type: Liquid | Size: 100 fluid ounces | Number of loads: 66 | Scent: Unscented
"By following Seventh Generation’s recommended pretreatment instructions, we found that most common stains came right out. The only stain we had trouble removing was the result of a diaper blowout from our 3-month-old, but that would be a challenge for any detergent!"—Katie Begley, Product Tester
Best Budget: All Free Clear Liquid Laundry Detergent
Works well on standard loads of laundry
No fabric softener in the formula
Not a great stain remover
Though this liquid laundry detergent doesn’t contain as many cleaning enzymes as some other varieties on the list, our tester said it has plenty of cleaning prowess on a standard load of laundry. (If you’re facing tough stains like grease, our tester said you may want to make another selection.)
Like other great detergents, this one is free and clear, which means it’s free from perfumes and dyes that may irritate—especially in those with sensitivities. As such, this budget-friendly pick is often recommended for babies, young children, and those with particularly sensitive skin.
Despite the more specialized formula, this detergent is widely available in stores and online—plus it's much more budget-friendly than some other “cleaner” detergents.
Type: Liquid | Size: 82.5 fluid ounces | Number of loads: 110 | Scent: Unscented
Best Dispenser : Tide Simply Clean and Fresh Liquid Laundry Detergent
No overwhelming scent
Comes in an easy-to-use container
It may not have the characteristic red bottle of other Tide products, but that’s because this version is ultra-concentrated and contains two times the amount of baking soda powder to help get clothes clean without as much detergent.
This, combined with the ultra-large bottle, ensures you won’t have to buy detergent nearly as often—even if you have a large family. The 4-liter container is huge, too. It holds enough detergent for 89 large loads of laundry. Because of that, the container is too heavy to pour the detergent, but that’s where the brilliant design comes in. The jug is designed to sit on a shelf on its side and dispense the detergent through a little spout and into the included clear measuring cup. Once you’ve poured the detergent into the washing machine, simply snap the measuring cup over the spout until you’re ready to use it again. Our tester said it’s a mess-free, convenient process and noted that there were clear instructions on the amount of detergent to use per size of your load of laundry.
Type: Liquid | Size: 138 fluid ounces | Number of loads: 89 | Scent: Daybreak fresh, Refreshing Breeze
"When we tested this detergent, we didn’t use any extra products and were pleased with the results. All of the clothes came out feeling pretty soft, smelling good, and relatively fluffy. We think the detergent performed pretty well in this aspect."—Ashley Ziegler, Product Tester
Best Pods: Grab Green 3 in 1 Laundry Detergent Pods
3-in-1 formula removes stains
Pods are convenient and mess-free
Variety of fresh scents
Pods can be easily ruined if the bag gets wet
Pods have many advantages over the more 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—even this more natural version. In tests, these pods effectively cleaned just about everything from smelly gym clothes to grass-stained toddler clothes and food-smeared bibs. The scent is perfectly balanced, too. Because the pods are scented with essential oils like lavender, patchouli, and eucalyptus, the fragrance isn’t overpowering but still leaves clothes smelling fresh and clean.
Type: Pods | Size: 35 ounces | Number of loads: 60 | Scent: Lavender and vanilla
"Just as the pods did a stellar job brightening our towels, they were also highly effective in dealing with dirt and stains. The list of ingredients specifies three different enzyme blends which address protein-, oil-, and starch-based stains. The threefold combination was able to tackle our toughest stains—those found on our toddler’s play clothes—so it had no issue handling our regular loads, either."—Katie Begley Product Tester
Best Powder: Molly's Suds Original Laundry Detergent Powder
Type: Powder | Size: 80.25 ounces | Number of loads: 120 | Scent: Unscented, peppermint, citrus grove
Safe for all washers
A little goes a long way
Powder can be a bit messy
Pricier than other picks
With more of an old-fashioned powder formula, Molly’s Suds has one of the shortest ingredient lists out there. The formula, which was created by a nurse, consists of just five ingredients. The USA-made powder is vegan and certified cruelty-free, too. It's also safe for all washers—standard, HE, and commercial—and is even septic safe.
Still, it has incredible stain prowess and can handle everything from food stains to grass stains. And don’t worry: The package includes plenty of help, complete with directions for regular washes, as well as stain treatments.
Though it may seem pricey, the formula is incredibly concentrated. You’ll get approximately 120 loads with just one bag.
Best Smelling: Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day Laundry Detergent
Scent is fresh without being overpowering
Plant-based biodegradable ingredients
Lots of companion products with the same scent
Pricier than other detergents
Though this liquid laundry detergent has the same sweet smell you know and love in traditional detergents, it’s plant-derived and scented with essential oils (no artificial fragrances!). And if you’re not a fan of honeysuckle, the brand has plenty of other choices: baby blossom, basil, bluebell, lavender, lemon verbena, and rosemary, for example.
The detergent is, admittedly, relatively expensive, but our tester said a little bit of the concentrated formula goes a long way—you only need half of a capful for most loads of laundry—so you’ll get a lot for your money.
Type: Liquid | Size: 64 ounces | Number of loads: 64 | Scent: Honeysuckle
"When it came time to wash our son’s play clothes, we opted to throw them straight in the wash without pretreating the grass or dirt stains he’d picked up from playing in the backyard. We were excited to see they came out of the wash clean and fresh, even without any special stain treatment. " —Katie Begley Product Tester
Best Eco-Friendly: Dropps Sensitive Skin & Baby Detergent
Recyclable and compostable packaging
Natural and biodegradable ingredients
Plenty of companion products
Products get ruined if the box gets wet
For those who prefer the convenience of pods, consider Dropps, a very eco-friendly laundry detergent. Though the brand has multiple varieties, we’re partial to the company’s unscented sensitive line, since they’re suitable for just about anyone to use.
The pods come tucked in recyclable and compostable cardboard boxes in quantities of 36, 64, 160, or 240. The pre-measured pods, which contain a gentle liquid formula, don’t contain dyes, phosphates, or chlorine—only eco-friendly, and biodegradable ingredients, like earth-derived glycerin and other plant-based surfactants.
Still, the product is known for its effectiveness, especially when combined with the brand’s companion products. Think oxi booster for brightening power and wool dryer balls for a faster, wrinkle-free dry.
Type: Pods | Size: 36, 64, 160, or 240 count | Number of loads: 36, 64, 160, or 240 | Scent: Unscented
Best for Babies: Noodle & Boo Ultra-Safe Laundry Detergent
Eco-friendly and fully biodegradable
Packaging has a tendency to leak during shipping
For parents—especially those with very little ones—safety and efficacy are equally important. This liquid detergent by Noodle & Boo expertly toes that line. The eco-friendly and fully biodegradable solution is made without any dyes, sulfates, phosphates, formaldehyde, or synthetic brighteners. It’s pediatrician-approved, hypoallergenic, and clinically tested for sensitive skin. Still, you can be sure it’ll remove those tough stains and odors, no matter what you’re facing. (Yep, even those diaper blowouts are no match for this detergent.)
This versatile detergent is available in three different sizes (8, 32, and 64 ounces) and can be used to both wash and pre-treat clothes.
Type: Liquid | Size: 32 ounces | Number of loads: 32 | Scent: Crème Douce
Best Concentrate: Branch Basics Laundry Kit
A little goes a long way
This concentrated cleaning solution is about as versatile as you can get. The liquid can be diluted in a variety of different ways to clean way more than your clothes. Use it as a laundry detergent, a glass cleaner, an all-purpose cleaner, and even a bathroom cleaner.
Though you can purchase the concentrate on its own, we recommend the laundry kit, which includes the concentrate (just one bottle tackles 192 loads of laundry!), 2 pounds of the company’s stain-removing Oxygen Boost (another laundry must-have!), and a reusable plastic laundry bottle.
Despite the powerful whole-house clean you’ll get from using Branch Basics, the formula is free of preservatives, fragrances, and GMOs.
Type: Liquid | Size: 33.8 fluid ounces | Number of loads: 192 | Scent: Unscented
Best Sheets: Grove Co. Laundry Detergent Sheets
Easy to store
Nice and subtle scent
Not as strong as some other detergents
Laundry detergent sheets are, perhaps, the newest laundry products out there, but they shouldn’t be overlooked. Detergent sheets look a lot like dryer sheets, but they’re meant to be used to clean your clothes, not add scent and softness after washing.
Detergent sheets have many benefits—they’re lightweight and compact, plus they’re plastic-free. They also have the added bonus of being easy to store, making them perfect for cramped laundry rooms.
The biodegradable, dissolvable sheets by Grove Co. are made with plant-based ingredients and are free of optical brighteners, dyes, or fragrances. Still, they have a pleasing lavender aroma that comes from 100 percent natural essential oils and plant extracts.
Type: Sheets | Size: 32 sheets | Number of loads: 32 | Scent: Lavender
We recommend the Seventh Generation Free & Clear Concentrated Laundry Detergent because it’s effective, well-priced, and widely available. It's also free of scents, dyes, artificial brighteners, and other ingredients that may irritate. There are plenty of other great options, though, including the extremely versatile concentrate from Branch Basics (view at Branch Basics). This product makes a fantastic laundry detergent, but can also be diluted into other cleaning products, like all-purpose spray and glass cleaner.
How We Tested the Detergents
In order to see how effective and easy to use these detergents were in real life, we sent some of them to our testers to use in their own homes. Our testers used these detergents in their own washing machines with regular loads of their family's laundry. They then noted how well the detergents performed at taking out stains and odors and how fresh the clothes smelled after washing. We also asked them to note how easy these different types of detergents were to use and if they left a mess when using.
What to Look for in a Laundry Detergent
Laundry detergent powders, liquids, pods, and sheets all effectively clean your clothes, says Bell. 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 and compact, 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.
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 co-founder 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. 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.
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 non-toxic 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?
“Most of us use more detergent than necessary for our wash loads, thinking that more means cleaner clothes,” says Nelson. Not only does this waste product and money, but it can also leave residue or detergent stains on clothes. “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.
Why Trust The Spruce?
This roundup was written by Brigitt Earley, a freelance writer who has written and edited hundreds of buying guides, from laundry products to kitchen appliances. To make this list, she considered each detergent’s safety rating, plus considered other accolades like whether or not the product has stain-busting properties. Importantly, Brigitt also consulted industry experts to ensure the efficacy of all products on the list. All of the options featured here are safe, highly rated, and are sure to get your clothes clean. She combined her research with our testers' insights to make this list.