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Comparing laundry detergents: finding the best option for you

With so many different laundry detergents available, it can be hard to choose the right one for your needs. Fortunately, it’s easy to learn how liquid or powder laundry detergent cleans different stains and fabrics. Read this guide to figure out which detergent works best for your family’s clothes.

Does the quality of laundry detergent matter?

For optimal results, you’ll want to choose a detergent that works best for your laundry needs. Whether they’re name brand or generic, detergents with more active stain-fighting ingredients can be more effective at washing out different types of stains. These ingredients include surfactants, which lift and encapsulate soils from fabrics so that they can be rinsed away in the wash water, and enzymes, which break apart stains.

A person pouring Swash® Laundry Detergent into the dispenser of a white Whirlpool® Top Load Washer A person pouring Swash® Laundry Detergent into the dispenser of a white Whirlpool® Top Load Washer

Comparing different types of laundry detergents

Laundry detergents are available in four main formulas: liquid, powder, pods and sheets or strips. The items you’re washing, your most common types of stains, water temperature and other factors can determine which type of detergent may work best for you. Read on to learn about each type when comparing laundry detergent to find the right one for you and your family’s needs.

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1. Liquid laundry detergent

Liquid detergents easily dissolve in both cold and warm water, making them a great option if you’re using wash cycles with different temperatures. The liquid state also makes them convenient for pretreating stains. However, liquid detergent is often highly concentrated, which can make people think they need more and cause them to use too much, so it’s important to consult your washer’s use and care guide and the detergent manufacturer’s instructions to determine the right amount. Some liquid detergents, like Swash® Laundry Detergent,1 come with a Precision Pour Cap, which makes it easy to add just the right amount.

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2. Powder laundry detergent

Powder detergent is generally the most cost-effective option, as it can be easier and cheaper to both manufacture and transport than liquid detergent. It’s also fairly simple to measure out powder detergent, but be sure to check the dosing instructions provided as well as your washer’s use and care guide. When choosing between liquid or powder laundry detergent, keep in mind that powder detergent doesn’t always dissolve as well as liquid, especially in cold water. It can also leave behind residue or detergent stains on clothes when not fully dissolved.

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3. Single dose detergent pods

Single dose detergent pods or packs are probably the most convenient to use, since they’re premeasured, have minimal packaging and can be easily added directly to the wash tub. However, they’re also generally the most expensive option and are only measured for an average load size. Be sure to keep detergent pods in a secure, dry place.

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4. Laundry detergent sheets or strips

Detergent sheets or detergent strips are a relatively newer option, meant to be eco-friendly and help prevent overusing detergent. They’re meant to dissolve in the wash water, usually don’t contain plastic and are low-sudsing. Detergent sheets generally aren’t as thorough as liquid detergent and currently aren’t as readily available as other forms of detergent. Explore more sustainable laundry tips and detergent options.

A child in a yellow dress playing with a stuffed animal A child in a yellow dress playing with a stuffed animal

What type of detergent is best overall?

To find the right type of detergent for you, you’ll need to consider several factors. What does your average laundry load look like? Are there a lot of similar soils, like grass or mud stains from outdoor play? Do you generally use cold water for most loads? Depending on your answers, one type of detergent may be better than another for your laundry needs. Read on to explore using powder vs. liquid detergent for specific stains, water type and other preferences. Be sure to always check your item’s care label, detergent instructions and dosing recommendations for your washer before starting.

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What is the best laundry detergent for outdoor stains like grass and mud?

If your family spends a lot of time outside or plays outdoor sports, you probably encounter a lot of stains like mud, grass, pollen and more. For grass stains, a detergent containing enzymes is likely your best bet. Enzyme detergents are usually liquid, but you can find powder detergent with the same properties. Powder detergent works well at cleaning mud, dirt and clay stains.

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Which laundry detergent is best for body stains like sweat and blood?

Enzyme detergents help break down stains like sweat, blood and body oils that can be difficult to remove. While liquid detergents can be more effective at cleaning oils and other body stains, there are powder formulations with enzymes available.

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Which laundry detergent is best for grease and oil?

For grease or oil stains, you’ll probably want to reach for a liquid detergent—preferably one that contains enzymes to help target the stains. Again, check the list of ingredients, as powder varieties can also contain enzymes.

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Which laundry detergent is best for food stains?

The best detergent for food spills depends on the type of food. For oil or tomato-based stains like salad dressing, mayonnaise, ketchup and tomato sauce you’ll probably want to use a liquid enzyme detergent. The same goes for chocolate spills—a liquid enzyme detergent will likely be a good choice.

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What type of detergent is best for hard water?

If you have hard water, liquid detergent tends to work better for a thorough clean as the ingredients tend to be resistant to the minerals in the water. Powder detergent is still an option, but you may need to add more than an average dose for thorough cleaning. Consult your detergent’s dosage instructions for more information.

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What type of laundry detergent is best for sensitive skin?

Detergents that are fragrance-free, dye-free or labeled as hypoallergenic are typically good options if you or someone in your family has sensitive skin. Liquid detergents are also less likely to leave behind residue that could cause irritation. Mild detergents like these can also be considered for washing baby clothes, as they tend to be gentle on skin.

Whirlpool® Front Load Washer and Dryer in Black Shadow in a laundry room with gray cabinets Whirlpool® Front Load Washer and Dryer in Black Shadow in a laundry room with gray cabinets

Which detergent is best for front load washers?

First, check your washer’s use and care guide for detergent dosing instructions. For front load washers, you’ll likely need to use high-efficiency detergent, which is formulated for HE washers. HE detergents are specifically designed for low-water washing in front load washers and help prevent oversudsing. Always use an HE detergent in your high-efficiency front load washer and remember to put single-dose pods directly in the wash tub, not the dispenser.

Which detergent is best for top load washers?

The same rules as front load washers regarding high-efficiency laundry detergents and single-dose pods also apply for HE top load washers. Both liquid and powder detergents can dissolve easily and be effective in the deeper water levels of a top load washer. Consult your washer’s use and care guide and your detergent’s usage instructions for best practices.

Is there really a difference between laundry detergent?

Laundry detergents can contain different ingredients that are more suited to specific stains, but choosing the right detergent for you comes down to your unique laundry needs. Consider your family’s activities, most common stains and laundry preferences to determine which type of detergent works best for you.

Explore Whirlpool® Washing Machines

Choosing the right type of laundry detergent can be a confusing task, but once you’ve determined which kind meets your needs, you’ll be ready to take on laundry day with ease. Whether you’re looking at top load or front load washers, washing machines from Whirlpool brand help you skip steps and keep laundry moving with features on select models like the Load & Go™ Dispenser.

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1. Swash and the recommending brands are owned and distributed by Whirlpool Corporation.