Laundry Detergents: Analyzing Consumer Reports July 2009 “Best Buys”
With the new high-efficiency washers, consumers now have more choices of laundry detergents than ever.
You may have found a laundry detergent you like, but you probably didn’t try out 44 different detergents off the store shelves before you picked the one you’re using. Are you using the one that cleans the best? Or did you simply choose the cheapest? Would you like to know which product worked the best and cost the least out of those 44?
To help consumers make informed decisions, Consumer Reports tested 44 different laundry detergents and rated the ones that worked the best for high efficiency (HE) front-loaders and regular detergents for conventional top-loaders.
In today’s economic environment, cost can be as important as performance. To distinguish themselves, some companies add fragrances, fabric softeners, optical brighteners, and bleach. Some products are intentionally made fragrance-free. Detergents come in liquid and powder forms.
Earlier tests checked for how well the products worked in preventing dirt from re-depositing on clothing and how well they kept dyes from transferring to whites. All passed tests for not re-depositing dirt, and all caused some dye transfer.
No differences were noted between those that were fragrance-free or used fragrances or fabric softeners. Liquids seem to rate best in the latest tests.
Newer formulas are more concentrated for smaller packaging, which are considered better for the economy and the environment.
2X means double concentrated; 3X means triple concentrated and several claim to use natural ingredients, but they did not necessarily clean better. In fact, products that made “green claims,” using more plant-based ingredients, tested well, but they have no federal standards behind the claims, and they still list safety warnings about “eye, skin and respiratory irritation.”
High Efficiency (HE) detergents are formulated for the newer front-loaders because they create fewer suds for the lower volume of water those machines use. Note that the HE scores are usually higher and often cost less than conventional detergents.
If you still have a standard top-loader, by using the made-for-cold-water, thrifty Tide 2X Ultra, rated # 2, for conventional machines, you can save up to $140 a year (in cost of product and heating water) over the priciest detergents.
If your machine doesn’t add the detergent automatically, use this washing sequence: start water, add the detergent and allow it time to dissolve, and then add clothing.
Optical brighteners create brighter whites, but will also fade dark colors and can over-lighten creamy colors.
Sixteen hundred swatches were washed in warm, hard water – after being soiled with blood, mud, chocolate ice cream, grass, red wine, tea and ring-around-the-collar. The Tide 2X products led the results for effectiveness and costs. The top products, liquid (L) or powder (P), with their total scores and cost per load (cpl), are given for conventional and HE machines.
The results are based on pure cleaning power among detergents on a 100-point scale.
Top-rated for conventional machines:
# 1: Tide 2X Ultra with color clean bleach alternative (L) scored 66 and cost 32 cpl;
# 2: Tide 2X Ultra for cold water [tested in cold water] (L) scored 59 and cost 19 cpl;
# 3: Tide 2X Ultra with Dawn StainScrubbers (L) scored 57 and cost 29 cpl;
# 4: Tide 2X Ultra with a touch of Downy (L) scored 54 and cost 27 cpl;
# 5: Simplicity hypoallergenic non-toxic 2 X [plant-based] (L) scored 52 and cost 17 cpl.
Offering the best value for cleaning at a better cost than most are Numbers 1, 2 and 5, with # 2 marked as CR’s “Best Buy” for conventional machines.
Top-rated for HE front-loading or top-loading machines:
# 1: Tide 2X Ultra with color clean bleach alternative HE (L) scored 74 and cost 25 cpl;
# 2: Cheer 2X Ultra Color Guard for high efficiency HE (L) scored 69 and cost 17 cpl;
# 3: Tide 2X ultra original HE (L) rated 67 and cost 22 cpl;
# 4: Seventh Generation natural powdered HE [plant-based](P) scored 57 and cost 36 cpl;
# 5: Gain 2X ultra original fresh HE (L) scored 57 and cost 16 cpl.
Also recommended for its especially low price is # 7: Kirkland Signature free and clear ultra 2X (from Costco) (L) scored 55 and cost 13 cpl.
The best for HE machines are # 1, 2, 3, 4, and 7, with # 2 marked as CR’s “Best Buy.”
[Note: CR is published by Consumer’s Union, an independent, nonprofit organization that accepts no paid advertising, tests thousands of products a year and publishes their results. They are based in Yonkers, New York. They test popular consumer products regularly so this information actually comes from three Reports: January 2007, May 2008 and July 2009. The product results are from July 2009.]