Laundry detergent buying guide: How to find the best product for your clothes
We'll help you choose the perfect laundry detergent.
Key facts about laundry detergent:
- While many laundry detergents on the shelf may look the same, they can vary greatly in terms of effectiveness.
- The three main types of laundry detergents available are liquid, powder and pods.
- Front-loading washing machines and top-loading washing machines have different requirements, so check your washing machine's manual before switching detergent types. .
Compare some of the best laundry detergents
Laundry detergent types
There are three main types of laundry detergent: liquid, powder and pods/tablets.
Top loader vs front loader laundry detergent
If you have a top loader washing machine, you should use top loader specific laundry detergent (vice versa for a front loader). Top loader detergent produces more foam and requires more detergent than a front loader due to its high water consumption. If you use the recommended top loader dosage in your front loader, it may get damaged.
For those thinking of purchasing a new washing machine, check out our washing machine buying guide to find out more about the pros and cons of each.
High-efficiency (HE) laundry detergent is also available. Frequently found on the shelves, labelled with "HE", it can be used for both front-loading and HE washing machines. These produce less suds than top loader detergent.
If you want to try using top loader detergent for a front loader or HE washing machine, experiment with using a half to quarter dose. This should prevent the excess build-up of deposits and avoid damage to your washing machine.
How to compare laundry detergent
Laundry detergent can cost you from around $2 to $22 per pack (or $0.11-$0.64 per wash), depending on brand, model, detergent type and washes per pack.
Here are other key features you need to consider
While phosphates help to soften water and leave less residue on your clothes, it is harmful to the environment and can cause algae blooms. Unless your water is particularly hard, it's better to opt for low phosphate detergents. Check with your local council to find out how hard your water is.
- A "P" label on laundry detergent means it has low phosphorus levels (P<7.8g/wash).
- "NP" means a product contains no or <0.5% phosphorus.
For those who are environmentally conscious, picking an eco-friendly detergent lets you recycle washing machine rinse water (greywater) for your garden. Check your detergent's GreySafe rating to confirm whether it's safe to use the rinse water on your garden. You could also consider recycling greywater to flush your toilet.
If you recycle greywater on your garden, you should pick low sodium detergents to avoid harming plant life. Liquid detergent is generally lower in sodium and phosphates.
Soiled clothing level
For lightly soiled clothes, using a cheaper detergent (which has fewer surfactants and enzymes to remove soiling) with a good stain remover should work well enough. For heavily soiled clothing, you should pick a more expensive, heavy duty option to effectively get rid of tough grease, oil, food stains and body odour.
Additional factors to think about
For those with allergies or sensitive skin, opt for fragrance- and dye-free options.
You should also avoid detergents that include enzymes and optical brighteners, as these can also irritate skin.
- Enzymes. These are used to speed up dirt removal; different ones are used to target protein, starch and biological-based stains.
- Optical brighteners. These are chemicals that absorb UV light and reemit it as blue light. These make your clothes appear brighter without actually making them cleaner.
Opt for concentrated models with more washes per pack to create less waste per package. Buying in bulk will also save you more. Check out our tips on how to save energy on your laundry to cut back on your overall environmental impact.
Fragrances, colours and dyes
These are for aesthetic appeal and do not make your clothes cleaner. Whether you opt for a particular perfumed product is up to your personal preference.
- Laundry balls: Made of plastic with mineral beads inside, laundry balls do not contain any added chemicals, and are cheap and recyclable. However, they don't tackle any stains or odours well. There is actually no scientific evidence that laundry balls are any more effective than hot water at cleaning clothes. To learn more about laundry balls, check out our laundry ball buying guide [link when live].
- Soap nuts: While this natural alternative doesn't cost much and is reusable, its effectiveness is also debatable. As they do not contain surfactants, soap nuts don't remove tough stains well.
- DIY detergent recipes: While there are many DIY recipes available online, we recommend experimenting with a small batch first and trialling a variety of recipes. Frequently suggested ingredients include borax, lemon juice, grated soap, baking soda and essential oils. While DIY recipes may be cheaper, easy to make, potentially eco-friendly and suitable for sensitive skin, they vary in terms of effectiveness. Typically, DIY recipes won't work as well at removing tough stains.
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