The best laundry detergent

  • Good laundry detergent is effective at removing stains and odors from clothing with minimal effort on your part.
  • Tide's Free & Gentle Liquid Laundry Detergent is the best choice for most people because it's unscented, effective at cleaning, and not as hazardous to children as pods. 

Laundry day probably won't ever be the highlight of your week, but the alternative — an empty underwear drawer and re-wearing your socks from yesterday — is far less appealing. And happily for us, today's technology provides far easier methods for cleaning our clothes than our great-great-grandparents used. Instead of pounding our dirty unmentionables on a rock, or submerging them in a mixture of skin-burning lye, we have shelves full of laundry detergents to choose from. 

A good laundry detergent removes dirt, oil, and sweat from your clothing, leaves behind a fresh scent, doesn't fade or alter fabric color, doesn't break you out in an itchy rash, and doesn't empty your wallet. The problem is, store shelves are full of laundry detergents that meet all of these requirements, so how are you to choose the best product?

We've assembled this guide to the best laundry detergents that not only meet the basic requirements but also go the extra mile. So whatever type of laundry detergent you prefer — natural, unscented, sensitive formula — we have a pick for you.

Here are our top picks for the best laundry detergent:

  • Best overall: Tide Free & Gentle Liquid Laundry Detergent
  • Best pods: Tide Pods 3 in 1 Turbo
  • Best natural liquid: Puracy Natural Liquid Laundry Detergent
  • Best natural powder: Charlie's Soap Laundry Powder
  • Best pods for sensitive skin: All Free & Clear Mighty Pacs
  • Best for babies: Molly's Suds Laundry Powder
  • Best detergent bar for hand-washing: Zote White Laundry Bar Soap

Prices and links are current as of 9/24/20. We added a short explainer of the pros and cons of liquid, pods, and powder detergents at the end of our guide.

The best overall

Tide's Free & Gentle Liquid Laundry Detergent is unscented, cleans effectively, and doesn't cost a crazy price.

Tide Free & Gentle Liquid Laundry Detergent is hypoallergenic, with no dyes or perfumes that might irritate sensitive skin, but it still pulls no punches when it comes to getting dirt, stains, and odors out of your laundry.

Just use the measuring cup inside the cap to pour the right amount of liquid detergent into your washing machine, and let the cleaning begin. Your clothes will come out smelling fresh but without any strong fragrance. That's a good thing for people with allergies or skin sensitivity.

It's so gentle, in fact, that it's been recognized by both the National Eczema Association and the National Psoriasis Foundation as a recommended detergent. It's also phosphate-free, so it's better for the environment.

Pros: Fragrance and dye-free, easy-pour bottle, very effective in any temperature of water

Cons: Some complaints that the liquid runs down the side of the bottle after using the measuring cap

The best pods

Tide Pods 3 in 1 Turbo leave your clothes super-clean and smelling fresh, plus they help remove stains without fading fabric. 

Toss one of these pods into your washing machine, turn on the water, pile your dirty laundry on top, and let the spin cycle work its magic. Tide Pods 3 in 1 Turbo combine detergent, stain remover, and color protectant in one small pod; no need to measure, pour, or deal with a soapy, slippery bottle.

The formula is safe for HE washers, and won't leave soap residue or require extra rinse cycles. There are several pleasant fragrances to choose from, but they are all fairly strong, so keep that in mind Those with sensitive skin may find the fragrance to be irritating.

Another key thing to note is that any household with young children or elderly people with dementia shouldn't buy pods due to the poison hazard. We only recommend pods to households with grown adults who are not likely to pop a pod in their mouths. These things are toxic, and many people have died or become seriously ill from ingesting these pods.

Take care, use common sense, and keep pods away from those who might mistake them for food or a toy, and you'll be fine.

Pros: Powerful formula really gets clothes clean and stain-free, childproof container

Cons: Fragrance is quite strong, so not suitable for those with sensitive skin, dangerous if ingested, not for homes with young kids

The best natural liquid

Some natural laundry detergents aren't very effective, but Puracy's Natural Liquid Laundry Detergent gets your laundry clean and fresh.

No phosphates, sulfates, petrochemicals, animal by-products, chlorine, perfumes, gluten, tree nut-based ingredients, dyes, or allergens are present in Puracy's Natural Liquid Laundry Detergent, so no matter what sensitivities you may have, Puracy's got you covered.

The company uses plant-derived enzymes to remove sweat, oil, dirt, and other grunge from your laundry, leaving behind fresh, clean fabric that won't irritate sensitive skin — even the delicate skin of newborns.  

You don't need to use a lot of this highly concentrated formula. Just two pumps are enough for the average load, making this an economical as well as effective detergent. It's safe for HE machines and works equally well in cold or hot water and on all washable fabrics.

Pros: No potentially irritating or environmentally unfriendly ingredients

Cons: The pump may leak

The best natural powder

If you prefer powder detergent and you want a natural formula that won't irritate your skin, the environment, or your bank account, get Charlie's Soap Laundry Powder.

The biodegradable formula is easy on the environment and safe for septic tanks. Charlie's Soap Laundry Powder is also hypoallergenic, with no brighteners, perfumes, dyes, or phosphates.

But that doesn't mean it's weak on cleaning. This laundry powder easily washes away all manner of odors and dirt, leaving behind clean, fresh fabric with no detergent residue.

You only need a tablespoon of the powder for most loads, so you'll get 100 loads of laundry out of the 2.6-pound bag. That's pennies per load, making Charlie's Soap Laundry Powder as gentle on your wallet as it is on your clothing.

Pros: No fragrance or other irritating ingredients, very economical, safe for HE machines and all types of washable fabrics

Cons: May not work well with hard water

The best pods for sensitive skin

All Free & Clear Mighty Pacs are as easy on your skin as they are tough on laundry grime.

Laundry detergent pods are undeniably easy to use — Just toss one into your machine, followed by your laundry. No need to measure or pour. But too many laundry pods are filled with strong fragrances and other sensitive skin no-no's. That's where All Free & Clear Mighty Pacs are different.

These hypoallergenic laundry pods are 100% free of fragrance and dyes, but they are still mighty effective at cleaning even your stinkiest gym clothes.

Just note that any household with young children or elderly people with dementia shouldn't buy pods due to the poison hazard. We only recommend pods to households with grown adults who are not likely to pop a pod in their mouths. These things are toxic, and many people have died or become seriously ill from ingesting these pods.

Take care, use common sense, and keep pods away from those who might mistake them for food or a toy, and you'll be fine.

Pros: Hypoallergenic, safe for HE washer and all types of washable fabrics, safe for septic systems

Cons: Sometime pods do not fully dissolve in the wash, dangerous if ingested, not for homes with kids

The best for babies

If you want the purest, most natural ingredients in your laundry detergent, but don't feel like making your own, Molly's Suds Laundry Powder is the next best thing.

Forget about a lengthy list of ingredients you can't even pronounce, much less understand — Molly's Suds Laundry Powder has only five ingredients, and every one of them is natural: sodium carbonate, sodium bicarbonate, magnesium sulfate, unrefined sea salt, and peppermint oil.

The result is a laundry powder that doesn't create suds in the wash, but does get your clothes, sheets, towels, and reusable diapers clean, fresh, and faintly scented with peppermint. It's great for the delicate skin of newborns, as well.

You can use this laundry powder in your HE machine, on all types of washable fabrics, and in hot or cold water. Pour the scoop of detergent directly into your washing machine drum, not into the dispenser, for the best results.

Pros: Limited, natural ingredients for a hypoallergenic formula safe for even the most sensitive skin

Cons: More expensive than more common brands

The best detergent bar for hand-washing

If you like to hand wash or pre-treat clothes, Zote's White Laundry Soap Bar will remove most stains, oils, and odors from fabric with scrubbing.

Lots of clothing requires handwashing, and there's no better laundry detergent for handwashing than Zote's White Laundry Soap Bar.

Made by Mexican company Fábrica de Jabón la Corona, Zote is popular among Latin Americans. Those who do not have immediate access to a washing machine swear by it. It's excellent at taking stains, oils, and odors out of fabric without damaging delicate items.

Zote is ideal for handwashing laundry or pre-treating nasty stains before you throw everything in the wash. The ingredient list is fairly decent. The soap contains sodium tallowate (beef tallow), sodium cocoate (coconut oil), citronella oil for a lemony scent, and optical brighteners.

I use it to handwash a lot of my clothing, and it works surprisingly well. A bar of Zote soap lasts quite a long time, too, so you'll spend less on laundry detergent in the long run. — Malarie Gokey

Pros: Lasts a long time, great for handwashing, pre-treats stains, gets oil out

Cons: Not for the washing machine unless you alter it, contains animal products

What type of laundry detergent should I use?

Liquid detergent

Liquid detergent is easily the most popular type of laundry detergent on the market. You'll find shelves and shelves of it at your local grocery store in a variety of scents. It falls right in between powder and pods where cost-per-load is concerned, and it can double as a stain-remover or pre-treater if applied directly to most fabrics. Easy access and familiarity lead many to reach for liquid detergent, but it's got its downsides too.

For one, it's quite difficult to determine how much liquid detergent to actually use. The measuring lines on the cap are often hard to see, leading many to overuse liquid detergent. And contrary to what you might think, more soap doesn't lead to cleaner clothes. If you use too much, your machine won't be able to efficiently wash it all away, leaving behind residue that could irritate your skin. Not to mention the fact that you're simply throwing away money by wasting product.

Detergent pods

Topping the list for convenience are the brightly colored detergent pods that if you weren't familiar with a few years ago you've certainly heard of now thanks to a viral internet phenomenon we dare not mention. These single-use packs contain a precise amount of highly concentrated detergent housed in a water-soluble skin that dissolves completely. This means no guesswork as to how much to use. Simply toss one into your laundry and you're all set.

Where it also tops the list is in cost-per-load. These little pods are by far the most expensive way to get your laundry clean. They're also, as we know, quite tempting to children due to their bright colors and squishy appearance, and they pose a poison risk. If you use them, be sure to keep them on a high shelf out of the reach of anyone who might be inclined to bite into one.

Powdered detergent

Powdered detergent has fallen out of favor since the rise of liquid detergent in the 1970s, but it still reigns supreme in one arena — price. Powdered detergent doesn't have the disadvantage of water weighing it down, so you get much more product for your money, driving down its cost-per-load to mere pennies in some cases. It's also easier to measure than liquid detergent and its cardboard packaging is much more eco-friendly than the plastic jugs that house liquids.

On the other hand, it's probably the easiest to spill as scooping or pouring come with their inconveniences. Certain powdered detergents may have trouble dissolving in cold water, which could leave residue both on your clothes and in your machine.

Check out our other buying guides for cleaning supplies

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Stainless steel is extremely durable and resistant to water damage and rust. But it can also show every fingerprint and smudge left my hands and every water spot that is not properly wiped away. If you use the wrong type of cleaner, there is no way to restore the finish. These are our top picks for the best stainless steel cleaners.

The best drain cleaners

Most of us take plumbing systems for granted until there is a problem. Drain care should really be something we attend to every day. While we can't control the rate a pipe joint disintegrates, we can help prevent clogs. These are the best drain cleaners for keeping your pipes in top shape.

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