Best Laundry Detergents

By Jonathan Chan

Even though Americans spend $5.1 billion on laundry detergent every year, most folks stick with the same brand they've always used. It makes sense: The majority of detergents clean just fine, and pretreating is the real secret to stain removal.

Still, some brands really do outclean the competition. That's why we rounded up five of the top-selling laundry detergents in the country—including Tide HE Turbo Clean, Gain Original, All Free & Clear, Persil ProClean Power Liquid Original Scent, and Arm & Hammer Clean Burst—and put them to the test in our laundry labs. We wanted to find out which detergent cleaned the best, smelled the best, and cost the least.

We cleaned a variety of items on the Normal cycle of a high-efficiency front-load washing machine, including t-shirts with real-world grass and dirt stains, stain strips that were mechanically coated in a variety of standardized messes, and towels stored with a smelly, smoldering cigar. Then, we used a photospectrometer to measure stain removal, a calculator to determine value, and our testers' eyes and noses to rate scent and freshness

Our tests and testers agree: These are the best laundry detergents right now.

Updated November 04, 2016

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Credit: Reviewed.com / Jonathan Chan
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Persil ProClean

Best Overall

Though Persil has only been on sale in the US since mid-2015, it has long been a best-selling laundry detergent in Europe. It crossed the Atlantic to take on Tide, which has long been the dominant brand in the U.S.

Our photospectrometer revealed that—across all our tests—Persil removed an average of 2 percent more stains than Tide. While that difference isn't clearly visible to the naked eye, it does make a difference over repeated washings—and that's how Persil eked out a win over a longstanding favorite.

However, Persil isn't perfect for everyone. Although it's now sold at multiple retailers, it was originally launched as a Walmart excusive. Walmart still has the best price on Persil—about 19 cents a load—but those savings evaporate if you shop elsewhere. For instance, Amazon showed an average price closer to 38 cents a load, nearly quadruple the most affordable detergent on our list.

Our in-house survey and review of online opinions also show that many consumers think Persil smells "sweet"—which may be a turnoff. Still, if stain removal is key, Persil is the undisputed king.

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Credit: Reviewed.com / Jonathan Chan
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Tide Original

Best Value

Tide has been the best-selling laundry detergent in the U.S. for 68 years. It's no wonder it did well in our evaluations of price, scent, and cleaning ability. Yes, it lagged slightly behind Persil in the stain-fighting test, but it stood toe-to-toe in all other categories.

The Tide we tested was Tide HE Turbo Clean—a product that's optimized for high efficiency washers, and that is currently Amazon's best-selling liquid laundry detergent. That detergent ranges in price from 16 to 20 cents a load, and its available nearly everywhere. Other detergents may cost less, but Tide outcleaned them by as much as 14 percent.

Because of Tide's ubiquity, its scent has become ingrained in the fabric of American life. One survey respondent even wrote, "When I think of clean laundry, this is the smell that comes to mind." We agree that, for most consumers, Tide remains the best value among laundry detergents.

Stain strips, before and after washing.
Credit: Reviewed.com
Stain strips, before and after washing. We obtain our stain strips from the same German company that supplies laundry test institutes the world over. They're uniformly coated with (L to R) sweat, oil, blood, red wine, and chocolate.
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Arm & Hammer Clean Burst

Arm & Hammer, made by Church & Dwight, is the only detergent on our list that isn't made by either Henkel (Persil and All) or Procter & Gamble (Tide and Gain). Clean Burst tied for third place in the stain-fighting contest, but stood out for being affordable. We priced it out between 8 and 10 cents per load—which is cheaper than any other detergent we tested.

Although Arm & Hammer might seem like a good deal upfront, weaker stain removal kept it from being as good a value. In addition, Clean Burst left a sharp, citrusy smell on laundry that may wrinkle your nose. If you want the absolute lowest initial cost, however, Arm & Hammer can deliver.

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Where To Buy

$7.97 Amazon Buy

All Free & Clear

All Free & Clear is a perfume- and dye-free detergent that tied for third place in our cleaning contest. We noticed that it has a strong medicinal scent, which is unsurprising since there are no perfumes to mask the natural odors of its ingredients. Luckily, that smell does not transfer onto laundry. In fact, Free & Clear lived up to its name and left virtually no scent behind.

That might be a detriment if you're trying to eliminate an odor from your laundry, but for consumers with sensitivities to dyes and perfumes, this detergent remains a popular choice. We've tested a few perfume-free detergents that barely cleaned better than no detergent at all, and All is leagues better. On the pricing front, All is in the clear: A roundup of various retailers brings up an average price of around 25 cents per load. That's not bad considering this detergent is meant for a more niche market.

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Gain HE Original

Gain is best known for its fresh scent. However, it came in dead last in stain removal in our tests, leaving behind a full 16 percent more visible stains than Persil. Yes, pretreating can help stubborn stains, and we agree that smelling good is important—but we just can't get behind a detergent that doesn't remove everyday grime. At an average cost of 14 cents a load, Gain won't even save you that much money over its competition.

Grass and dirt stained T-shirts
Credit: Reviewed.com / Jonathan Chan
To simulate the messes you might encounter in the garden or on the soccer field, we uniformly coated white T-shirts with grass and dirt stains.
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