5 On Your Side

Detergents Come Clean in 'Consumer Reports' Tests

Posted February 14, 2007

— At some point, we all have to do laundry. That of course requires detergent. Store shelves offer plenty of choices, but which ones do the best job of cleaning your clothes for the best price?

You can buy powder, liquid, now even a gel and a detergent ball. You can also get detergents blended with softeners and fresheners. Manufacturers keep coming up with new gimmicks to try to make their products stand out, but tests by Consumer Reports tests found that the new approaches don't necessarily translate to cleaner clothes.

In a television commercial, OxiClean claims you can clean 25 loads with each detergent ball.

Consumer Reports testers say, however, that the OxiClean ball fell to the bottom of its ratings because of poor cleaning power. Plus, it costs almost five times as much as some other detergents that did a good job.

In addition to the ball, Consumer Reports tested 38 other detergents.

"We tested liquids and powders, detergents with fabric softeners and without, and we tested high-efficiency detergents which are specifically recommended for front-loading washing machines," said Consumer Reports’ Ryan Robbins.

The testing involved saturating cotton squares with stains like chocolate ice cream, tea, lipstick, and red wine. They washed more than 3,000 swatches in more than 100 loads.

“Our tests showed that there's very little performance difference between liquid and powder detergents. It's really just a matter of personal preference," Robbins said.

Consumer Reports did find some standouts based on value and performance, however.

For conventional, top-loading washing machines, testers top-rated Tide with Bleach Alternative at 35 cents per load.

For front-loading machines, Costco's Kirkland Signature Ultra was rated a best buy. It costs just 12 cents per load!

If your machine doesn't have an automatic laundry detergent dispenser, Consumer Reports says that you will get the best cleaning results if you first turn on the water in the washer, then add the detergent. Once it's dissolved, add your laundry.


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  • Chandler Feb 19, 2007

    My husband and I make our own laundry detergent as it is much much cheaper than buying it. It also tends to remove odors from our clothes better than Tide was.

    Here is my recipe (taken and adapted from HomesteadingToday.com)
    1/3 bar of Ivory Soap - 5.5 oz (I will still use Ivory)
    1/2 c washing soda (or baking soda)
    1/2 c borax powder
    2 gallon jugs for putting it in

    Grate the soap and melt it in 6 cups of water over medium heat. Add remaining ingredients. Stir constantly until completely dissolved. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and let sit an additional 5 minutes. Divide mixture between the two jugs. Fill jugs the rest of the way with hot water. Shake well and let sit for 24 hours. Use 1/4 cup per load.

  • nursevb8 Feb 19, 2007

    My clothes aren't filthy dirty, but boyfriends can be. I still prefer my Arm & Hammer, gotta be trusted, been around tooo many years and has alot better price too. Powders don't always dissolve completely if you wash in cold water. Last year they said that Wal Mart brand was the best for the buck!

  • mgratk Feb 18, 2007

    One person claimed Consumer Reports did not control any variables in their tests and you should "just buy the cheapest item - that will always be the item that they have selected." This person obviously is not familiar with their fairly rigorous standards. They do use the same washer models in testing, and they do control the water used, etc. They also don't rate the items by price. Usually more expensive items tend to be ranked highest, but there are often exceptional performers as lower price points as well, and these are characterized as "CR best buys."

  • jetset Feb 18, 2007

    I have a book called "The Queen of Clean's Complete Cleaning Guide" and it calls for using Purex. For added "power" if heavily soiled use powdered Borax along with the Purex. I am satisfied.

  • seankelly15 Feb 17, 2007

    Another example of Consumer Reports self-promotion. This report is no more scientific than the rest of the junk that they have published. To test detergents one would need to control make and model of washer, the age of the washer, the hardness of the water, the number of trace elements in the water, the temperature of the water heater, the number of times the item had been washed and the number of other items in the load - all would have to vary systematically with testing occurring in a step-wise fashion. CR didn't do this - they never do even a novice job of 'scientific testing'. One word of advice to everyone - do not buy Consumer Reports, just buy the cheapest item - that will always be the item that they have selected.

  • fatkatts2 Feb 17, 2007

    I found out the hard way that Tide powder is bad for septic systems...forms a kind of webbing in the system that clogs it up. I don't know about the liquid, though.

  • bostonfox1 Feb 16, 2007


  • Reader Feb 16, 2007

    Well, they did confirm my own experience. With four kids, including twin boys, I do LOTS of laundry, and don't have money to waste. Tide with bleach is my hands-down favorite for getting really grubby stuff clean the first time through the machine.

  • North Carolina Native Feb 16, 2007

    I feel open ended..... sigh

  • St Ives Feb 15, 2007

    Don't ever waste money on Oxyballs when Twenty Mule Team Borax is roughly the same thing at a much cheaper price.