June 9, 2010
The latest Consumer Reports tests of more than 50 laundry detergents continue to show that buying a high-priced product doesn't guarantee cleaner clothes.

Formulas from Tide topped ratings of conventional and high-efficiency formulas, but there are other, less-expensive formulas from manufacturers such as Gain that offer comparable cleaning.

To determine which perform best, CR tests all laundry detergents on seven common stains and soils, using a color-sensitive instrument called a colorimeter to analyze how much stain remains after washing. Both conventional and high-efficiency washing machines are used and the laundry detergents are used as directed on the container. All are measured against washing with nothing but water, which provides minimal cleaning.

Consumer Reports tested liquid and powder formulas of conventional and high-efficiency laundry detergents. When choosing a detergent, consumers must consider the type of washing machine they have or use; conventional detergents should be used with standard, top-loading washing machines and high-efficiency formulas, which produce less suds, must be used with front-loading or high-efficiency top-loading machines.

Conventional laundry detergents

In CR's recent lab tests, Tide 2X Ultra for Cold Water and Tide 2X Ultra with Dawn Stainscrubbers, both 23 cents per load, topped the charts. Tide 2X Ultra for Cold Water cleaned best and because it is formulated for cold water, consumers can save roughly $60 per year in water-heating energy costs. Tide 2X Ultra with Dawn Stainscrubbers is also a solid pick, but despite its stain-scrubbing name, it did not excel at removing blood and grass stains.

High-efficiency laundry detergents

Front-loaders and high-efficiency top-loading washing machines require high-efficiency laundry detergents. Consumer Reports tested 23 formulas and eight performed well-enough to recommend including formulas from Tide, All, Gain, Up & Up (Target), Kirkland Signature (Costco), and Seventh Generation.

Tide 2X Ultra with Color Clean Bleach Alternative HE, 24 cents per load, topped the ratings for cleaning best overall and noted for being very good on grass stains. Gain Original Fresh HE which costs six cents per load is a CR "Best Buy." It was impressive at cleaning, costs far less and was the top pick among powders for its fine performance on grass and bloodstains.

Kirkland Signature Environmentally Friendly Ultra 2X HE (Costco), 12 cents per load, and Seventh Generation Natural Powdered HE, 36 cents per load, are mostly plant-based and cleaned best among detergents with green claims.

Martha Stewart Clean Laundry Detergent finished last-place among laundry detergents in both categories. Like water, it provides minimal cleaning, leaving behind more of the wine, chocolate, grass, ring around the collar, and other common stains and soils in conventional top-loading washer tests. It cleaned only slight better in front-loaders.

The full report, which includes six tips for achieving cleaner clothes and buying advice and ratings of laundry detergents, is featured in the July issue of the magazine.