Actually, yes, it does matter which laundry detergent you buy. While the difference between brands doesn’t matter much in the end, certain choices can have a serious impact. Most concerns depend on your needs.
Detergents with Fragrances Irritate Sensitive Skin
Detergents come with all sorts of scents, so you want to pick one you like—unless you have sensitive skin. Dermatologist Dr. Cynthia Bailey explains:
People with sensitive skin should avoid laundry detergents with fragrance because fragrances are common skin allergens. For people with sensitive skin I recommend All Free and Clear and Cheer Free. Some natural cleaning ingredients like citrus and lavender can be allergens too. Fabric softeners and antistatic drier sheets are loaded with fragrance and should be avoided. To remove all detergent residue from washed clothing I tell my sensitive skin patients to rinse their cloths twice and avoid packing the washer too full because clothes in an over full washer are not rinsed as well.
This same advice generally applies to parents with young children, as babies tend to have sensitive skin and may react negatively to the aforementioned allergens.
Some Detergents Remove Stains Better
Most people don’t test every detergent or severely stain their clothes in time for every load, so real-world experience provides very little information in regards to stain-lifting power. Fortunately, other people independently test this sort of thing so we can find out what works best. Our friends over at the Sweethome make a researched argument on behalf of Tide:
Tide simply scores the best in testing from trusted sources, whether as a powder, liquid or pod. That’s why the obvious choice is Tide’s Ultra HE Vivid Bright + White.Consumer Reports had the most comprehensive tests. Tide’s Ultra HE Vivid Bright + White was the only one to be ranked “excellent” in warm/hot and even cold water cleaning, and it swept the “blood,” “grass” and “ring around the collar” tests. Only 3 other kinds of detergent, out of dozens, could say the same. It earned a final score of 82/100, making it the best in CR’s findings among any type or brand of detergent.
The Sweethome found that Good Housekeeping and other sources agreed: Tide does the best job regardless of the form it comes in.
DIY Detergent Works Well Enough
While Tide sits atop the throne in stain-lifting power, it also happens to cost more than a handful of options—especially those of the DIY variety. If you want to save a bunch of money and make your own laundry soap, it’ll compete admirably against your average consumer products. Blogger Liz Marie made her own detergent, used it for a year, and loved the results:
[A year ago] I made my very first batch of DIY laundry soap. I had researched it online before I made it & combined a few different recipes that I had found to make my own laundry detergent. I really didn’t think that it would last me a year like the posts I read had said, but it did & I loved it along the way! It got me through countless dirty baseball uniforms, stinky gym clothes, paint messes, military uniforms, & stains of all sorts.
Choose High-Efficiency Detergent for High-Efficiency Washers
This should go without saying, but if you have a high-efficiency washer you should use a high-efficiency (HE) detergent. HE options produce fewer suds and make it easier for HE machines to rinse out the soap. In most cases, it’ll clean just as well as regular detergent so you can use it in anything. Basically, you can always buy HE detergent for any washer but do not buy standard detergent for an HE washer.
Note: The Tide detergent recommended earlier is a high-efficiency soap.
You Need Less Than You Think
Many people overuse their laundry detergent, but a small amount goes a long way. Furthermore, if you pack your washer pretty full you run the risk of trapping detergent on your clothing. That’s especially bad for people with sensitive skin and nothing positive for the rest of us, either. The New York Times explains why we should cut down on our soap usage
“Nobody thinks they use too much soap,” said Vernon Schmidt, who has been a repairman for almost 35 years and is the author of a self-published book, “Appliance Handbook for Women: Simple Enough Even a Man Can Understand.” But apparently most of us are in denial.
Washing machines and dishwashers are made to use far less water now than older models and, therefore, need less soap. And detergents have also become increasingly concentrated. So a little goes a long way.
“Most people use 10 to 15 times the amount of soap they need, and they’re pouring money down the drain,” Mr. Schmidt said.
In the end, you don’t have to make as many choices as the store shelves tend to imply. If you need a detergent for sensitive skin, buy one. If you need stain-lifting power, Tide currently wins on that front. If you don’t, you can save a bunch of money making it yourself. Regardless of what you pick, don’t overuse it and your laundry will come out nice and fresh.