Whether you use a washing machine or prefer to hand wash your garments, laundry detergent is the most essential part of the cleaning process. Choosing which detergent to use, however, can be challenging: Dozens of brands offer detergents in a variety of applications and scents, and some go beyond just cleaning — you can buy laundry detergents with color-boosting, odor-removing or fabric-softening formulas, for example.
When it comes down to it, “a standard laundry detergent does the trick [for most household needs],” said Alexandra Wojenski, a sustainable cleaning expert at Grove Collaborative. That still leaves you with a lot of options to sort through, though. To help you narrow down your choices, we talked to experts about how to shop for laundry detergent and the difference between liquids, powders, pods and sheets. We also used expert guidance to recommend scented and unscented laundry detergents and rounded up a list of tips to help you save money while shopping.
The best laundry detergents in 2023
When shopping for laundry detergent, many of the experts we spoke to emphasized looking for natural options, which they said contain fewer chemicals than standard detergents and thus may be less harmful and irritating to your skin.
To recommend laundry detergents for a wide range of shoppers, we used expert insight to guide our picks and made sure to include options across detergent types, price points and scents. We only included laundry detergents made without artificial fragrances — experts told us to avoid these while shopping since they’re composed of potent chemicals that can irritate skin or lead to other health issues over time. The laundry detergents below are either unscented or get their fragrance from essential oils and botanical (plant-derived) ingredients, according to the brands. They’re also all HE compatible.
Best unscented laundry detergents
This powder detergent is free of dyes and perfumes, according to Tide. The detergent, which Tide says quickly dissolves into water, comes in a 95-ounce container and can be used for up to 68 loads of laundry, according to the brand.
According to Dropps, these pods are made from plant-based ingredients that help remove odors and stains as well as maintain fabrics’ colors. They are filled with concentrated detergent and come in compostable packaging, the brand says. I’ve used these detergent pods for years and have never had issues with them dissolving, which I’ve experienced with other natural options. You can purchase these unscented detergent pots in packs of 64, 128 or 192. You can also subscribe to get the pods delivered on a set schedule and save 25%.
Earth Breeze’s laundry detergent sheets are available in a pack of 60 and the brand says they’re designed for sensitive skin. You can tear sheets in half if you’re doing a medium load, use one sheet for a large load or use two sheets for an extra large or extra dirty load, per Earth Breeze’s recommendations. The laundry sheets come in plastic-free, biodegradable packaging.
Kind Laundry’s detergent sheets come in a pack of 60 and are packaged in a recyclable container, the brand says. You only need one sheet for a regular load, but if you’re cleaning larger loads of laundry, the brand recommends using multiple sheets. You can subscribe to get the sheets delivered on a set schedule for a discounted price plus free shipping.
The Branch Basics Laundry Kit comes with a concentrate that you pour into the included plastic or glass bottle and combine with water. You can refill the bottle when you run out of detergent — Branch Basics says the concentrate can tackle up to 192 loads of laundry. The Laundry Kit also comes with an oxygen boost to pre-treat stains, whiten and deodorize laundry.
Best scented laundry detergents
9 Elements’ liquid laundry detergent is formulated with lemon essential oils to give it a citrus scent, and it contains vinegar to reduce odors and residue trapped in fabric, the brand says. It’s available in a 92-ounce container and can be used for up to 64 loads of laundry, according to the brand.
Truly Free’s laundry detergent helps you cut down on creating unnecessary trash: once you finish the initial 50-ounce jug, you can order refill pouches of detergent instead of buying a new container. The detergent signature scent is created with a mix of anise, orange, lime, lemon and other essential oils. One jug holds enough detergent to do 50 loads of laundry, according to the brand.
These laundry pots are made with peppermint oil to give the detergent a minty fragrance, the brand says. The pods come in a pack of 60 or 120 — Molly’s Suds says to use one pod for a small load or two pods for regular to large loads. The pod pouch is designed with at least 35% post-consumer recycled materials, according to the brand. You can subscribe to get the pods delivered on a set schedule and save 5%.
Seventh Generation’s powder laundry detergent has a citrus and sandalwood scent from essential oils and botanical ingredients, according to the brand. Each container comes with 18.5 ounces of detergent, which you can use for up to 45 loads of laundry, the brand says. The container is made from steel, which Seventh Generation says you can recycle once it’s empty.
Grove Co.’s laundry detergent sheets come in scents like Lavender Blossom & Thyme, Mulled Apple and Peony & Freesia, and the brand says the fragrances come from essential oils and plant-derived ingredients. There are 32 detergent sheets in each container and they come in recyclable packaging.
Laundry detergent types
Before you start shopping for laundry detergent, you should know about the four main types you’ll see during your search: powder, liquid, pods and sheets. The type you choose is mostly a matter of personal preference, but understanding how each is unique can help you decide which to buy.
Powder laundry detergent
Cost: Least expensive option
Benefits: Since you have to measure out the exact amount of powder laundry detergent you add to each load, you have control over how much you use, said Marilee Nelson, co-founder of Branch Basics and a consumer chemical expert. Powder laundry detergent often comes in paper or cardboard boxes that can be recycled, making the container more eco-friendly, she added.
Drawbacks: Powder laundry detergents work best when you’re washing items in warm to hot water, Nelson said — in colder water powder detergent can leave residue on clothes. It may also be abrasive to clothes if it’s not fully dissolved in water, which can be a concern if you’re washing delicate or synthetic fabrics like silk or spandex, Nelson added.
Liquid laundry detergent
Cost: Typically costs more than powder detergent but is less expensive than pods, making it a middle-ground option
Benefits: Liquid detergent is customizable like powder since you have to measure out how much you use per load, experts told us. It penetrates fabric deeply to thoroughly clean garments, but it’s gentle on delicate fabrics, Nelson said. Liquid detergent also mixes into cold water better than powders or pods, so there’s less of a chance that it will leave residue behind. Since it mixes well with cold water, it’s also a good option for those looking to save energy while using washing machines: The majority of energy used to clean clothes is from heating water, and running a cold cycle instead uses less than 50% of the energy of a hot cycle, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
Drawbacks: Nelson said most liquid laundry detergents are packaged in plastic, so it’s not the most eco-friendly option unless you specifically seek out recyclable containers.
Laundry detergent pods
Cost: Most expensive option
Benefits: “If convenience is your priority, laundry pods fit the ticket,” Nelson said. They’re concentrated, pre-measured doses of detergent — all you have to do is throw one in your laundry machine. These pre-packaged pods are also less messy than powder or liquid, both of which can spill as you pour them into the machine, said Sammy Wang, senior scientist at 9 Elements and Tide. Some pods are also made with brighteners and fabric softeners, so you can throw one product into your machine instead of buying and measuring out multiple different types. Experts said pods are easily transportable as well, which is beneficial if you go to a laundromat or if your laundry machine is located outside of your main living space, like in apartment buildings or dorms.
Drawbacks: Since laundry detergent pods are pre-filled, you have no control over the amount of detergent you use per load. Some brands even instruct you to use multiple pods for larger loads, which means you’re likely to go through a pack quickly. Pods may also not be the most eco-friendly option depending on what the pod itself is made from (usually a polyvinyl material). Experts noted that laundry pods can look like candy to some children and are dangerous if consumed. If you’re worried about this, it’s important to store the pods somewhere kids can’t reach them or to opt for another type of detergent.
Laundry detergent sheets
Cost: More cost effective than pods — price falls closer to that of liquid and powder detergents
Benefits: Like pods, detergent sheets are concentrated, pre-measured doses of detergent, making them similarly convenient, Wojenski said. They dissolve well in hot or warm water like powder detergent, but may take longer to dissolve in cold water, or not dissolve fully.
Drawbacks: Also similar to laundry pods, you can’t control how much detergent you add to a load with sheets, and you may have to use multiple sheets for larger loads.
How to choose a laundry detergent
There are a few other important factors to consider when choosing a laundry detergent. Below, experts explained what you need to think about while shopping and how each factor can guide your search.
The ingredients in laundry detergent vary depending on the type you purchase. But the primary ingredients you’ll find in detergents are enzymes, which break down stains, and surfactants, which lift dirt and grime away from clothing, experts said.
In recent years, brands have introduced many “natural” or “eco-friendly” laundry detergents to the market as shoppers have shown a growing interest in products free from certain chemicals. This is similar to the desire for “natural” skincare and personal care items like deodorant and other types of cleaning products.
Natural laundry detergents are often free from synthetic fragrances and instead get their scent from essential oils or botanical (plant-derived) extracts. Wojenski said this means the laundry scent won’t be as strong and will fade faster — in some cases, there may be no scent at all. Any detergent that advertises brightening abilities and a heavy scent usually contains ingredients experts told us to stay away from — these ingredients — like synthetic fragrance, parabens, phosphates and more — can potentially be harmful to both you and the environment. But again, the laundry detergent you purchase is a personal choice, and whichever option you buy is best for you and your budget.
Machine washing versus hand-washing
All types of laundry detergent are washing machine-friendly, Nelson said. But that’s not the case when it comes to hand-washing clothes. “If you are hand-washing, then laundry pods are out,” Nelson said. Liquid detergents are the easiest to mix into water when hand-washing — if you’re using powder or sheets, make sure the detergent fully dissolves into the water while cleaning.
Type of washing machine
If you’re using a washing machine to do laundry, it’s important to note the machine type before you buy detergent. This is especially the case if you own an HE washing machine, which Wojenski said runs on a longer cycle but heats up less and uses less water, thus cutting back on how much energy is used. “With less water, there is a need for a smaller amount of detergent, which means that using a non-HE safe detergent will be too concentrated for the machine, produce too many suds and wear on the machine over time,” Wojenski explained. She added that using a non-HE safe detergent in an HE machine “can also leave your clothes and washing machine with a sudsy residue.” Wang said most laundry products today are HE compliant, but it’s always helpful to double-check to be sure. There is usually an “HE” logo on laundry detergents to indicate that they’re compatible with HE machines.
Most standard laundry detergents are formulated to work with all water temperatures, said Wojenski. But some detergents should be used in warm or cold water specifically, and that recommendation should not be ignored. These detergents are formulated with ingredients that perform best in the water temperature recommended, so you should follow the brand’s directions accordingly, she said.
What you’re washing
“You cannot go wrong with a standard detergent, but depending on personal needs, it may be beneficial to have an assortment of detergents on hand for different loads,” Wojenski said. For example, if you’re washing delicates like silk or lace items, you may want to use a detergent specifically designed to be gentle on fabric, which Wojenski said can reduce pilling and signs of wear.
How to save money on laundry detergent in 2023
Laundry detergent is an everyday essential, and many are interested in learning how to save money on it, especially with inflation raising the price of products from cleaning supplies to groceries. Below, experts shared their tips for cutting costs when it comes to purchasing laundry detergent.
- Don’t use too much: Liquid and powder detergent come with cups or spoons labeled with lines to indicate how much to use for different load sizes. Make sure you follow these measurements to ensure you get as many loads out of one container as possible. It’s sometimes hard to see the lines on the measurement tools detergents come with, but do your best to follow them. Liquid detergent often sticks to the cap or spills down the bottle — if you’re worried about wasting detergent due to measuring issues, detergent pods or sheets may be a better option.
- Use concentrated laundry detergent: Experts told us that using a concentrated laundry detergent can help you save money over time. Concentrated detergent is formulated with less water and is thus less diluted than standard detergent — since it’s stronger, you can use less of it per load and make a single bottle last longer. You’ll see the words “concentrated” or “ultra concentrated” on the product’s packaging.
- Buy in bulk or consider subscription services: If you’re loyal to one specific detergent, you may be able to save money by purchasing a larger container of it at a warehouse membership club like Costco . You can also get some laundry detergents delivered through autoship or subscription services at a discount. For example, Amazon Subscribe & Save can get you 10% to 15% off select detergents.