Trying to decide what kind of detergent to buy? First, make sure it works in the type of washer you own. High-efficiency (HE) washers use less water than standard top-loaders, so using a less-sudsy detergent ensures no soap residue is left on the laundry. Detergents that are specially formulated for HE washers have the HE logo displayed on the packaging.
The second decision is whether to use a liquid or powder detergent. Some consumers believe liquids leave less soap residue behind, but if you follow the manufacturers' recommendation of adding either type of detergent to the wash water before adding the laundry, there shouldn't be residue. TheGreenGuide.com recommends powder detergents because their cardboard packaging is more eco-friendly than the plastic bottles that liquids come in. Editors also say "some chemists claim that powders work better than liquids, because the water in liquids cause chemicals to break down more quickly." Many consumers find powders are less messy to use. Conversely, consumers who like to pre-treat stains with detergent may find pouring a little liquid on is easier than using a powder. (Note that there is a separate ConsumerSearch report on stain removers and pre-treatments. We also cover fabric softeners in another report.)
Once you have narrowed down your detergent choices, experts suggest keeping these things in mind:
- Green detergents are available. Look for containers made from biodegradable or recycled products. Many detergents are available with plant-based cleaning agents and fragrances, rather than petroleum-based chemicals that are potentially harmful to the environment.
- "Free and clear" detergents omit the use of perfumes and dyes. They may appeal to people with sensitive skin or allergies.
- Avoid detergents containing fabric softeners. According to ConsumerReports.org, detergents containing a fabric softener don't work as well as a separate fabric softener liquid or dryer sheet. Additionally, this type of product shouldn't be used to wash children's pajamas because it can degrade the flame-resistant treatment applied to the fabric. The buildup of fabric softeners also can reduce the absorbency of towels and diapers, according to TheGreenGuide.com.
- Consider skipping optical brighteners. Optical brighteners leave a residue on clothes that makes clothes appear brighter. However, ConsumerReports.org cautions that the residue from optical brighteners can make dark fabrics look faded and whiten cream-colored fabrics with repeated use. Editors at TheGreenGuide.com say these chemicals can trigger allergies and may be linked to health problems in humans. Wastewater containing these chemicals also can be harmful to plants and animals. Eco-friendly products don't contain optical brighteners, but many conventional laundry detergents do.
- Consider buying in bulk. You'll often get more for your money. Additionally, many larger liquid jugs are designed to lie on their side and have a spigot for easy pouring.
- Cold water is fine for routine cleaning. However, experts say hot water should be used to kill bacteria on more intimate items such as diapers and underwear, as well as bedding and linens to eliminate dust mites.