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Laundry detergent reviews

We've tested powders, liquids, pods and gels to find which laundry detergents perform the best.
 
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01 .Introduction

Laundry powder

We review 64 laundry detergents - 32 front loader and 32 top loader detergents. Here:

  • we test and compare which detergents are better for removing general soiling as well as specific stains 
  • we also calculate the cost per wash to find which product gives the best value for money, as laundry detergent is the largest expense when running your washing machine. 

On this page, you'll find:

In our new warm water comparison table, you'll also find:

  • The results of a warm wash on both lower scoring products and higher scoring products.
  • The results of not using any detergent at all.

As well as a test for general detergency - how well a product removes normal soiling - the stains we use to score detergents' performance include grass, natural oils (sebum), rice starch and vegetable oil motor oil. While some detergents we tested had difficulty with certain stains, some really shine through. 

In this test, we've also collaborated with City West Water (a government-owned Melbourne water retailer) who supplied environmental data for the tested detergents which indicate the suitablity of the resulting waste water for recycling , and used Lanfax Labs' (which specialises in soil, water and waste water analysis) methodology for determining whether your greywater is OK for your garden.

As always, follow the laundry item requirements for washing, usually attached to the item with a tag.

Brands tested

We picked the top-selling brands of laundry detergents, and tested a selection suitable for the two different types of washing machines.

Front loader detergents

Almat 2 x Concentrate Laundry Powder 2kg FL
Biozet Attack Ecosmart bottle Front and Top Loader
Biozet Attack Front Loader Ultra Concentrate
Cold Power Maximum Front Loader
Cold Power Regular Liquid Front
Cold Power Regular Powder Front
Cold Power Smart Shot Front Loader
Drive Ultra Concentrate Front Loader
Dynamo Maximum Front Loader
Dynamo Regular Front liquid
earth choice 2 x Ultra Front Loader Laundry Concentrate (A)
earth Choice Bulk Laundry Liquid 4L Front and Top Loader
earth Choice Laundry Liquid 2L Front and Top Loader (A)
earth Choice Natural Front Loader Laundry Concentrate (A)
Fab With a touch of fabric softener Frangipani Front Loader
IGA Signature Laundry Powder Front Loader
Omo Small & Mighty Front Loader
Omo Small & Mighty Sensitive Front Loader
Omo Small and Mighty Front Loader
Omo Small and Mighty PODS Active Clean
Omo Small and Mighty PODS Sensitive
Omo Small and Mighty Sensitive Front Loader
Omo Ultimate Front Loader
Radiant Advanced Laundry Liquid Front and Top Loader
Radiant Advanced Liquid Capsules Front and Top Loader
Radiant Laundry Gel High Performance Front and Top Loader
Spree Summer Breeze
Spree Ultra Concentrate Front Loader and High Efficiency Top Loader Lavender Fresh
Surf PODS Tropical Flowers and Ylang Ylang
Surf Tropical Oasis Ylang Ylang and Lily Liquid (B)
Surf Tropical Oasis Ylang Ylang and Lily Powder (B)
Trimat Advanced Concentrate Front Loader

Top loader detergents
Almat 2 x Concentrate Laundry Powder 2kg TL
Biozet Attack Ecosmart bottle Front and Top Loader
Biozet Attack Top Loader Ultra Concentrate
Cold Power Maximum Top Loader
Cold Power Regular Liquid Top Loader
Cold Power Regular Powder Top Loader
Cold Power Smart Shot Top Loader
Drive Ultra Concentrate Top Loader
Dynamo Maximum Top Loader
Dynamo Regular Top Loader
earth choice 2 x Ultra Top Loader Laundry Concentrate (A)
earth Choice Bulk Laundry Liquid 4L Front and Top Loader
earth Choice Laundry Liquid 2L Front and Top Loader (A)
earth Choice Natural Top Loader Laundry Concentrate (A)
Fab With a touch of fabric softener Frangipani Top Loader
IGA Signature Laundry Powder Top Loader
Omo Small & Mighty Sensitive Top Loader
Omo Small & Mighty Top Loader
Omo Small and Mighty PODS Active Clean
Omo Small and Mighty PODS Sensitive
Omo Small and Mighty Sensitive Top Loader
Omo Small and Mighty Top Loader
Omo Ultimate Top Loader
Radiant Advanced Laundry Liquid Front and Top Loader
Radiant Advanced Liquid Capsules Front and Top Loader
Radiant Laundry Gel High Performance Front and Top Loader
Spree Summer Breeze
Spree Ultra Concentrate Lavender Fresh
Surf PODS Tropical Flowers and Ylang Ylang
Surf Tropical Oasis Ylang Ylang and Lily Liquid (B)
Surf Tropical Oasis Ylang Ylang and Lily Powder (B)
Trimat Advanced Concentrate Top Loader

(A) Discontinued, but may still be available in some stores.
(B) Unilever claims the only difference between the other three Surf variants is fragrance, so results should be similar. Variants include Spring Meadow White Lillies and Cherry Blossom, Sunshine Orchard Lemons and Mandarin Flower and Secret Garden Lavender and Jasmine.

How we test

Our testers measure out the recommended detergent dose for a soiled load (or lightly soiled if a normal recommendation is not given), and use it to wash specially soiled swatches attached to laundry items in cold water (20°C).

In this round of testing we also retested two of the better-performing detergents (both top and front loader) in warm water (40°C) to see what effect a warm wash would have.

We do each test twice, and if results vary by more than 10%, we run it a third time.

We test:

  • Stain removal In addition to a general detergency swatch used to measure general soil removal (stained with nut oil, milk and a colour pigment), we include swatches with common stains: sebum (natural oils found on human skin, collar and cuff stains), vegetable oil (cooking oil), rice starch (amylase sensitive), grass (which tests detergents for their action on general stain removal and enzymes that target proteins) and motor oil (a test of mineral oil removal).
  • Waste water recycling The lower the amount of total dissolved solids (TDS) a product has, the better it is for recycling.
  • Whether a product is OK for the garden It’s safe to only use rinse water from any detergents, but for some products the combined wash and rinse water can be used intermittently your garden or lawn. We check levels of salinity, sodium, pH phosphorus content to determine which are safe to use on your garden - see our table for more information. 
  • Total suspended solids, a measure of the amount of insolubles in the detergent. A detergent with more of these is more likely to leave residue on your clothes.
  • Dirt Using a spectrophotometer, which measures how much light reflects off the swatches after filtering out any effects of optical brighteners, they measure how much dirt is removed. These readings are more accurate than the human eye – differences of about six per cent are noticeable.

For more information on Washing and drying, see our Laundry and cleaning section.

 
 
 

The water from washing machines contains several chemicals that aren’t good for plants or soil. If the concentration or total load of these chemicals is too high, you’ll eventually end up harming your plants and wrecking the soil.

How we test suitability for grey water

Results were considered on a per-wash basis, assuming intermittent use only in your garden (interspersed with clean water) and over an area of no less than 150 to 200 square metres.

It's safe to use the rinse water from any detergent, but the wash water from those with one to three stars in the 'OK for the garden' column in the Compare detergents table can also be used.

Note that the amounts used were those recommended for 'normally' dirty clothes — if you use more or less detergent the results will be different. The less you use the better for the environment, and you'll probably still get a good wash result.

Factors that affect suitability

  • Phosphorus Small amounts of phosphorus can be useful for plants, and it’s a major component of fertiliser. Australian soils are typically low in phosphorus, and some native species can’t tolerate high levels. Higher levels of phosphorus can be acceptable if you have clay soil, because it binds to clay minerals and doesn’t leach away. On sandy soils, excess phosphorus can leach into groundwater. When it gets into waterways it can contribute to excessive algal growth, leading to toxic algal blooms. Ideally, the amount of phosphorus per wash shouldn’t exceed 1g.

  • Salinity All laundry detergents contain salts, typically sodium salts such as sodium nitrate, sodium sulphate, sodium phosphate and sodium silicate. (Table salt — sodium chloride — isn’t used in detergents.) Salinity can be determined by measuring the electrical conductivity of the solution (in deciSiemens per metre, or dS/m). All laundry detergents are highly saline, and frequent long-term use would likely harm your garden, unless it was spread over a large area.

  • Sodium The sodium in the salts harms not only plants, but soils as well. It effects the soil’s permeability and causes a loss of structural stability. Manufacturers could use potassium salts instead of sodium, but they're slightly more expensive.

  • pH Laundry detergents are highly alkaline (that is, have a high pH) to help dissolve organic dirt, such as grease, oils and food scraps. Most biological systems prefer a pH between 6 and 9, and grey water with a high pH is likely to harm many plants and soil organisms.

  • Total alkalinity Laundry detergents contain chemical "buffers" to help prevent pH changes in the water/detergent solution, thereby maintaining optimal pH level. A measure of total alkalinity tells us that many are very highly buffered, so would require enormous amounts of acid to counter the alkalinity. If you put this water onto soil, the pH of the soil would be more likely to change than that of the grey water.

  • Sulphur and boron Sulphur and boron are important plant nutrients, though they also can be a problem if there’s too much of them. The small amounts of sulphur in laundry water shouldn’t cause any problems unless the soil is prone to waterlogging for long periods. None of the detergents had levels to cause concern.

  • Accumulated chemical load If you collect the wash and rinse water before using it, the contaminants in the wash water will be diluted. However, the criteria we used in our chemical testing considered the total load of problem chemicals that will accumulate in your garden over time, not just their concentration when you first put them on, so the recommended irrigation area (150 to 200 square metres) still applies. Potential impacts on your garden are very dose-dependent — you could try reducing the amount of detergent you use, providing it still gets your clothes acceptably clean.

  • Problems There have been reports of grey water hoses acting as a siphon and pumping water from the washing machine while it’s still washing or rinsing — something to consider if your washing machine doesn’t seem to perform as well as usual.

About the claims

Some products are marketed as "green" detergents. Presumably we’re meant to think their impact on the environment is less than that of regular laundry products. In reality, all detergents, no matter what their formulation, affect the sewerage system and aquatic environment.

A laundry detergent is a complex product made up from numerous chemicals. To determine its full environmental impact, you’d need to assess the physical, biological and chemical effects of its formulation on the environment.

Biodegradability

This is the ability of chemicals to break down naturally in the environment. Manufacturers tend to make claims about biodegradability in reference to the Australian Standard. All laundry detergents must comply with this standard anyway, though it’s limited. It states that 80% of the surfactant must break down within 21 days. There’s no mention of the other 20%, or of chemicals produced during the breakdown process which could be toxic or non-biodegradable.

About grey water

What’s your soil?

If you don’t know what type of soil you have, this quick test will give you an idea. Take a handful of soil, add a little water and make it into a ball.

  • Loam soil will form a moist ball with an "earthy" smell. It’s usually brown, and holds and drains water well.
  • Clay soil forms a hard, smooth ball. Its fine, dense particles inhibit water movement, and when it dries it resists water. Its colour can range from white to red to dark brown.
  • Sandy soil is soft and crumbles easily — it probably won’t form a good ball. It’s light in colour, has little or no smell and is low in nutrients and organic matter.

Using greywater

  • Greywater can be treated and stored and used on the garden (or even in toilets or washing machines), or else it can be diverted to the garden with a plumbed-in diverter (with a switch so that if it’s raining, it goes into the sewer instead). Conditions may apply in the area where you live; contact your local council for advice on options available.
  • DIY options include attaching an extra-long flexible hose from the washing machine to the garden or using a bucket.
  • If it’s untreated, limit usage to water from the shower or bath, and the rinse water from the washing machine. Kitchen water contains fats and solids that might damage soil and plants.
  • Don’t store untreated greywater for more than 24 hours; if you can’t use it (because it’s raining, for example) don’t keep it.
  • If someone in your family is sick with gastro or flu or another contagious disease, stop using the greywater.
  • Don’t water herbs or vegetables.
  • Keep the greywater underground, or under mulch — this helps prevent evaporation, as well as keeps it away from kids and pets.

 Specifically for washing machine water

  • We tested only the wash water for chemicals that could harm your garden. What comes out of your machine may also include dirt and bacteria and viruses from the dirty clothes.
  • If you collect the wash and rinse water before dispersing it, the contaminants will be diluted and you can spread them further. However, the criteria we used considered the total load of problem chemicals that will accumulate in your garden over time, not just their concentration when you first put them on, so the recommended irrigation area still applies.
  • Potential impacts are very much dose-dependent — you could try reducing the amount of detergent you use, providing it still gets your clothes acceptably clean.
  • The larger the irrigation area, the more you’ll spread the chemical load. Don’t water pot plants. Washing machines account for almost a quarter of household wastewater or — depending on your machine — about 60-180L per wash. We tested the wash and rinse water for chemicals that could harm your garden. What comes out of a washing machine will also include dirt, and perhaps bacteria and viruses from the dirty clothes. These are all good reasons for not storing untreated water. 
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