Laundry powders vs liquids review

Liquid or powder? CHOICE determines which detergents give you the best clean.
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04.What to look for

Liquids vs powders

  • Powders are still best for general soil and stain removal performance. However, our test is very rigorous as the soil swatches we use are equivalent to old, in-ground, stubborn stains. Washing performance will be better on fresher stains, which are what you mostly find in typical laundry.
  • Liquids have a lower impact on the environment, with most getting good ratings for recycling and greywater reuse. You should find many of the greener liquids further down the table will do a good job of freshening-up lightly soiled and coloured clothes. However, if you rewash or use a pre-wash or in-wash product for stain removal, you’re negating the liquid's low environmental impact. It’s best to stick to top performing powders for heavier soiling and whites, which will also help whites from going grey or yellow over time.
  • For high efficiency machines that use very little water, a suitable liquid detergent is the best way to avoid detergent insolubles being left on your clothes. In some cases, ½ to ¼ dose of a top performing powder detergent pre-dissolved in warm water can also do the trick. For best results look for a detergent with maximum of 3 stars for Total Suspended Solids in the table. For more on detergent residue see our washing machines article.
  • Cost per wash Although unit pricing (usually per 100g) is a great way to compare costs, it’s not accurate for laundry detergents because of the vastly different dose recommendations between brands, so use our cost-per-wash figures for a better comparison. Further, try using a fraction of the dose, as it will save you money and still clean your clothes while helping the environment. See detergent overdose for more.
  • Packet size Check the table for the number of washes per pack – the more you can get, the less package waste, so the better for the environment. Buying larger packs, or when on special, will usually be more cost effective, but transfer bulk purchases to an airtight container to maintain performance.
  • P or NP on packaging Phosphates, which contain phosphorus, help soften the water and keep extracted dirt in suspension. But high levels of phosphorus can lead to excessive growth of blue green algae in inland waterways. P means low phosphorus (<7.8 g/wash) and NP is for no phosphorus or less than 0.5%.
  • Enzymes target protein, starch or biological-based stains such as grass or blood. Different enzymes target different stains. Enzymes are known to cause irritation, so should be avoided by those with sensitive skin.
  • Optical brighteners coat the fabric with fluorescers that absorb ultraviolet light and re-emit it as blue light, making the clothes look whiter and brighter even though they don’t actually remove any dirt. Products with brighteners are best avoided by people with sensitive skin.

Cold water washing

A waxy film can build-up inside your machine from cold water washing – more so if you use a fabric softener. To clean your washing machine, regularly run a full wash program without clothes (or a cleaning cycle if your machine has one) with a good detergent and hot water. Alternatively do a warm or hot wash every few loads. For more information, see our washing machines article.


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