Need to know
- Auto-dosing detergent systems are a mess-free, convenient alternative to conventional washing machines
- We found that the proprietary detergent cost more, and performed no better, then the detergent we bought from a supermarket
- Some auto-dosing systems can take a month’s worth of third-party detergents, giving you the freedom to choose your own detergent and the convenience of auto-dosing
So, you've got your fancy new washing machine set up in your laundry and you've noticed an extra door, drawer or compartment that was absent on the old clunker it replaced – chances are that's the automatic detergent dosing system, a feature that increasing numbers of manufacturers are offering on their high-end appliances.
But what exactly is an automatic detergent dosing system, and more importantly, will it improve your washing experience?
An auto-dosing washing machine contains an internal detergent reservoir filled with liquid detergent.
The machine automatically draws a precise measure of detergent for each wash cycle (either a pre-set amount or calculated by the machine), which in theory means better wash performance, and in practice means you can generally go for about a month or so between topping up your detergent, and messy spills and waste are a thing of the past.
Generally, the reservoir is a recyclable detergent cartridge, but may also be an onboard tank.
Can you choose your own detergent?
Manufacturers sell preloaded cartridges which you can slot straight into your machine, with detergent they claim has been specifically designed for your washing machine for superior washing performance.
As you can imagine, these detergents are usually fairly expensive compared to the normal stuff you get from the supermarket, but if you like the idea of automatic dosing without the price premium, there's usually an option to fill the reservoir with the third-party (liquid) detergent of your choice, giving you the best of both worlds – convenience, and cost-effectiveness.
You can also dose your detergent manually, just as you would with a conventional washer, but if you're going to do that then perhaps it's not worth paying a premium for an auto-dose equipped machine in the first place.
We wanted to see how an automatic dosing detergent stacks up against a leading commercial detergent, in terms of cleaning performance and cost per wash.
Our theory was that cost per wash would be higher with the proprietary detergent, but that would be offset by better performance.
So we conducted a basic comparison in our lab.
There are a number of different auto-dosing systems on the market, and each will have different performance results and cost, but for our test we compared Miele Ultra with one of Australia's leading premium detergents using the same TwinDos-equipped Miele front loader.
One of the first movers in the automatic dosing space, Miele's TwinDos automatic dispensing system is unique in that it has not one but two cartridges, each with a different liquid inside. The first is an enzyme-based detergent, the second is an oxygenated bleach.
There's two advantages to this two-cartridge system:
- Keeping components separate can help them last longer (the same reason there are different layers in your dishwasher tablets – it's to keep bleach and enzymes separate)
- It gives you more control over your laundry. If you're dealing with particularly nasty stains or doing a load of business shirts you can dial up the bleach to get your whites their whitest again, or dial it down if you don't need it.
We compared an automatic dosing detergent with a leading commercial detergent.
Here's what we found in our experiment.
1. Manufacturers recommend using more detergent than you probably need
The recommended dose for both detergents is much higher than we expected.
To give both of them the best possible chance we opted to use the manufacturer's recommended dose for a full capacity laundry load, which was actually very similar for both: 80 grams of third-party detergent powder vs 82ml of Miele Ultra (46ml of phase one and 36ml of phase two).
That's a lot of detergent, and from years of testing in the laundry we've found you can get a great wash from as little as a third that amount.
A feature designed to improve convenience has the potential to be very inconvenient indeed
Interestingly, a drawback of the auto-dosing system is that unlike conventional detergent, where to reduce the dose you just put in less, you have to navigate through an at times complex series of menus to change the settings. In this regard, a feature designed to improve convenience has the potential to be very inconvenient indeed.
2. Third-party detergent is cheaper than Miele detergent
Of course, you can (and dare we say should) use significantly less of either detergent if you want to, but assuming you follow the directions to the letter, what's the comparative cost per wash?
- Third-party detergent: 98 cents per wash
- Miele Ultra: $1.58 per wash
Detergents regularly go on sale in the supermarket, and picking up this same third-party powder at 50% off would bring the cost down to 49 cents per wash – not too shabby. We used a relatively expensive detergent too – there are much cheaper ones available.
As for the auto-dosing detergent, other auto-dose washing machine manufacturers also sell their own proprietary detergents, at a variety of price points, so depending on the system you choose your cost per wash will be different.
You can assume Miele Ultra, as a two-part system and from such a high-end brand, will be among the more expensive options, but realistically you're not using an auto-dosing system to cut costs.
3. Paying more for the Miele Ultra doesn't mean cleaner clothes
We expected that proprietary auto-dosing detergents would cost more than the regular stuff you buy at the supermarket, but that's ok, because it's going to get your clothes cleaner, right? Wrong.
Despite the large price difference between the two detergents in our test, we found performance was actually very close.
In fact, the third-party powder ever so slightly outperformed the Miele product.
We've only looked at one system in a very simple test however, so it's possible other systems will perform differently.
The proprietary detergent we tested in our admittedly limited experiment costs more than a conventional detergent, so the system's not going to save any money, nor will the extra expense get your clothes any cleaner. (While we can't say for certain how systems from other manufacturers stack up we're pretty sure they'll perform very similarly.)
But because automatic dosing systems can often be used with your own third-party liquid detergent, you can get the best of both worlds – the cost-effectiveness of leading detergents, with the convenience of letting the appliance dose it for you.
Auto-dosing washing machines have great potential to help the elderly or people with disabilities
For most of us this brings a new level of convenience to our laundry, but it also has great potential to help the elderly or people with disabilities who may have trouble getting detergent into the washing machine.
Parkinson's Disease, arthritis and even cataracts are just a few of the afflictions that can make it really hard to manipulate that little scoop of detergent.
If you've got a system where you can take the reservoir over to the sink where spills aren't an issue and refill it once a month, or have a friend, relative or caregiver that can top it up for you when they call in, you can remain largely self-sufficient in the laundry despite physical challenges.