trust me i should know

The Best Laundry Detergents, According to an Obsessive Laundry Professional

Photo-Illustration: The Strategist; Photos: Retailers

As a mechanical-engineering major, I never expected to become a laundry expert. Right out of school I went to work as a construction consultant focusing on high-end build-outs; that’s when my dad, the managing director of luxury dry cleaner Jeeves NY, noticed that our clientele was similar and asked if I’d be interested in joining the family business. Four years later, I am a fourth-generation dry cleaner and a big laundry nerd. As part of our day-to-day operations, I present all things related to laundry, textile care, and stain removal on TikTok and Instagram, where I share industry secrets, laundry-care tips, and my favorite products @jeeves_ny.

Over the years, I’ve tried countless laundry detergents — and even gone so far as to submit many of the most well-known brands to rigorous testing. With the help of my trusty spectrometer, a device that measures color, I’ve tested more than 60 popular laundry detergents to assess how well they handle common stains. My usual process is to stain identical white cotton swatches with notoriously hard-to-clean substances like tomato sauce, lipstick, foundation, grass, and chili oil. Then I let them sit for 24 hours, because the longer a stain marinates, the more difficult it will be to get out. Finally, I wash the swatches in a normal cold-water cycle with the same control load of laundry, changing only the detergent. After every swatch has been washed and dried, I use the spectrometer to quantify any remaining stains and compare the results.

Based on this extensive testing, I’ve created a definitive ranking of laundry detergents based on how well they’ll clean your clothes. But stain removal is just one element of doing laundry — it’s also important to take the ingredients, price, and convenience of your detergent into account. Here, then, are the laundry detergents I’ve come to use most for keeping my and my clients’ clothing in tip-top shape. (And while I’ve focused on liquid laundry detergents here, note that it’s totally fine to buy any of the recommendations below in “pod” form, when available. In my experience, they often perform even better than liquid detergent, because they’re generally more concentrated and their compartmentalized design keeps different cleaning components like enzymes, optical brighteners, and surfactants separate right up until they’re used.)

The best overall laundry detergents, hands down

In my tests, Tide Hygienic Clean was the stain-removing victor by a very narrow margin, followed closely by German-made Persil. Both detergents are widely available and very effective, able to handle a wide range of stains with ease — including difficult food stains like berries and stubborn makeup stains like lipstick.

Both detergents perform similarly and are priced about the same, at approximately 14 cents per ounce. The one downside of Persil is that it has a strong aroma, which many people love but can be overwhelming to those with a sensitive nose. Both Tide Hygienic Clean and Persil come in a few different scents along with “free and clear” versions (more on those below). They’re both available in a pod format, too.

The best value detergent

When it comes to value, Kirkland — Costco’s house brand — cannot be beat in the laundry-detergent landscape. There are rumors within the industry that Kirkland is produced by the makers of Persil (not least because Costco is known for its white labeling of other brands), but I have not been able to verify those claims. Compared to Tide and Persil, Kirkland’s performance is a touch lower, but it still excels against the ever tricky foundation stain and a variety of food stains. Paired with a cost of less than 10 cents per ounce if you buy it at your local Costco warehouse, that makes it an ideal budget-conscious choice. It’s available in a “free and clear” version as well.

[Editors’ note: Though Kirkland Signature detergent is available online through various third-party sellers, you’ll need to buy it in person to get the absolute best price.]

The best plant-based detergent

For regular loads of laundry that don’t qualify as heavily soiled, I find myself using Seventh Generation’s “free and clear” detergent as my daily driver. While it doesn’t have the immense stain-removing power as Tide Hygienic Clean or Persil ProClean, it performs very well and is a USDA-Certified Biobased Product, with 97 percent of its ingredients derived from plants and other renewable agricultural materials. This gives me peace of mind when cleaning garments that are only mildly dirty, as I know my clothes will come out clean thanks to ecofriendly plant power.

The best vinegar-powered detergent

Cleantok” swears by the many uses of white vinegar in the wash. Indeed, vinegar is an excellent pretreatment for tannin stains like red wine, coffee, and grass, because its acidic properties help to neutralize stains like red wine and rust. It’s also great for softening fabric and deodorizing clothes. However, sometimes household vinegar isn’t powerful enough to get the job done, and that’s where 9 Elements is especially useful. Developed by Procter & Gamble, it’s a concentrated, vinegar-based formula that aims to lower the pH level of the wash water to neutralize stains. (It’s also a USDA-Certified Biobased Product, with 50 percent biobased ingredients.) In my testing I’ve found that this detergent performs better than plain white vinegar. It comes in two scents, eucalyptus and lemon. I’m partial to the eucalyptus; clothing comes out smelling great, with no vinegar scent whatsoever.

The best detergent for washing by hand

Soak is a versatile yet mild detergent that is wonderful for hand-washing delicates, sweaters, and anything else that might be damaged by the agitation of a washing machine. It’s also my recommended detergent for caring for knitwear at home. What’s special about Soak is that you don’t need to rinse a garment after washing it, which saves both time and water. It also doesn’t contain enzymes, which makes it ideal for cleaning tricky fibers that contain natural proteins, like wool, silk, and cashmere. (Most laundry detergents, including all of the ones listed above, contain enzymes, which work by breaking down large molecules into smaller ones. Enzymes are a key element in stain removal, but because they aren’t particularly “smart,” they’ll try to break down anything they can, including protein fibers — so I avoid using enzymatic detergents on any fabric containing those fibers.)

To use Soak, you fill a sink or bucket with warm water and mix in a teaspoon of detergent, gently agitate your garment with up and down motions, lightly roll it in a towel to remove excess water, and lay it flat to dry. Soak also comes in single-use packages that are great to have when traveling, and a wide variety of scents, including fig and pineapple (there’s a scentless option, too). My favorite is yuzu, a unique scent that doesn’t get enough love.

The best ‘free and clear’ detergent

Detergents that are designated as “free and clear” do not contain any perfumes or dyes, which can often be irritating for people with sensitive skin. Thankfully, Tide sells a “free and clear” version of its top-performing Tide Hygienic Clean, and I’ve found in my testing that it works just as well as the original version. It’s available in both liquid and pod formats.

The best detergent for people with sensitive skin or allergies

When it comes to avoiding skin and allergy irritation, going one step further than “free and clear” detergent and using a liquid laundry detergent that is designed to care for the most sensitive humans, a.k.a. babies, is your safest bet. Dreft uses a gentle plant-based formula (75 percent of its ingredients are plant-derived) without the aid of dye and fragrance to make it as hypoallergenic as possible. In my testing, I’ve found that Dreft performs extremely well while having very “mild” ingredients. There are two varieties available: Stage 1, which is formulated for newborns and is best for people with extremely sensitive skin, and Stage 2, which is still very gentle but contains one additional enzyme to help with stain removal.

The best ‘on-the-go’ detergent

In a market dominated by liquid detergents and detergent pods, Blueland’s futuristic detergent tablets deserve a shout-out. I have yet to find a more sustainably packaged and travel-friendly detergent. Each tablet is about the size of a very thick quarter and does a very solid job with stain removal — just throw a tablet in your washer before you load your clothing, then wash as normal. Blueland also ships its products in paper bags, which is leaps and bounds better than other brands’ plastic jugs.

The Strategist is designed to surface the most useful, expert recommendations for things to buy across the vast e-commerce landscape. Some of our latest conquests include the best acne treatments, rolling luggage, pillows for side sleepers, natural anxiety remedies, and bath towels. We update links when possible, but note that deals can expire and all prices are subject to change.

The Best Laundry Detergents, According to a Laundry Pro