We took 74 laundry detergent formulas — 49 liquids, 19 powders, and six single-use tabs — for a spin to see how well they removed 20 common stains (oil, coffee, mascara...) from polyester and cotton. Surprise: Powders packed the most power. Unless noted, package size for powders is 48 to 56 ounces; for liquids, 50 to 64 ounces. Cost per load is based on our large, heavily soiled test load.
The Test's Best
Introducing our stain-busters:
A very close second: Gain Dazzle & Shine With Bleach Alternative ($7; 49 cents per load*).
The Test's Best (Liquid)
Prefer to pour? The liquid versions of the top powders, Tide Plus Bleach Alternative ($8, amazon.com; 41 cents per load*) and Tide With Acti-Lift ($8, amazon.com; 43 cents per load*), proved best in their class, too.
Also superb: 2X Ultra Era ($5, amazon.com; 24 cents per load*).
Fragrance-free Ecover Laundry Powder Zero ($11.84, amazon.com; $1.52 per load*) scored up there with the top powders.
One quibble: It lacks a scooper.
Plant-Based Pick (Liquid)
Essential oil-scented Caldrea ($16, amazon.com; 63 cents per load*) erased many stains as well as the best liquids did, leaving behind some wine and tea in hot water and blood, mud, and grass in cold.
Best in Cold
Ultra Tide Coldwater powder ($8; 52 cents per load*) removed more stains in cold water than other detergents got out in hot--great news for delicate fabrics and for your water-heating bill.
Best in Cold (Liquid)
As for liquids, the test-winning Tides cleaned best in cold, and Gain Original($7, amazon.com; 29 cents per load*) did nearly as well — all three scored higher than liquids specifically formulated for cold-water washing.
Target's Up & Up 2X HE liquid ($8.38 for 150 ounces), just 11 cents per load,* zapped most stains but came up short of our top performers on mascara in the hot-water wash and wine in cold.
Best Value (Powder)
Walmart's Great Value Powder ($11.47 for 156 ounces), also 11 cents per load,* rated among the best powders, but missed some ketchup and mascara in hot water and oil, crayon, and grape juice in cold water.
Neater to use, lighter to tote and store. But do they work?
Yes! And the convenience won't cost much more than comparable liquids.
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