Updated September 2021
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Buying guide for best liquid laundry detergents

Washing laundry is one of the easier household chores once you master the basics, like reading care labels, separating lights and darks, and washing delicates in cold water. Perhaps the most critical element of this chore is finding the right liquid laundry detergent.

A staple in many laundry rooms, liquid laundry detergent is similar in texture and consistency to liquid dish soap. It usually comes in a container with a spout for easy pouring and a lid that doubles as a measuring cup. Liquid laundry detergent works particularly well on stains involving food, oil, and grease, but you can also use it as a pre-wash treatment for any type of stain. It’s the best option for cold washes because it can fully dissolve in cool water.

With so many liquid detergents to choose from, finding the best option for your wash can be as tough as a baked-in tomato stain. We’re here to help. This buying guide presents the facts needed to get the right liquid laundry detergent for your next load.

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If you notice an odor coming from your front-loading washer, there may be detergent residue inside, which means you’re using too much. Reduce the amount you’re using to eradicate the smell.

Key considerations


There are several types of liquid laundry detergent. Here’s a look at your options.

Standard dual-use liquid laundry detergent is suitable for use in both agitator top-loading and front-loading washers.

High-efficiency (HE) liquid laundry detergent is designed for front-loading and HE top-loading washers, which don’t use as much water as agitator top-loading models.

Cold water liquid laundry detergent can help you save energy and money by allowing you to use cold water when you wash. This type of detergent features cleaning enzymes that work well in low temperatures.

Eco-friendly or “green” liquid laundry detergent is formulated to minimize environmental damage. These formulas contain more natural ingredients and fewer chemicals, though the cleaning power may be compromised by the eco-friendly ingredients.


If anyone in your family has allergies or skin sensitivity issues like eczema or even acne, pay attention to the liquid laundry detergent formula you choose. “Hypoallergenic” formulas free of dye and fragrance are often more suitable for sensitive skin.

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Did you know?
A benefit of liquid detergent is that it’s easy to adjust the amount you use based on the size of your load. Laundry pods aren’t adjustable in this way.


Stain severity

What kinds of stains do you tackle in the laundry room? If your items are lightly soiled, a basic formula can handle the job. If you have kids who play sports or galavant outside in the mud, you’ll likely want a heavy-duty formula with enzymes like protease or lipase. These enzymes help break down stains from grass, mud, food, and bodily fluids.


Liquid laundry detergent comes in various quantities. Most brands make it clear on the package how many loads you can do with a single bottle. Some can handle as few as 12 loads, while others can handle up to 100 loads.

In general, the larger the container, the better the value. Plus, if you buy in bulk, you won’t need to run to the store for detergent any time soon. However, larger bottles of detergent take up space, and it can be challenging to pour from a huge, heavy bottle.

If you’re trying a new liquid laundry detergent, you may prefer to start with a small container. That way, you won’t have wasted much money if you discover it doesn’t work for you.

Temperature versatility

Most people appreciate having a laundry detergent that works in multiple water temperatures. After all, some laundry items need hot water while others require cold water. If you appreciate this versatility, look for a corresponding formula.

Note: even if you choose a liquid laundry detergent that works with all temperatures, you might decide to also keep a bottle of cold water detergent on hand for special garments.

Fabric softener

Some liquid laundry detergents have added fabric softener to prevent static, impart a fresh scent, and generally keep your fabrics soft. If you usually use a separate fabric softener, choosing a detergent that contains it can save you a step in your laundry routine.


If your typical laundry load contains bright colors, consider opting for a liquid detergent with brightening agents, which help colors look bold and bright without using any type of dye. Note, however, that there is a drawback to detergents containing brightening agents. The agents don’t wash off the clothing and can irritate sensitive skin.


If you or anyone in your family works out regularly or plays sports, your laundry can smell pretty funky. Some liquid detergents are formulated to fight odors, so they don’t linger on clothing. Many of these formulas contain baking soda, a known odor absorber. Others use beta-cyclodextrin or metal oxides to grab odor and destroy it.


Scented detergent can help your items smell fresh. However, if you or anyone else in your family has sensitive skin, artificial fragrance may irritate the skin. In that case, opt for a scent-free or unscented detergent that is less likely to trigger allergies.

"For handmade clothing, natural liquid detergent is best. It contains fewer chemicals and is less likely to damage stitchwork."


Laundry stain remover: Puracy Natural Laundry Stain Remover
Even with a high-quality laundry detergent, you may need a stain remover to tackle especially stubborn stains. We love this one from Puracy because it’s plant-based, removes stains and odors, and isn’t tested on animals.

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Did you know?
For an eco-friendly laundry detergent to earn the USDA Organic seal, it must contain a minimum of 95% organic ingredients.

Liquid laundry detergent prices

Inexpensive: Most inexpensive liquid laundry detergents are standard dual-use formulas. Some cost as little as $4 to $8. You can also find small containers of specialty formulas, such as HE and sensitive skin detergents, in this price range.

Mid-range: In the middle price range of $9 to $23, you can find large containers of standard dual-use formula and mid-size containers of specialty formulas like HE or sensitive skin detergent. You can also find detergents with add-ins like optical brighteners in this price range.

Expensive: The priciest liquid laundry detergent products, which cost between $23 and $50, are typically specialty formulas in larger containers. This includes formulas for HE washers, people with sensitive skin, and consumers who seek eco-friendly options. You will find some bulk containers of standard formula in this price range, too.


  • Follow usage guidelines to determine how much detergent to pour. If you use too much detergent, you could end up with suds that don’t rinse away. Liquid detergent usually has a measuring cup incorporated into the lid.
  • Know where and when to add the detergent. Front-loading and HE washers have a dispenser drawer for detergent. If you have a top-loading washer, however, you may need to add the detergent to the machine before you put the laundry in.
  • Use liquid detergent to pre-treat stubborn stains. Dab or pour a small amount onto the stain and let it sit for several minutes. Rub the detergent in gently. Then, add the item to the washer.
  • Avoid overloading your washing machine. A load that’s too large won’t allow the clothes to spin freely. As a result, the detergent won’t fully clean them, and your items will come out wrinkled.
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Use fragrance-free liquid laundry detergent for newborn and infant blankets and clothing to avoid irritating baby’s delicate skin.


Q. How much liquid laundry detergent should I use per load?
It depends on the size of the load, how dirty the laundry is, and how hard your water is. Small loads require less detergent, but heavily soiled items may need more detergent. If you live in an area with hard water, you’ll also need to use more detergent. Read the guidelines on the packaging for best results.

Q. What sort of ingredients are in natural, eco-friendly liquid detergent?A. Liquid laundry detergents that boast eco-friendly, natural formulas typically contain sodium carbonate peroxide, which can fight stains, brighten clothing, and bleach whites. Some formulas also contain sodium citrate and sodium silicate to boost their cleaning power.

Q. What should I look for in a laundry detergent for athletic wear?
Athletes may come home with dirt and grass stains on their clothing, so it’s best to choose a formula with enzymes that can tackle those tough stains. We recommend you also select a liquid detergent that contains odor-fighting ingredients.

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