According to the American Cleaning Institute, laundry detergents were manufactured in the United States in the 1930s, but did not enjoy widespread use until after World War II. A more detailed look at ACI’s history of detergents can be found here.

In today’s energy-conscious world, consumers expect these products to clean, brighten and remove stains. Consumer Reports rated nearly two dozen widely available varieties in its independent laboratories. They used warm water in high-efficiency (HE) machines, with heavily soiled cotton fabric swatches. The swatches were stained with blood, chocolate, grass and other common substances.

Most of the detergents tested were liquid. Only Gain, Seventh Generation, Legacy of Clean and Sears brands were powder. Here are some selected comparisons from that report.

Target and Costco Laundry Detergents

Target’s Up & Up brand and Costco’s Kirkland Signature brand both offer liquid laundry soaps that rated in the top six for performance. They both sell for reasonable prices of 13 and 12 cents per load, respectively.

Costco Kirkland Signature Environmentally Friendly Ultra 2X HE rated just a bit higher than its shelf-mate Free & Clear Ultra 2X HE, with the latter finishing tenth on the scale. Those concerned about the environment may be interested to know that the Kirkland Ultra 2X is mostly plant-based and cleaned “best among detergents with green claims”.

Tide, All and Gain Detergents

Among these three major non-store brands, there were not any major price differences. All three have excellent detergents priced from 6-24 cents a load, and Gain Original Fresh was lowest-priced at six cents per load. Tide 2X Ultra with Color Clean Bleach Alternative was the most expensive at 24 cents, but it also received the highest performance ratings.

All’s 2X with Oxy Active rated third overall in performance and had a price of 15 cents per load. By the same manufacturer, All 2X Ultra Free Clear and 3X Concentrated Small & Mighty Fresh Rain did not fare as well as the Oxy Active.

Performance Plus Economy Equals Perfect Laundry

Overall, Gain Original Fresh high-efficiency detergent is recommended for its economic combination of performance and cost. The two Tide varieties mentioned above are also excellent. Avoid Oxydol 2X Concentrated Fresh & Clean, Blokleen Cold-Water 3X, Ecos 2X Ultra Magnolia and Lily, and Martha Stewart Clean Laundry Detergent.

Today’s supermarkets are well-stocked with efficient detergents that keep our clothing, linens and other fabric items clean and fresh. By doing a little homework we can save some money and increase the quality of our weekly wash. .