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28 June 2022

Worse than water – the laundry detergents you should avoid, plus the best buys

Our testing found higher price doesn't always equal higher performance.

We put laundry detergents to the test and found that some perform no better than water. Essentials Laundry Liquid (2L), Value Laundry Detergent (2L) and Re-stor Concentrated Laundry Detergent Sheets Tropical Breeze (60 sheets) all performed poorly. They rated lower than a wash with only water, landing themselves firmly on the ‘do not buy’ list.

Despite being the worst performer, the Re-stor product was more expensive than the top laundry performer, costing $12.50 on average. By comparison, the highest-ranking product, Persil With a Touch of Comfort (1kg), cost on average $6.49.

Other top performers included Persil original powder (1kg), Dynamo Professional Oxi Plus (1.5L) and Ecostore Extra Clean Laundry Powder (1kg).

The detergents were graded on how well they removed everyday grime, collar and cuff marks, grass stains, olive oil and tomato residue.

“Not all laundry detergents are created equally, and our testing found there is a broad range in performance,” said Consumer product test team lead James Le Page. “Our top detergent scored 91% while our lowest scraped in with 26% performance.

“Laundry detergents can have persuasive marketing, with everything from ‘natural elements’ to being an ‘odour fighter’ or ‘plant powered’. Our advice is to look for independent results to find out how well a detergent performs.”

The independent laundry testing found there wasn’t necessarily a correlation between the price of a detergent and the quality of its performance.

Our laundry detergent testing is free to the public and conducted annually.

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Which laundry detergents can tackle the toughest stains?

Find the best laundry detergent for your needs with our buying guide and test results. 

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Which detergents are environmentally friendly?

There’s no completely environmentally friendly detergent. All place a burden on the planet, in the materials they release into our wastewater and in their manufacturing and packaging.

Some detergents have less environmental impact than others. This is because they recommend lower doses, and they leave out ingredients that don’t contribute to washing performance or those that may harm the environment. Ingredients commonly targeted are phosphates, enzymes and optical brighteners.

Some laundry detergents claim to be more environmentally friendly than others. Manufacturers can back their claims by applying for accreditation to an environmental labelling scheme. Environmental Choice is endorsed by the Government and run by the independent New Zealand Ecolabelling Trust. It’s a member of an international eco-labelling network.

Tips for dealing with a tricky wash

  • Increasing the dose above the recommended level will get really dirty clothes cleaner but it won’t make much difference in a normal load.
  • A warmer wash could help when something’s really grubby but check the garment’s care label first. Higher temperatures soften dirt and oily stains, making it easier for the mechanical action of the washing machine to remove them.
  • Cold washes are just fine for regular washing and they save on power bills.
  • Pre-soaking clothes can improve the results of a normal wash. This helps loosen dirt so it can be removed more easily. Check the care label first.
  • Wash your whites separately, because dye can transfer between clothes during the wash.
14jan washing machines washing basket

The top performers

We’ve tested the dirt removal, gentleness and efficiency of a wide range of washing machines. Use our database to find the model and price that’s right for you.

View the results

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