Find the best laundry detergent for your needs with our buying guide and test results.
We put laundry powders and liquids to work on 8 common stains including grass, blood, baby food and chocolate ice cream. You can refine the product list to view results for either front- or top-loading washing machines.
The stains need to be particularly tough to show up differences in detergent performance, so the scores shown are an indication of each detergent’s relative wash performance, not a measure of the amount of soil removed from the fabric. At home, you can expect detergents to remove more of each stain, especially if you get to them quickly.
We’re dedicated to getting NZ consumers a fairer deal. We provide as much information as we can for free but we rely primarily on membership and donations to fund our work. You can help by becoming a Consumer member or making a donation. We’ll use your contribution to investigate consumer issues and work for positive change.
If someone ingests a cleaning product:
Always keep laundry detergents, fabric softeners and stain removers out of reach of children and pets — ideally in a high or locked cupboard.
Surfactants lower the surface tension of water. This lets the water penetrate cloth more easily and so it helps remove oil and grease. Specialist front-loader detergents sometimes contain silicon compounds or special surfactants to reduce the amount of foam.
Enzymes target stains such as milk, grass and blood. Enzymes can cause irritation – so avoid them if you have sensitive skin.
Optical brighteners are supposed to make clothes look whiter and brighter. They help minimise greying of white fabrics but they don’t actually remove dirt. People with sensitive skin should avoid detergents with brighteners.
Builders help surfactants work better by softening hard water and raising alkalinity. They hold dirt in suspension so that it’s flushed away with the water and not re-deposited on your clothes.
Fillers stop washing powders clumping in the pack (so it makes them easy to pour).
Fragrance is for cosmetic reasons and to mask the smell of the ingredients. We don’t comment on fragrance as smell is subjective: what one person finds offensive may well be perfume to another.
Unfortunately, there’s no environmentally friendly detergent. All place a burden on the environment, in the materials they release into our wastewater and in their manufacture and packaging.
Some have less impact than others because they recommend lower doses and leave out ingredients that don’t contribute to washing performance or 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.
To meet the standards for a laundry detergent, a manufacturer must provide test reports and evidence that its product doesn’t contain ingredients that are harmful to the environment or unnecessary for removing dirt. As well, the test evidence must show that ingredients are readily biodegradable. Environmental Choice allows phosphates but limits the amount that can be used; and it places a limit on the pH of the detergent.
Products approved by Environmental Choice must also meet criteria for consumer information, packaging and cleaning performance.
Green Tick is a New Zealand company that audits manufacturers’ processes against independent standards for sustainability and quality management.
To achieve accreditation, the manufacturer is assessed by an independent auditor who reviews documentation, inspects the factory, and checks with government agencies that there are no health and safety or environmental issues. Some products in the manufacturer’s range are also randomly selected for assessment.
But there are health issues in collecting and recycling grey water (that’s the wastewater from the sink, bath, shower and washing machine but not from the toilet or bidet). If you’re diverting the grey water to a tank you should ask your local council whether you need a consent. You won’t need one if you’re simply collecting the water in containers to water the garden straightaway.
Chemicals are also an issue. The components of wash water most likely to cause problems are:
You can reduce the impact of chemicals by using only rinse water.
Don’t use any type of recycled grey water – wash or rinse – on acid-loving plants such as azaleas, rhododendrons, daphnes or camellias. And don’t use grey water on anything you may eat raw.