Test results: top-loader detergents
Compare how our 18 tested top-loader laundry detergents rated for removing everyday grime, grass stains, collar and cuff stains and more.
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We put 28 washing powders and liquids to work on 10 common stains including grass, blood, baby food and chocolate ice cream. What did we find?
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We put 28 washing powders and liquids to work on 10 common stains including grass, blood, baby food and chocolate ice cream. What did we find? Join Consumer and use our expert test results and recommendations to find the model that's right for you.
The swatches we use for measuring “everyday grime” are stained with nut oil, milk and a colour pigment. Other swatches test the detergents’ enzyme action on 9 common stains: collar and cuff grime, grass/mud, olive oil, tomato, make-up, chocolate ice cream, baby food, motor oil and blood.
We measured the recommended amount of detergent for a normally soiled load and used this to wash the test loads at a temperature of 20⁰C.
For this test, both the front and top loader were set on “normal” wash cycles – the type of wash cycle an average consumer is likely to choose to wash an everyday load. The front loader had a wash time of 43 minutes (and a total cycle of 73 minutes), while the top loader had a wash time of 13 minutes (and a total cycle time of 48 minutes).
After washing, we measured how much dirt was removed from each swatch. We did this with a spectrophotometer (which measures how much light reflects off the swatches). It’s more accurate than the human eye.
Each detergent was tested on 3 loads.
Phosphates have been disappearing from laundry detergents. All products in our test were low-phosphate or phosphate-free.
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.
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.
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 test using pre-stained fabric swatches. 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.
Overall, there’s a small improvement in dirt removal when using warm water but it depends on the type of stain you’re trying to remove. Some detergents perform better in cold water than warm with some stains. For example, blood stains tend to set in warmer water so you’re better off tackling these with a cold wash.
The Environmental Choice programme is endorsed by the government and run by the independent New Zealand Ecolabelling Trust. It's a member of an international eco-labelling network which sets standards for products that are environmentally preferable.
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 (alkalinity) 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.
Don’t use grey water on anything you may eat raw – such as lettuces.
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