Laundry detergents launched my consumer products obsession. I learned to read off soap boxes, and before I was ten, I was explaining the problem with phosphates and making detergent recommendations to my grandmother’s friends. Choosing a laundry detergent can be daunting. Hyped up cleaning claims are as old as advertising itself. Even the vintage boxes behind me in the photo make competing claims: "washes clothes whiter than new," "granulated for efficiency," "contains amazing new Solium!" Consumer Reports tests detergents by assessing their effectiveness against a variety of nasty stains. I decided to try that myself. I took three new T-shirts, and stained them with (L to R, T to B): blueberry jam, Pen Ink, chocolate, bloody mary, soy sauce, permanent marker, Coca-Cola, cranberry juice, ketchup, mayonnaise, red wine, chicken grease, pollen, mud, grass, and coffee. I let them stand overnight, and then washed them with three detergents: Tide HE, All Small & Mighty, and Seventh Generation. The results corroborated the Consumer Reports ranking of these detergents in the order I’ve listed them.
But here’s the deal: how often do you have clothes as filthy as this shirt? And even Tide didn’t remove all of the stains, but pre-treating the stains with the right stain remover did, regardless of the detergent. (I’ll report on that later this week.)
So how to choose? Here are my criteria:
Environmental-friendliness, cost and scent.
Seventh Generation products are gentler on the environment. They’re not as effective as petroleum-based cleaners, but the detergent is effective enough. It is expensive although often on sale at Drugstore.com. All Small & mighty offers a different environmentally-friendly advantage: it’s more concentrated (really, less diluted), so there’s less packaging, and less energy wasted in the transportation of the product from factory to you. And until January 31st, when you buy $49 worth of it (or other Unilever products) at Amazon.com, you can get a $20 rebate. That’s 320 loads of laundry for $29 – at 9¢/load, it’s as cheap or cheaper than Consumer Reports’ three best buys. As for the top-cleaning Tide? I’ll keep a jug around for when life gets really messy.