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Liquid detergents don’t scrub up in our tests

Liquid capsule and powder laundry detergent

We’ve put laundry detergents through another spin in our latest lab tests. We found that liquids and gels can’t keep up with the all-round cleaning power of powder. So will you swap your liquid detergent for powder?

We’ve got a new, tougher Best Buy laundry detergent benchmark. To put this to the test we took all of the most popular liquids, gels and powders and threw them in our lab’s washing machines to see how they scrubbed up. Not every detergent came out smelling of roses.

None of the laundry liquids or gels could meet our new benchmark – this means that Ariel’s gel has been stripped of its Best Buy status.

Now, we wouldn’t want to blow this out of proportion, as its score (along with Aldi’s Almat liquid’s) isn’t much lower than the best powders. But our experts found that liquids just aren’t as good at cleaning coloured stains and they certainly won’t keep your whites as white.

Powder or liquid detergent?

I’ve always been a powder user (no, not that kind of ‘powder user’) but my mum’s been dabbling in the use of liquid capsules. Do I notice a difference in the cleanness of my clothes when I go back to visit? No – but then I don’t tend to get my garments covered in grass and blood stains. I’m just not that kind of guy.

And that’s the crux – since liquids and gels don’t contain bleach, they aren’t that great at banishing coloured stains, like grass, blood, red wine and fruit juice. They also struggled in our whiteness test, which measures how bright whites are after six washes.

Liquids aren’t a complete wash-out

The top liquids don’t have any trouble cleaning up food stains, grease or make-up. So your best shirt should be alright after a saucy date in Pizza Hut (as long as you stay off the red wine). They also won’t fade the colours in your football kit or evening dress.

Still, it looks like powder detergents are the way to go if you want to keep your tightie whities skid-mark free.

Do you use liquid or powder detergent to clean your threads? Will our latest test results make you pour the liquid down the drain? Oh, and you can see how your usual detergent shapes up in our laundry detergent reviews.

Hannykha says:
1 June 2011

my problem is my machine is old and rubbish so if I use powder it doesn’t dispense into the machine properly and leaves powder marks on my clothes…


Ah, the dreaded powder marks. My housemate’s clothes are always covered with them. I don’t seem to have the problem? I can see two possible reasons for this. I use liquid softener (which also makes it small nice) and I don’t pack all the clothes in as tight. I’ll see if we have any tips in the building on avoiding this.

5 June 2011

This is so true. For years I only used Powder detergent but the state of my dispenser tray (and the underneath of it) would be disgusting and I would spend more time cleaning the washing machine then if I did my clothes by hand!!
I use Bold Liquid tabs, they are great. You just put them in the machine before the clothes and thats it.They are a softener too.
My clothes come out lovely and clean. Sorry but I’m sticking to Bold Liquid Tabs guys

Liz Wood says:
12 June 2011

I use Persil tablets and crumble them into the dispenser drawer, which stops you getting white marks on your laundry.

TEECEY says:
14 August 2014

I think you will find it is the softener which makes the drawer and inside of your machine so disgusting. Stopped using softener about 3 years ago after reading online about damage to machine, not only dirty looking, but the damage the softeners do to the interior of the machines. Try white vinegar doesn’t leave a smell and I believe you can mix sodium bicarbonate with water, but since I stopped using softeners my machine doesn’t get all that dirty grungy look and feel.

evie says:
1 June 2011

I noticed a few weeks ago that white pillowcases were yellowing – I switched from powder to liquid last year, now switching back!


It will make no difference to me I’ll keep to sachets – My bed cloths are either blue or maroon or multi-coloured – as are my shirts .- the dreaded white marks were a clincher to change to liquid sachets. The sachet is quick cheap and effective and very easy to put the correct amount (1 sachet) into the washing machine. My few white shirts are covered in paint and similar permanent stains. I never did notice a yellowing or greying of the old bed sheets – except my dog’s bed pillows..

Sophie Gilbert says:
2 June 2011

I gave up on powder a long time ago because of the powder marks. I never packed my machine too much and I did use fabric softener, but I still got the marks. I even tried to rinse twice, to no avail. Putting my empty machine through a cycle with soda cristals in it to get rid of any residue didn’t work either. Maybe I was unlucky with the powders I used? Now with liquid detergents I don’t have a problem.

joan ballard says:
3 June 2011

I use a little powder ( what ever is on offer) and add a little M&S whites liquid. My whites are
perfect !.. The secret is NEVER to mix with coloured washing.