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Powder vs liquid detergent – which cleaned up in our tests?

Gel detergents

Once again, Which? tests have shown up the differences between liquid and gel detergents compared to powders. So is powder or liquid detergent the way to go if your main aim is to get your laundry clean?

We’ve just published our latest liquid and gel laundry detergent test results, which include big brands like Ariel, Bold, Fairy and Persil. Let’s just say that the gels and liquids didn’t perform too well against the best powders on test…

In fact, liquids from two major brands were so poor at stain removal that we’ve made them Don’t Buys. Bold’s 2in1 Bio Gel and Fairy’s Non Bio Gel are both so bad at getting rid of coloured stains such as blood, grass and mud, that we recommend you avoid them.

Are liquids and gels money down the drain?

Fear not, it’s not all bad news for liquids and gels. Although their stain removal power varies, as they don’t contain any bleach, these detergents are good at keeping colours bright. Better, in fact, than many of the powders we’ve tested.

So if you’re unlikely to get red wine, grease or blood stains on your clothes, and you like to keep colours from fading, you might not need the cleaning power of powder detergent.

Which detergent do you use?

Personally, I have both powder and gel detergents at home. My standard wash involves clothes I’ve exercised in, so these always need a good wash with powder. Ariel’s Biological powder with Actilift does the trick for me and there are no complaints from my partner.

When I run a delicate or hand-wash cycle in the washing machine, I’ll use the gel version of Actilift or Persil’s Small & Mighty bio liquid. And I can often find these detergents on special offer somewhere if I keep my eyes open.

Do you, like me, change between powder and liquid detergent for different types of laundry? Or do you stick with the same detergent whatever the condition of your clothes, bedding or towels?

What type of laundry detergent do you use?

Liquid or gel detergents (41%, 514 Votes)

Powder or tablet detergents (33%, 416 Votes)

Both powder and liquid detergents (27%, 337 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,274

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There are some speculative reports that claim we are becoming too clean as a nation which may account for the large increase in allergies. I recall as a child handling and eating things without washing my hands that would appall me today but I have developed more allergies since I have become more hygienic.

My question therefore is, are we becoming too clean for our own good and are our immune systems being compromised because of this?

It’s hard to tell, Beryl. I have been squeaky clean all my life and have no allergies or reactions to anything. I believe I developed a healthy immune system at a young age through normal exposure to risks. I have never taken any medicine apart from the very occasional aspirin and some cold sore ointment from time to time; perhaps that helps.

The problem is that we really don’t know, Beryl. There are so many factors that may be relevant. Air quality, ingestion of different chemicals in food (processed for example foods and residual pesticides and fungicides) have been suggested as possible factors. Changes in individual sensitivities and allergies might not be useful indicators. For example, I developed a severe problem with moulds in foods in the 90s, including blue cheeses, but that has disappeared. I never used to have a problem with dogs or cats but now do, though the problem is subsiding.

In my view we are not paying enough attention to synergistic effects. If exposure to either A or B causes a mild problem, exposure to both A and B may cause a more severe reaction.

Individuals can be very different and it is certainly worth experimenting systematically to explore what causes us problems. Staying with family or friends or going away on holiday provides a completely different environment which can be very helpful when exploring problems. I have never bought a scented candle or plug-in air freshener but I know to avoid them at all costs.

@beryl – In another Convo you have mentioned that you are eating peanut butter. That’s fine for most of us, but the number that suffer severe reactions, even anaphylactic shock, has grown over the years, just like the incidences of allergy. There is so much we don’t understand.

Yes Wavechange, I do sympathise with people who have nut allergy. Toblerone contains hazelnuts so I am guessing it is also out of bounds for allergy sufferers.

I have given up eating chocolate on a regular basis and as a self confessed chocoholic don’t really miss it anymore. I have to keep a close check on my weight with inherited auto-immune hypothyroidism, as I am sure you are aware it is a metabolic disorder so I have to keep a close check on my sugar consumption. Thankfully I don’t need to take any other medication for anything else and my GP is at a loss to understand why my hair should still be it’s natural colour and not yet completely grey!

There is continuing research into nut allergy and why it is on the increase, including trial feeding to infants and pregnant women, but as you say there is so much we still don’t understand about the amazing workings of the human body and probably never will get to know the whole picture.

John I hope you continue to enjoy good health so that everyone can carry on benefitting from your interesting narratives and chronicles for a long time to come.

Does anyone understand the difference between the colour care range of liquid detergent products compared to the standard liquid detergent range (e.g Persil small and mighty)? I understand that the difference between colour care powders and standard powders is the absence of bleaching agents, but as none of the liquid products contain bleaching agents, I don’t understand why a colour care range is required and what the difference in composition is?

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Good piece of information. This is the kind of thing that Which? should cover for its more geeky members whilst a simpler front article just confirms the difference.

Sarah – I have wondered exactly the same. Without knowing the composition of different products I am left wondering if there is a difference or if it is just marketing.

I am wondering if Fairy Fabric Conditioner has changed … the reason I ask is the clothes do not seem to have the same quality of freshness and, the clothes come out very creased….did wonder as I have tried to find out but hit a brick wall

If the stain occurs at home, I wet the garment, on the stain site with cold water and then apply a few drops of MAGNUM washing up liquid.! massage/squeeze a bit. Wash in the next wash as normal.. It doesn’t matter if it dries. I find this works well

Chewing gum picked up from Public Transport Is my problem . When u have no freezer!

It’s worth doing a little investigation before tackling stains. Washing-up liquid is fine for many stains but I’m not sure it’s the best approach for lily pollen for example. Here are some suggestions: https://www.cleanipedia.com/gb/laundry/how-to-remove-lily-stains

When I first had a problem with chewing gum on the carpet many years ago I decided that it would be best to get into the habit of leaving my outdoor shoes by the door. I have not had a problem since and carpets stay clean too.

I expect there are suggestions for removing chewing gum online, but not all advice is good advice. Best of luck, Rose.

Carolyn Goodwin says:
15 June 2019

I have been using liquids for my washing but have found powder is just as good and in addition better for the environment in that it’s less plastic waste and cheaper!

Jonathan Crocker says:
13 December 2020

Aerial powder is just crap. Even washing at 40 degrees it doesn’t touch stains. Their claims at removing at 30 is total rubbish. As for the advert, the whites are clearly new shirts. I thought watchdogs banned them from lying to us these days??