The laundry detergent face off

Does Cheap Laundry Detergent Work as Well as Expensive Brands?

TDS Reader Solutions

Cheap Laundry Detergent?

I am curious if anybody knows the difference (if there is one) between the cheap 5 gallon bucket of "WindFresh" laundry detergent you can buy at Sam's Club that does 200 loads, and a box of very expensive Tide (or any other name brand). I've used "WindFresh" (used to be called Family Tree) forever. It's only about $9, but recently I've been wondering if perhaps the claims Tide makes regarding keeping clothes looking newer, fresher, etc. are true?

I Went Back to Tide

I don't work for Tide but I should own stock in the company for as much as I use. A very long time ago I used to buy whatever detergent was on sale or what I had coupons for. I had never used Tide before and one week that is what I ended up with. After doing some loads of laundry, I noticed that Tide took out stains that the other leading detergents did not. Since that day, I have used nothing but Tide. I think it makes clothes 'look newer' longer. I have an 11 y/o daughter and a 4 y/o daughter. My 4 y/o is now wearing some of the clothes my 11 y/o wore when she was her age. I use the regular scent liquid which also makes your clothes smell wonderful!! If you have Eckerd's nearby, watch their ads. This week they have it on sale and they put it on sale often. Also watch the Sunday suplement for those Tide coupons. Of course, this is just one user's opinion, mine. Give Tide a try for a month or so and see what you think.

More: Are Cheaper Laundry Detergents Really a Bargain?

It's Not the Detergent

Laundry detergent doesn't clean the clothes. It breaks down the surface tension in the water so that it can dissolve water soluble dirt more easily. The actual cleaning is done by the agitator and the clothes rubbing against each other. In fact, the more detergent you use the faster your clothes wear out and fade.

So regardless of what brand of laundry detergent you use, don't follow the manufacturer's recommended detergent amounts. Instead make sure you are loading your washer correctly (too many clothes hinders agitation, clothes don't get as clean, too few clothes allow the clothes to stay away from each other so they don't get as clean either), and experiment to see how little detergent you can use and still get the level of cleanness and fresh smell you want.

Also, hot water is not ever needed to wash clothes. Most clothes (except for heavily soiled ones) can be cleaned very well with cold water. Heavily soiled clothes can be cleaned with warm water.

If you use the above tips, not only will you save money on detergent, but your washer will last longer, clothes will last longer and your utility bills will be smaller.

Cheap Detergent for Whites Only

This is in reply to Tam's question about cheap laundry detergent: I learned the hard way that some of those super cheap detergents do, in fact, ruin clothing. I washed several items of brightly-colored clothes in some ultra cheap detergent and in fewer than 3 washings I realized with horror that they had faded to the point of looking almost too old to wear.

My solution now is to use the super-cheap detergents for whites (especially diapers!) where fading is not an issue. For my bright colors, I buy Gain with Bleach (very highly rated by Consumer Reports, and much cheaper than Tide) which does not fade the clothes.

Use Tide, But Less of It

I have found that Tide does clean stained clothes better. In order to compensate for the price difference, I have begun using only 1/4 to 1/2 of the recommended amount of detergent (thanks to some suggestions I read here!). In my opinion, even this diluted amount cleans better than the Family Tree brand at Sam's.

Avoid White Fabrics and Use Cheap Detergent

I suspect you have fallen prey to the Whiter Than White, Cleaner Than Clean advertising campaign of the major detergent manufacturers. You asked if Tide gets clothes cleaner? Well, try it and see! Perhaps it will get your clothes a tad whiter. Do you care? If it costs you *twice* as much? I no longer buy white sheets, towels, socks, etc., and now I don't care about dingy whites or yellowing towels!

Just think, you bought those white socks for about $3 per pair? And you will ultimately pay about $18 in brand-name detergent keeping them clean. Does this make sense? In our house, we buy non-white socks. Socks only last three to six months. Definitely not worth spending excess bucks on. When those socks go gray, turn them into puppets, car waxers, dust mitts, whatever! You already got your money's worth out of them, and are just wasting money now trying to get them re-white!

The same goes for sheets, towels, etc. If you can't get over the marketing mumbo-jumbo, keep a box of name brand detergent on hand for your 'good' stuff, and a jumbo box of cheapo detergent for your 'other' stuff.

Frugal Living Tip: Make Your Own Homemade Laundry Detergent

Switched to WindFresh

Sorry Tide, but WindFresh is doing your job in my house from here on out. I admit I was skeptical, I have been a die hard Tide user since I realized that the rash my family kept getting was from the "cheaper" detergents I had been trying, but recently I purchased a bucket of WindFresh after using a trial sample - given to me at Sam's - I am impressed with the value, and the only differences I can tell are that WindFresh smells fresher and cleaner than Tide, and it seems to get the stains out quicker and easier than Tide. My only complaint, my shelves don't hold the WindFresh bucket, so I am recycling the empty Tide box!
David H.

There's a Difference. Use Both

I bought several buckets of the inexpensive detergent on sale a few years ago. I'm pretty fussy about my laundry and after awhile it started looking grayer and just generally not as nice as it had before. I use the bargain detergent on dark clothes, where you won't notice any graying, and reserve the name brand (maybe even with-bleach detergent) for lights and whites. I also have a formula in my head when I look for good prices. I buy when the cost for detergent is 10 cents or less per load.
Katie in Salt Lake City, Utah

Find Savings: Get Free Samples and Coupons From the Brands You Love

Cost of Detergent Vs. Cost of Clothes

I have purchased both Tide and the Costco bucket laundry detergents. I have found that Tide does get out more stains and odors than the big bucket soap. However, I still don't buy it very often, if at all. Tide costs double what I pay for the Costco brand. I figure if I am buying all of my clothes very inexpensively at yard sales or receiving hand-me-downs, it is not cost effective to spend so much more on the soap. It makes more sense for me to replace the items. This might change if I were spending more on my clothes or did not have a way to acquire more inexpensive clothing so easily. (P.S. I was at Sears yesterday. They have a large bucket of laundry soap that was quite a bit cheaper even than the Costco bucket. I haven't tried it yet, but you might look into it.)
Theresa in Tucson

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Add Baking Soda

Try a 50/50 mix of (expensive) soap and baking soda. Makes it go further!
Ruth S.

She Asked the Customers

Regarding the WindFresh laundry detergent at Sam's. I work at Sam's in Wichita, Kansas and I can tell you we sell A LOT of that stuff. I mean I see 5 or 6 in my line alone and I only work 3 hrs/day. I finally asked several members what they thought of it and boy did I get excellent reviews! Every one of the people I've asked said they used to buy Tide or Era or some other premium stuff and switched. Said their whites have never looked better. Since I just switched to cloth diapers and have more laundry (also, we're on one income) I switched. Believe me it works great. I was raised on Tide and have never used anything else except on my newborn's clothes. This detergent is definitely worth the money!!
Lisa H. in Wichita, Kansas

Try Crystal Wash. 1000 loads of laundry - no detergents, no dyes, no chemicals, no perfumes.

Hard Water Affects Detergent

Aside from the addition of proprietary perfumes, powdered bleach, etc., I've found most national brands of detergents work pretty much the same. For some reason, though, store brands vary a lot in quality. The Ultra II which I buy at the local Safeway is great, but the Brand X detergent I get at the local-yokel grocery is terrible.

The other thing you have to watch for, especially in the American Southwest and Intermountain States, is hard water. It doesn't wash as effectively, and the dissolved minerals in the water end up in your clothes, leaving them drab and dingy. You can fix this problem inexpensively by adding about a cup of regular white vinegar to your laundry load. It helps neutralize the water, and after a few loads you will definitely see the difference.

Save the Money!

Cheap is just as good! Actually I have been doing laundry with cheap detergent for about two years and I find little if any difference in performance. I also only use about half the recommended amount of soap for all but the most soiled garments and find this works just as well! Undergarments as wellas towels don't get all that dirty. Also if you use fabric softener sheets, use only half a sheet. It does the same job. If you have jeans, etc. with stained knees or any thing that has oil-based stains, try pouring a little straight ammonia on the spot. Be careful not to inhale and ventilate the area. You will be amazed at what a great job it does.

Reviewed January 2018

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