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Choosing a Laundry Detergent

Submitted by Lorene Bartos, UNL Extension Educator

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Laundry is something every household deals with weekly, if not daily. Selecting a detergent can be quite a decision.

With so many choices on the market, how do you know which laundry detergent is best? The best choice is the one that suits the family’s needs in terms of effectiveness on specific soils, personal preference for fragrance, form (i.e. powder or liquid) and price.

General purpose laundry detergents are available in liquid or powdered form. Liquid detergents are very effective on greasy, oily stains and are convenient for pretreating stains. Most come with measuring caps and many offer refill sizes. Powdered detergents may be more economical to use. Because they are effective for lifting out clay, mud and ground-in dirt, powders are an ideal choice for children’s play clothes.

Although both liquids and powders are suitable for cold water, low water temperatures can inhibit powdered detergents’ ability to dissolve. To help them dissolve more completely, use a warm water wash with a cold water rinse. Add the detergent while the washer is filling; and continue to fill until the detergent is dissolved, then add the clothes.

Both liquids and powders are available in concentrated or ultra form. Although packaged in smaller sizes, they provide the same cleaning power as their larger unconcentrated counterparts. To determine the correct amount to use, follow the label instructions and use the companion measuring cap or scoop.

A combination detergent is one detergent that does two jobs. Examples include a detergent with built-in fabric softener, color-safe bleach or bleach alternative.

Other features, such as brighteners to help keep clothes white, enzymes to help remove protein soils, compatibility with all water temperatures and special formulations for infants’ laundry, enhance a detergent’s performance. Detergents are also available with or without fragrances and dyes.

Light duty detergents, available in liquid or powder form, are designed for hand or machine washing lightly soiled items, as well as for delicate fabrics. Many are also ideal for baby clothes.

Dishwashing liquids are formulated for washing dishes, but some can be used for hand washing delicate fabrics. Read label instructions to be sure. They should never be used in an automatic washer because they are high sudsing.

Families and students going off to college should try different kinds and choose the one that works best for their situation.


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(This resource appeared in the Lincoln Journal Star Newspaper Sunday edition. For information on reproducing this article or using any photographs or graphics, read the Terms of Use statement)

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University of Nebraska-Lincoln in Lancaster County
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