Four Factors to Consider When Choosing a General-Use Laundry Detergent

A high-quality cleanser will contain a potent blend of surfactants and enzymes, our experts explain.

When shopping for a laundry detergent, most of us will consider the cost and fragrance, but not everyone scans the ingredient list. When it comes to a cleaning product that we have such close contact with, though, the ingredients—which might trigger skin sensitivities or have a less-than-desirable environmental impact—really do matter. Here's what to look for in an effective, potent, but safe everyday formula, according to our experts.

laundry detergent in mason jar
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Surfactants and Enzymes

According to Jennifer Ahoni, the Scientific Communications Manager at P&G Fabric Care, as little as 30 percent of the "dirt" in your laundry is visible. While you may be able to see things like food, grime, and grass stains, an alarming 70 percent of the particulate that actually needs to be cleaned away is invisible to the naked eye. And if your laundry detergent isn't up to the job, it may not be getting rid of things like sweat or body oil. Over time, those materials can build up and cause odors, dinginess, and dullness in fabrics. To achieve a "high quality, deeper clean," advises Ahoni, "choose a product that contains multiple surfactants (nonionic and anionic) as well as enzymes." Examples of specific laundry enzymes include protease (also known as subtilisin), amylase, mannanase, and pectate lyase, she adds—these ingredients should leave you feeling confident about the cleanliness of your laundry post-wash.

Skin Sensitivities

If you or someone in your home suffers from sensitive skin, your laundry routine may require some extra consideration. "People with sensitive skin should take extra care of their clothes and other items, like sheets and towels, that they come in regular contact with," Ahoni notes. For many, that includes using a detergent free of dyes and perfumes. "Typically, if you have eczema-prone, sensitive, or reactive skin in general, you should be looking for laundry detergent that runs on the free and clear spectrum; these are most commonly free of dyes, sulfates, and fragrance," notes Lindsey Boyd, the co-founder of The Laundress.


If you're searching for a formula that will get your fabrics fresh, but is gentle on both your skin and the environment, Gwen Whiting, the other co-founder of The Laundress, says to choose a plant-based option with enzymes close to the front of the ingredients list. "Look for things like protease, amylase, cellulase, and lipase on the label," she explains. Also, consider its concentration: Highly-concentrated detergents require less product, which is better on your garments, wallet, and the earth.

Machines Matter

In addition to getting your clothes clean, your detergent should be safe for your specific washing machine. Check the label to see if your formula is HE safe (should you have a HE machine!) and if there are any special requirements. After all, you don't want to buy a detergent that needs to be run with a hot water cycle if your appliance doesn't offer that feature.

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