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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Home Laundry Detergent - Powder vs. Liquid

Powder or liquid?  Until I got my high efficiency (HE) front-load washing machine, I was a powder girl.  I’d put the detergent in the washing machine, fill it with water, and then place my clothes in.  A few years ago I got a front-load washing machine.  On the first load I put powder detergent in the dispenser, and when I went to start the second load I noticed that the powder had turned into a gloppy mess.  I tried putting the powder in with the clothes but it never completely dissolved; it left a funny residue on our clothes.  So now I am a liquid girl.

But which is better at cleaning?  I decided to do some research online and found a blog post on cleanorganizedfamily.com said:

• Liquid detergent is effective on food and greasy or oily stains
• Liquid detergent could double as a stain pre-treater
• Powder detergent is great for general wash loads
• Powder detergent is effective for lifting out every day stains and ground-in dirt

When I read that, I knew that some of it wasn’t correct.  Several months ago, I talked to Steve Plantone, Manager of our A Cleaner World in Hickory, about various types of stains.   Steve explained to me that oil-based stains are almost impossible to get out at home.  Grocery store pre-treaters and laundry detergents won’t break down oily stains; dry cleaning does break down oil-based stains lickity split.  I decided to call him again.  Steve said that I was correct, liquid home laundry detergents cannot break down oil-based stains, but it is good for breaking down tannin or water-based stains.  He wasn’t really lobbying for powder though.  Sometimes, he pointed out, some inexpensive powders have lots of fillers and don’t dissolve well, especially if you have a HE machine that uses little water.

Steve and I did some investigating.  We both called the Dry Cleaning & Laundry Institute (DLI).  They suggested I contact American Cleaning Institute.  In checking their Soaps and Detergent Book , American Cleaning Institute reports that “liquids work best on oily soils and for pretreating soils and stains. Powders are especially effective in lifting out clay and ground-in dirt.”  Steve, however, did get a bit more information from DLI than I did.  Jim Kirby, DLI’s Chief Analyst, told Steve that liquids and powders use the same basic chemistry to wet out fabric and suspend soils.  One is not really better than the other; they just use a little different parameters.

Steve had one more idea.  He suggested I talk to David Knight with Kreussler, Inc., a German Chemical Company that came to the US in the 1990’s bringing their technology to the US Dry Cleaning Industry.  David is an expert in both dry cleaning and professional wet cleaning processes.  “Both powder and liquid clean quite effectively,” David told me.  “There is really no measurable difference.”  I asked about the claim of liquid detergent being effective on food and greasy or oily stains.  He reaffirmed what I already knew --- that oil and grease readily dissolve in the dry cleaning process, not in water.

Having said all of that, I’d like to answer my question – which is better at cleaning?  It sounds like it’s a draw.  Just use what you like and what works best for you.  For more information about laundry detergent, check out our Helpful Hints section.


  1. Hi,

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