Thanks to new ingredients, many detergents have been reduced to a half or a third of their former volume (you'll see 2X or 3X on their packaging). And yet each downsized package promises to wash the same amount of clothes as the bulky old package it replaces.
Why the shrinkage?
Procter & Gamble is a major force behind the move. P&G, the largest detergent maker, is promoting the new sizes as a convenience for consumers: A 50-ounce, 32-load bottle of the new 2X Tide weighs less than 4 pounds, while its unconcentrated 100-ounce, 32-load predecessor tips the scales at more than 7 pounds, according to the manufacturer.
P&G is also touting the environmental benefits of its new detergents. The concentrated products require less plastic for bottles, less corrugated cardboard for crating, and less fuel for the trucks that deliver the detergent to the stores.
Retailers are benefiting too. Walmart, the largest retailer of detergents and P&G's biggest customer, has been pushing manufacturers to reduce volume to allow a wider array of models and brands on store shelves. Whatever the incentives, sales of concentrated detergents are booming, according to the marketing research company ACNielsen.
Our tests show that some laundry detergents deal especially well with specific stains, such as ring around the collar, grass, tea, chocolate, or clay. But most people need a detergent that can tackle a wide range of common stains.
CR's new tougher tests of more than 40 laundry detergents also revealed that more brands are pricing low-sudsing, high-efficiency detergents designed for front-loading and high-efficiency top-loading washers comparably with those for top-loaders. The new testing compares conventional and HE detergents on the same scale.
All the detergents we tested cleaned reasonably well overall, with scores ranging from fair to very good. None of the products we tested use nonylphenol ethoxylates, chemicals that help to get clothes clean but that are toxic to aquatic plants and animals.
Don't waste detergent
Household habits can be hard to break. It's all too easy to inadvertently waste the new 2X and 3X concentrated products by using the same amounts you added of the old products. Remember to follow the directions on the packaging and actually measure—the best detergents have clearly marked lines on their fill caps and pictures of the actual caps on their instructions.
The bottom line
To compare prices of detergents, divide the total cost by the promised number of loads and forget about volume. Hard water will require more detergent; check the label for any hard-water instructions.
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