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  • We’ve added additional notes about Tide Pods staining clothing to this guide. See our recent blog post about why we don’t like them (believe it or not, it has nothing to do with teens eating them, though…

Laundry detergent has to simultaneously attract and repel dirt, then rinse away without damaging your clothes, your washer, your skin, or the environment. After doing 85 hours of research, examining 782 stain swatches, running 456 pounds of laundry, testing 42 different detergents, drenching bar towels in more than a cup of melted bacon fat, and analyzing laundered fabric with a UV/Vis spectrometer, we’ve chosen Tide Ultra Stain Release Free Liquid as our top pick. In our tests, it was simply the best overall detergent, great at getting out seven types of stains and the pervasive smell of bacon grease. Its price, roughly 27¢ per load, is among the highest of the detergents we tested, but 100 percent worth it (we think).

Our pick

Tide Ultra Stain Release Free

The best laundry detergent

Offering up a wicked stain-busting, odor-removing combo, this was the best all-purpose detergent.

While other detergents were great at removing either stains or smells, Tide Ultra Stain Release Free Liquid excelled at both, making it the best detergent for any normal load of laundry. It’s also fragrance- and dye-free, so it will clean your clothes without any smell and won’t break the bank doing it. This strain of Tide is only available at Target, so if you don’t have one near you and don’t want to buy it online, Tide Plus Bleach Alternative HE Liquid is our runner-up choice.

Runner-up

Tide Plus Bleach Alternative HE Liquid

Scented, excellent stain removal

This powers through coffee, wine, and lipstick. It’s less expensive than our top pick, but it doesn’t perform nearly as well when combatting stinky smells.

Tide Plus Bleach Alternative HE Liquid was actually better at getting out stains than our top pick, but only half as good at removing odors (still, it did better than most of the other detergents we tested). It does have a scent, while our top pick is scent-free. Specifically, it was excellent at getting out coffee, wine, and lipstick stains, but not as effective as our main pick at removing blood stains. It is a bit cheaper, costing about 24¢ a load vs our top pick’s 27¢ per load.

And if you want something greener, something cheaper, or something super duper on smells, we’ve got picks for those, too.

Also great

Method 4x Concentrated

Green pick

The best green detergent we tested, this doesn’t remove stains and odors as well as our top pick, but it’s cheap and pretty available, and it’s not tested on animals.

In our tests, the most effective “green” detergent (one that uses mostly plant-based ingredients and avoids certain others) was Method 4x Concentrated Laundry Detergent. It did well at coffee and wine stains, but was much wimpier than all the other top detergents at everything else. Although it does contain optical brighteners, it’s marketed as a green detergent. That said, there is no evidence that green detergents are better for the environment than conventional ones (see Green detergents). Method 4x Concentrated is not tested on animals and comes in five fragrances. It’s also cheaper than our top Tide picks, costing about 20¢ per load.

Budget pick

Kirkland Ultra Clean liquid (Costco’s store brand)

Cheap and effective

This budget dynamo did well overall against stains and great against odors in our testing, and it costs half as much per load as our main pick.

If you’re on a serious budget but still need a very effective detergent, try Costco’s Kirkland Ultra Clean liquid, which placed well overall in our latest round of tests. It performed very well with our panel of odor testers, actually banishing smells better than our top Tide. It was just as good at getting out blood and beef fat stains, and for many other stains it finished in the top half of the contenders. It wasn’t quite as good as the top Tide at tackling coffee, lipstick, grass, or chocolate stains, but at only 13¢ per load, it’s a pretty smashing deal. If you don’t have a Costco nearby, you can get this detergent online, too, but at a pretty ridiculous markup.

Also great

Tide Plus Febreze Sport

Best against odors

This funk abolisher blew away the competition during testing when it came to removing smells. It’s a little pricey, but it works so well that you’ll hardly notice.

An odor pick is new for us, but we wouldn’t be doing it without good reason. Tide Plus Febreze Sport far and away won our smell tests, getting rid of the bacon grease smell even from the swatches that were completely saturated with the stuff. This detergent does have a scent, but there was no trace of the funk below it. While it wasn’t the best at stain removing, it did finish in the top half. It actually beat all the other detergents at removing chocolate stains, and also did well with grease-based stains, such as lipstick and beef fat. It is a tiny more spendy than our top pick at 28¢ per load, but if stinky laundry is your main issue, go with this detergent. It’s worth it.

The research

Materials 49% Polyester, 47% Rayon, 4% Spandex
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unwashed swatch
Tide Plus Bleach Alternative
Kirkland
Tide Plus Febreze Sport
Method
Tide Ultra Stain Release Free
water