Most of us don’t think of the laundry detergent aisle as a particularly daunting place. As it turns out, however, choosing a laundry soap isn’t quite as simple as picking out a great scent or reaching for the container that’s on sale at your local supermarket. Not all laundry soap is created equal. It’s not universal to all fabrics, either. The best laundry soap for your clothing will depend largely on the material it’s constructed from.
Certain fabrics — think silks, wools, and cashmeres, in particular — require special care that can’t be found with a run-of-the-mill soap, while others will require a little added oomph to keep things looking white or bright.
As trends in clothing fabrics have changed over time, so too, have our cleaning agents. “We’re moving to primarily synthetic [materials and] away from cotton,” fabric care expert Laura Goodman, who serves as one of 825 global scientists for Proctor and Gamble, tells us.
Unfortunately, while synthetic blends and fabrics may be more durable and less expensive, they’re more difficult to clean. “Synthetic fibers are hydrophobic,” Goodman explains. “They don’t like water — they love grease and oil.”
Considering that Goodman says 70 percent of clothing stains come from body oil, which she cites as the second-hardest stain to remove besides shoe polish — yes, even harder than meat and taco grease! — that can be a real problem. Unless, of course, you have the right laundry detergent on hand!
Laundry Soaps That Make Clothes Last Longer
Apart from stains, the main reason to invest in a good laundry soap is to extend the shelf life of your clothing — something that’s particularly important for our ever-changing world. According to a 2017 report from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 11.5 percent of municipal waste landfill materials were comprised of rubber, leather, and textiles — that shakes out to more than 81 pounds per household per year. Goodman says a good cleaning agent can not only take out tough stains with ease, they can make your clothes last up to four times longer, working as a shampoo does for hair to condition and smooth garment fibers, reducing your eco footprint in the process.
Another easy way to cut down on environmental strain caused by laundry? Switch your water from the “hot” cycle to “cold.” The EPA’s Energy Star program estimates that 90 percent of the energy it takes to operate a clothes washer comes from heating.
Many laundry soaps, such as Tide Plus Coldwater Clean Liquid ($11.99, Target) have been reengineered to be able to work more effectively in cold water, with cold water enzymes that will attack gravy stains and the like, even in frigid temperatures.
The Best Laundry Soap for Every Fabric
From cotton and denim to silk and wool, we’ve rounded up the best detergent for every type of material, plus expert tips on how best to launder them. As always, however, it’s best to check your garment’s instructions prior to washing for maximum results. Keep reading for Woman’s World’s picks for the best laundry soap for every fabric.
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Best Fabric Cleaner for Cotton
Tide Plus Coldwater Clean Liquid
Where to buy: $11.99, Target
While Goodman says organic cotton is one of the easiest fabrics to clean, you’ll still want to keep the fabric bright or white for as long as possible to extend its shelf life. With a “turbo-charged” formula that will prevent leaching and bleeding, plus collapse suds quickly and target tough stains, Tide Plus Coldwater Clean will help you do just that. In fact, it boasts 10 times the cleaning power of regular Tide!
To Use: Add the appropriate amount of laundry detergent for your load to the washing machine and opt for cold water and a gentle cycle to keep your colors safe. If you’re working with whites, use minimal bleach, as too much can damage cotton fibers. Better still, try adding five cups of vinegar to your final rinse cycle: Goodman says it can help to remove dingy residue.
Best Fabric Cleaner for Denim
Cheer Colorguard Liquid Laundry Detergent
Where to buy: $11.79, Target
Instead of skipping washes or keeping your jeans in the freezer to prevent them from fading, Goodman says a little cold water and an old-fashioned color-safe soap is your best bet. “We still recommend washing after a couple uses,” she tells us. “Don’t go and put them in the freezer — that was a complete myth. The freezer does nothing. It does not kill the bacteria. What you need is a good detergent to get the gunk out.” (And trust us — invisible or otherwise, there is gunk to be found!) Cheer Colorguard is specially-formulated to keep your denim shades bright and also fights the fading and pilling that can regularly occur in jeans. Its fresh scent also keeps customers coming back for more.
To Use: Turn your jeans inside out and separate your darks from your lights when washing to prevent staining. Add in the recommended amount of detergent for your load, plus a good fabric conditioner (we like Downy, $13.99, Amazon) to add another layer of protection for color. To dry, smooth out, then lay out on a flat surface or hang.
Best Down Jacket Cleaner
Where to buy: $6.99, Target
Washing your down jacket too often can cause the feathers to break, so you’ll want to limit cleanings to twice a year. To maximize on freshness, add Downy Unstopables scent-booster beads to your load for up to 12 weeks of freshness — really! “There’s friction when you’re walking and your ams are moving … [that releases] those fragrance bubbles [for a] burst of freshness throughout the day,” Goodman explains.
To Use: Add in your favorite detergent and your desired amount of scent-booster beads to your washing machine. Turn it on a normal wash and spin cycle. When it’s clean, you’ll want to tumble dry on low with organic wool fabric balls ($13, Amazon) to help fluff down and reduce wrinkles.
Best Silk Fabric Cleaner
Studio by Tide Delicates
Where to buy: $11.88 for a set of two, Amazon
When it comes to your delicates, such as silk, regular laundry soap just won’t do. Instead, Goodman recommends picking up a bottle of Studio by Tides Delicates, which was specifically designed to trim down stray fibers to improve the quality of the fabric, remove any fade-causing chlorines, and lift body soils.
To Use: According to Goodman, silk fabrics tend to bleed, so it’s best to do a pre-wash test by dabbing a white wet cloth onto your silk garments to see if color leaks before throwing them into the wash. From there, you can hand wash by filling a clean sink with lukewarm or cold water and a small amount of detergent. Lightly move the item around for three to five minutes. Rinse well, then line dry out of direct sunlight (prolonged exposure can damage silk). Never tumble dry your silks — this can shrink or damage the fine material.
The Laundress Wool and Cashmere Shampoo
Where to buy: $19, The Laundress
With a fabric as fine as cashmere, you’ll want to take extra care to use a soap that rinses clean and doesn’t contain any dyes. This pH-neutral formula from The Laundress is free of petroleum, phosphate, phthalates, and artificial color, making it plenty safe for your most precious garments. It also has a woody cedar scent that moths find abhorrent but people will love — it’s a win-win! For a quick refresh, try the brand’s spray ($10), instead.
To Use: Always turn a cashmere sweater inside out before laundering. You’ll also want to hand wash or use a gentle cycle on this fabric (two capfuls of shampoo is recommended) before laying flat on a towel to dry. Bonus tip? Roll up the sweater inside a towel like a jellyroll to squeeze out any excess water.
Best Fabric Cleaner for Wool
Woolite Clean & Care Laundry Detergent
Where to buy: $14.39 (Originally $16.29), Amazon
When it comes to wool, a water-based detergent, like Woolite, is best to avoid any shrinking, stretching, or fading. Equally important, however, are dryer sheets (try Bounce, $8.64, Amazon), as wool (a natural fiber sourced from sheep) becomes a static magnet when paired with dry air and low humidity. You can even run these dryer sheets over your hair for a quick frizz fix!
To Use: Place wool items in a mesh bag ($7.99, Amazon) before washing and fill machine or sink with desired amount of Woolite. Cold water and a gentle cycle are recommended.