Does Cheap Laundry Detergent Work as Well as Expensive Brands?

by Reader Contributors

Does Cheap Laundry Detergent Work as Well as Expensive Brands photo

Sure, you want to save money, but is cheap laundry detergent a solution? Our frugal readers weigh in on how cheaper detergents compare to name brands.

Dear Dollar Stretcher,
Just wondering if you or your readers have seen anything about whether a cheap laundry detergent fades colors or wears out your clothes faster than the heavily advertised national brands. I use Arm & Hammer because it is cheaper. However, if it fades my kid’s clothes faster or otherwise creates more wear on them, it isn’t a bargain. Am I simply falling for an advertising gimmick with the more expensive detergent?

Do Cheap Laundry Detergents Work as Well as Expensive Brands?

We asked our frugal readers to weigh in on this question. Read on for their opinions on which laundry detergents offer the best value, as well as some tips for saving on the cost of doing laundry.

I Went Back to Tide

I don’t work for Tide, but I should own stock in the company for as much as I use. I used to buy whatever detergent was on sale or what I had coupons for. I had never used Tide before, and one week, that is what I ended up with.

After doing some loads of laundry, I noticed that Tide detergent took out stains that the other leading detergents did not. Since that day, I have used nothing but Tide. I think it makes clothes ‘look newer’ for longer. Keep an eye out for those Tide coupons. Of course, this is just one user’s opinion, mine. Give Tide a try for a month or so and see what you think.

I Like The Aldi Brand

I can do you one better than the Arm and Hammer brand. I use the ALDI brand, “Tandil” liquid laundry detergent.

My husband is very picky about how his clothes look, and Tandil is gentle on them and does not fade them. It gets them clean with only the capful that is recommended.

That’s another thing I have found you have to watch out for with bargain brands. Many times, when they say to use a capful, you often have to use more to get your clothes clean, but not with Tandil.

Tips Food eBook Ad photo

It’s Not the Detergent

Laundry detergent doesn’t clean the clothes. It breaks down the surface tension in the water so that it can dissolve water-soluble dirt more easily. The actual cleaning is done by the agitator and the clothes rubbing against each other. In fact, the more detergent you use the faster your clothes wear out and fade.

So, regardless of what brand of laundry detergent you use, don’t follow the manufacturer’s recommended detergent amounts. Instead, make sure you are loading your washer correctly (too many clothes hinders agitation, clothes don’t get as clean, too few clothes allow the clothes to stay away from each other so they don’t get as clean either), and experiment to see how little detergent you can use and still get the level of cleanness and fresh smell you want.

Also, hot water is never needed to wash clothes. Most clothes (except for heavily soiled ones) can be cleaned very well with cold water. Heavily soiled clothes can be cleaned with warm water.

If you use the above tips, not only will you save money on detergent, but your washer will last longer, clothes will last longer and your utility bills may be smaller.

Cold Water and Less Dryer is the Answer

I also use Arm and Hammer laundry detergent. I have noticed no big difference in the cleanliness of my clothes or the wear on them. Then again, I wash in cold or warm water most of the time and dry my clothes for a minimal time or hang them on the line, which I believe has more to do with wear and tear on the clothes than the detergent I use.

I also like to use store-brand fabric softener and bleach. They seem to work just as well as the name brands and are a fraction of the cost.

Cheap Detergent for Whites Only

I learned the hard way that some of those super cheap detergents do, in fact, ruin clothing. I washed several items of brightly-colored clothes in some ultra-cheap detergent, and in fewer than three washings, I realized with horror that they had faded to the point of looking almost too old to wear.

My solution now is to use the super-cheap detergents for whites (especially diapers!), where fading is not an issue. I buy Gain laundry detergent for everything else, which does not fade the clothes.

Sign Up for Savings

Subscribe to get money-saving content by email that can help you stretch your dollars further.

Twice each week, you'll receive articles and tips that can help you free up and keep more of your hard-earned money, even on the tightest of budgets.

We respect your privacy. Unsubscribe at any time.

Money-Saving Laundry Tips

Here are my money-saving tips for doing laundry:

  1. Always use cold water, except for towels and underwear.
  2. Use the cheapest detergent you can buy. I stick with liquid Purex or any liquid store brand that’s on sale. I never buy detergents with bleach because they do fade and wear clothes faster.
  3. Invest in a pretreat product. I swear by Shout, which I buy on sale by the 1/2 gallon. Spray the spot, wad up the clothing and toss in the hamper. Check after washing and before drying to make sure the spot is gone.
  4. Use the store brand of liquid fabric softener. It is not heavily perfumed like some national brands and works just great to reduce wrinkles and static.
  5. For everything except linens, underwear and jeans, I only dry them in the dryer for 10 minutes, then hang items on hangers on a clothesline. Less dryer time means less electricity (we have an older dryer), less wear and tear on clothes and less shrinking.


Use Tide, But Less of It

I have found that Tide does clean stained clothes better. To compensate for the price difference, I have begun using only 1/4 to 1/2 of the recommended amount of detergent (thanks to some suggestions I read here!). In my opinion, even this diluted amount cleans better than cheap brands.

Avoid White Fabrics and Use Cheap Detergent

I suspect you have fallen prey to the Whiter Than White, Cleaner Than Clean advertising campaign of the major detergent manufacturers. You asked if expensive detergents get clothes cleaner. Well, try a few and see! Perhaps it will get your clothes a tad whiter. Do you care, even if it costs you twice as much? I no longer buy white sheets, towels, socks, etc., and now I don’t care about dingy whites or yellowing towels!

Just think, you bought those cheaper white socks to save money. And you will ultimately pay 5x as much in brand-name detergent to keep them clean. Does this make sense? In our house, we buy non-white socks. Socks only last three to six months. Definitely not worth spending excess bucks on. When those socks go gray, turn them into puppets, car waxers, dust mitts, whatever! You already got your money’s worth out of them and are just wasting money now trying to get them re-white!

The same goes for sheets, towels, etc. If you can’t get over the marketing mumbo-jumbo, keep a box of name-brand detergent on hand for your ‘good’ stuff and a jumbo box of cheapo detergent for your ‘other’ stuff.

Cost of Detergent vs. Cost of Clothes

I have found that Tide does get out more stains and odors than the big bucket soap. However, I still don’t buy it very often, if at all. Tide costs double what I pay for the Costco brand. I figure if I am buying all of my clothes very inexpensively at yard sales or receiving hand-me-downs, it is not cost-effective to spend so much more on the soap. It makes more sense for me to replace the items. This might change if I were spending more on my clothes or did not have a way to acquire more inexpensive clothing so easily.
Theresa in Tucson

Add Baking Soda

Try a 50/50 mix of (expensive) soap and baking soda. Makes it go further!
Ruth S.

Hard Water Affects Detergent

Aside from the addition of proprietary perfumes, powdered bleach, etc., I’ve found most national brands of detergents work pretty much the same. For some reason, though, store brands vary a lot in quality.

The other thing you have to watch for, especially in the American Southwest and Intermountain States, is hard water. It doesn’t wash as effectively, and the dissolved minerals in the water end up in your clothes, leaving them drab and dingy. You can fix this problem inexpensively by adding about a cup of regular white vinegar to your laundry load. It helps neutralize the water, and after a few loads, you will definitely see the difference.

Save the Money!

Cheap is just as good! I have been doing laundry with cheap detergent for about two years, and I find little, if any, difference in performance. I also only use about half the recommended amount of soap for all but the most soiled garments and find this works just as well! Undergarments, as well as towels, don’t get all that dirty.

Also, if you use fabric softener sheets, use only half a sheet. It does the same job. If you have jeans, etc., with stained knees or anything that has oil-based stains, try pouring a little straight ammonia on the spot. Be careful not to inhale and ventilate the area. You will be amazed at what a great job it does.

Washing Clothes Less Often

I normally use Tide with Bleach because I think it’s about the best available for my circumstances. I think your water and your machine have a lot to do with how clean your clothes get, too. I have used less expensive brands also. I think Arm & Hammer is pretty good too. I haven’t noticed that it or any other cheaper brand I’ve purchased fade out the clothes any faster than the name brands.

What I’ve discovered from 23 years of doing laundry for my family is that sometimes you wear out things washing them, not wearing them. We usually wear “good clothes” a time or two or three before we wash them unless they are actually noticeably dirty.

I think the heat of your dryer fades out clothes just as bad or worse than washing them. The clothes I washed in cold water didn’t fade all summer when I dried them on the line but they started fading immediately when the weather got cold and I started using my older dryer. Also, I like to dry clothes on the line whenever the weather is nice enough, but direct sunlight fades colors, too, especially bright-colored cottons.

Advertising Increases Price of Brand Names

My degree is in Textiles and Marketing, and I have a partial answer to your question. From Marketing 101: Almost 50% of your purchase price for a national brand goes towards advertising!

I buy generic brands or national brands with a sizable coupon for best values. From Textiles 101: clothes last longer if you dry them outdoors and turn them inside out to prevent fading. The dryer can be hard on your fabrics (depending on the age and type of your dryer), especially if you repeatedly dry them past the point of dryness.

I also try to launder similar fabrics together and usually in cold water. Avoid washing terry towels with garments, as fuzz collects on the clothes, making them look dusty or less-than-clean.

Reviewed December 2023

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This