How do I Choose the Best Laundry Soap?

Amanda Piontek

Laundry soap is an important part of nearly every fabric-washing routine. There are many soaps and detergents available for laundry: homemade, commercially produced, powdered and liquid. When selecting a laundry soap that is right for your needs, you must consider the advantages and disadvantages of each type. Analyze these pros and cons against factors such as cost, availability and performance needs, and you will be able to choose the detergent or soap that meets your individual requirements.

A bottle and cup of powdered laundry soap.
A bottle and cup of powdered laundry soap.

The first step in selecting the right laundry soap is learning the basic composition of soap compared to detergent. Although the terms often are used interchangeably, there actually are basic chemical differences between the two. Soap is produced using natural ingredients such as fat and lye, and detergent is comprised mainly of synthetic materials, alcohol and petroleum products.

Laundry soap.
Laundry soap.

Soap and detergent behave differently in hard water. Soap reacts strongly to the minerals present in water, leaving behind a film commonly known as soap scum. Over time, soap deposits can give the fabric a gray hue. Detergents do not have this same strong reaction to minerals and therefore are most commonly used for laundry and dish washing. If the use of soap in your washing routine has resulted in dingy-colored laundry, a product known as laundry bluing can help mask the gray and yellow undertones.

Sodium tripolyphosphate, which is often included in laundry soap.
Sodium tripolyphosphate, which is often included in laundry soap.

Laundry soap or detergent is sold in both powder or liquid form. Powdered laundry detergent most often provides a lower cost per load. Therefore, it generally is the most economical choice for washing clothes. Some individuals report clumping, the failure to dissolve well or the leaving of detergent granules behind as possible disadvantages to powdered laundry soaps. If you don't mind these problems or consider them minor, powdered laundry soap might be a good choice.

Dyes, perfumes and other additives also must be taken into consideration when choosing the right laundry soap. Detergents, in either powdered or liquid form, often contain synthetic and heavy fragrances, dyes and preservatives. If you have sensitive skin, these additives can lead to itchy or painful breakouts and skin rashes. Most manufacturers of laundry detergents and soaps offer "free and clear" versions, leaving out chemical additives such as fragrances, brighteners, softeners and colors. One of these versions might be a good choice if you or someone in your household has sensitive skin or might be allergic to certain substances.

Another less-popular alternative to purchasing commercially made laundry soaps is making your own. Making your own laundry soap is a simple process that can give you more control over your washing routine when compared to buying pre-made detergent. Homemade laundry soap usually consists of ingredients such as grated laundry soap, borax, washing soda and water. Similar to store-bought laundry detergent, homemade laundry soap can be powdered, liquid, scented or unscented, according to your individual preferences.

Detergent is made of synthetic ingredients.
Detergent is made of synthetic ingredients.

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Discussion Comments


I recently switched to laundry detergent packs, the ones that dissolve in the washing machine and only one is required for a wash load. Previously, I had been using liquid laundry detergent and I'm so glad I made the switch to this. A single packet really is enough and it got rid of the mess and clutter in the laundry room. I really like this product.


@bear78-- Yes, there are still natural and old-fashioned laundry soaps on the market. I use one. It's not possible to get it from local stores, that's true. But it's easy to purchase online and a little goes a long way.

I think that we're slowly going to return to our old products and habits because more and more people are realizing that the new products full of chemicals are no good. Especially people with babies and little children need to make the switch to natural laundry soap. Trust me, this soap cleans just as well as commercial brands but without all the chemicals, residues and perfumes.

You could also go your grandmother's way and make your own with natural soap if you want. It may be a little tricky to use in the washing machine though.


Does natural laundry soap still exist? My grandmother told me that back in the day, they used to grate solid lye soap and use it for laundry. She always talks about how well those cleaned clothes and how safe they were.

I think she's right. I have to buy laundry detergent without fragrance and labeled "hypoallergenic." The laundry detergents on the market are mostly very harsh and full of chemicals. They cause allergies and they shorten the life of clothing too. If I found all natural laundry soap like what my grandmother describes, I'll make the switch without thinking twice.

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