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Best washing powder: The definitive guide to the best washing powders you can buy

Kate Hilpern
26 Jun 2019

Learn how to beat tough stains with our handy buying guide

Washing powder may not be the sexiest thing to read about, but if your clothes are smelly, stained or lacklustre, then you’re unlikely to be commanding much attention either! A decent washing powder is therefore a must. And there’s probably more to consider when choosing a product than you may have realised.

Are gel, liquid or capsule products better than your traditional box of washing powder? Should you wash your smalls in the same detergent as your table cloth? Should you buy bio or non-bio options? The good news is that we’re here to answer all those questions and plenty more, as well as providing a list of the products we think are the best on the market.

READ NEXT: The best washer dryers you can buy

How to buy the best washing powder for you

What types of washing detergents are there?

Biological washing powder These contain an optical brightener to stop clothes going grey and, with the exception of powders designed for coloured laundry, they include a bleaching agent to tackle both everyday and more stubborn stains. On the downside, a spill can see washing powder granules end up everywhere, and it can even clog up your deterrent drawer. A regular maintenance wash at 60 degrees can help solve the latter problem.

Non-biological washing powder Bio detergents contain enzymes that are good at tackling stains even at low temperatures and on quick wash cycles, but non-bio detergents do not. But since the latter are gentler on the skin and don’t contain any fragrance, non-bio detergents are far better suited to babies and those with sensitive skin.

Liquids and gels These are more expensive than a traditional box of washing powder, but they won’t get stuck in the detergent drawer. They work well at keeping colours vibrant, but they don’t contain bleach, so aren’t the best for stains. They’re great for everyday washing of items with low-level dirt, if you’re prepared to pay the higher price tag. Using them at low temperatures can cause a build-up of mould in the machine, but a regular maintenance wash at 60 degrees can help.

Liquid capsules These capsules are the newest kid on the block, and although they’re the most expensive out of all the options here, they’re also the lowest maintenance – you don’t have to take a guess over how much to use; simply use one capsule per wash. Note that liquid capsules are better for higher temperature washes since they don’t always dissolve at lower ones.

How much do I need to spend?

Some supermarket own-brand detergents come in at just 10p a wash, while products from the big brands can cost upwards from 40p per wash. But as you’ll see from our roundup, paying for the more expensive detergent doesn’t necessarily guarantee better results. In fact, some of the pricier brands didn’t even make it into our list. Also, be sure to shop around for special offers.

Should I use a different kind of detergent for wool, silk and other delicates?

Yes, you should wash these fabrics in a specialist detergent that’s free of both bleach and enzymes.

The best washing powders you can buy

1. Persil Small & Mighty Bio: Best for most stains

Price: £4 | Buy now from Waitrose

We couldn’t find a better washing detergent for removing stains – and that goes for both everyday staining to more stubborn stains such as sweat, mud, grass, grease and curry. It also keeps your whites white (although not quite as brilliantly as Ariel Washing Powder Original) and your colours nice and vibrant.

If you’ve got a busy household – and especially if you have kids – this is the detergent to buy. However, for fatty food stains, Morrisons Bio Capsules have the edge and Sainsbury’s Bio Washing Powder is better for removing oily makeup.

Key specs – Pack size: 875ml; Number of washes: 25; Cost per wash: 16p

Buy now from Waitrose

2. Morrisons Bio Capsules: Best for fatty food stains

Price: £3 | Buy now from Morrisons

As we mention in our buying guide, supermarket own-brands can sometimes perform better than the big names – and here’s a prime example. There’s a certain cocktail of enzymes in these capsules that is spot on for removing fatty food stains such as oily curry, ice cream and chocolate. Seriously, the filthiest clothes emerged from our washing machine as clean as a whistle.

And since this detergent doesn’t turn whites grey, you don’t need to worry about your tablecloths and pristine white T-shirts looking old before their time. It stops short at makeup and coffee, though – and we think Persil Small & Mighty Bio is better on everyday stains such as mud and sweat.

Key specs – Pack size: 20 capsules; Number of washes: 20; Cost per wash: 15p

Buy now from Morrisons

3. Ariel Washing Powder Original: Best all-rounder and best at keeping your whites looking white

Price: £6 | Buy now from Ocado

You may remember your own mum using this – and with good reason. It keeps your whites looking as good as new, rather than turning them grey, and has a slight edge over Persil Small & Mighty Bio in this regard. In fact, we couldn’t find any another washing detergent that managed to keep our whites whiter. It keeps coloured items in tip-top condition, too.

Plus, it did well with the likes of mud, sweat and grass too (although perhaps not quite as brilliantly as Persil Small & Mighty Bio). We thought it might fall down when it came to food-and-drink stains – but again, it surpassed our expectations. It works a treat on both cotton and manmade fabrics, making it a great all-rounder in every sense.

Key specs – Pack size: 20 capsules; Number of washes: 40; Cost per wash: 15p

Buy now from Ocado

4. Fairy Non-Bio Washing Powder: Best non-bio laundry detergent

Price: £3.50 | Buy now from Waitrose

Non-bio detergents aren’t known for their stain-removing qualities since aren’t made up of the same enzymes as their “bio” counterparts. But that’s not to say they won’t get rid of any stains. Fairy’s Non Bio actually did surprisingly well at removing mud, grass and drink stains, but didn’t fare so well when it came to food and grease.

However, if you want a non-bio that won’t irritate babies or sensitive skin, then this is our top recommendation. It’s better on cotton than man-made fabrics and it will fade colours over time – but, unfortunately, that’s the nature of the beast with non-bio powders. It isn’t cheap, though.

Key specs – Pack size: 650g; Number of washes: 10; Cost per wash: 35p

Buy now from Waitrose

5. Sainsbury’s Bio Washing Powder: Best washing powder for removing makeup stains

Price: £4 | Buy now from Sainsbury's

There aren’t many washing powders that excel at tackling makeup stains; even if an item of clothing has been run through an intense cycle, it’s still likely to emerge with some mark. Yet this washing powder makes it look like a breeze. Lipstick marks? No problem. Foundation stains? Piece of cake. Sainsbury’s washing powder performed well at everything else too, although it isn’t quite as good as some of the other detergents when it comes to keeping whites white.

Also note that, like many others, it does result in colour fading in the long-term. Nevertheless, for a budget powder – the cheapest in our roundup, in fact – this is an excellent detergent that smells great and dissolves exceptionally well in the machine.

Key specs – Pack size: 2.6kg; Number of washes: 40; Cost per wash: 10p

Buy now from Sainsbury's

6. Ariel Actilift Excel Bio Washing Gel: Best for cold washes

Price: £3 | Buy now from Waitrose

Ariel’s Actilift promises to perform well even in a cold wash, so we put it to the test to see if it lived up to these claims. The answer is a resounding yes. Even in cold washes, it removed everyday stains super-well and it kept colours from fading over time.

Whites can turn a bit grey over time, though, so you might want to consider another option for your white washes – especially any favourite T-shirts that you don’t want to look old before their time.

Key specs – Pack size: 592ml; Number of washes: 16; Cost per wash: 19p

Buy now from Waitrose

7. Ecover Delicate Laundry Liquid: Best for washing delicates

Price: £3.69 | Buy now from Ecover Direct

For washing wools, silks and fine fabrics, it’s wise to use a dedicated non-bio cleaner and this is far and above our favourite. Woolmark approved, it works well for both hand-washing and in the washing machine on low temperatures. A lambswool jumper on a quick wash and a silk top on a delicates wash both came out as a good as new.

Since it’s completely biodegradable (exceeding legislative requirements in this area), you don’t need to worry about it harming the environment; it isn’t tested on animals, either. We found it did a grand job on all our delicates and we love the eco-friendly credentials; even the packaging is recyclable.

Key specs – Pack size: 750ml; Number of washes: 16; Cost per wash: 23p

Buy now from Ecover Direct

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