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The Effectiveness of Cheaper Laundry Detergents

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Cheap and Good?

Just wondering if you or your readers have seen anything about whether a cheap laundry detergent (read: not the national brand in the orange box) fades colors or wears out your clothes faster than the heavily advertised national brand. I use Arm&Hammer because it runs $3-4 less than the other. However, if it fades my kid's clothes faster or otherwise creates more wear on them, it isn't a bargain. Is it just an advertising gimmick?

Another Winner for Laundry

I can do you one better than the Arm and Hammer brand. I have been using the Aldi brand, "Astra" liquid laundry detergent for the past year or more. It is cheap at about $2.29 for a big jug of it.

My husband is very picky about how his clothes look, and Astra 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 Astra.

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

Related: The Laundry Detergent Face Off

Money Saving Tips

I have two teenagers who, growing up, wore every kind of inexpensive clothing there is--hand me downs, thrift shop, yard sale, swaps, discount store clearance, etc. and we tried to make them last as long as possible to hand down to all the younger cousins!

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 the kind with bleach because it does 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. I can buy a gallon for 99ยข on sale. 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, less wear and tear on clothes and less shrinking.


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 normally get Arm & Hammer with Bleach when I buy it. 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. I've really had a time convincing my kids that just because you wore something to church for an hour or two, it doesn't mean it's dirty. We usually wear "good clothes" a time or two, or three before we wash them, unless they were actually noticeably dirty.

Another thing that fades clothes is your dryer. I think the heat of your dryer fades out clothes just as bad or worse than washing them. Clothes I washed in cold water didn't fade all summer when I dried them on the line, but started fading immediately when the weather got cold and I started using the 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.

I would recommend that you use the cheapest detergent you can find that gets the results you want.

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 outdoors and turn inside out to prevent fading. The dryer can be hard on your fabrics, 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.

Another tip: if you really love a product, call the company's toll-free # and tell them so! They love to hear compliments, instead of the usual complaints. Every company I've called with favorable comments has sent me coupons, some for free product(s)! Being specific about what you like helps their marketing dept., too.

Related: Save on Fabric Softeners

Consumer Reports Favor Name Brands

Consumer Reports recently ran tests on the national and non-name-brand detergents, as well as fabric softeners and dryer sheets.

Their basic belief and mine, as well--after many years of experimentation, is that it is worth the extra money to buy the national (name-brand) detergents and fabric softeners.

While some may disagree, the tests proved conclusively that fading was significantly lessened by using (their No. 1 rated) Tide and Downey over other brands that were cheaper. I have found similar results.

While it is more expensive, by using coupons and waiting for sales, the prices I pay are comparable to the non-name-brand stuff that I used to buy. But the important thing is that it saves our clothes and makes hand-me-downs seem less like hand-me-downs and more like new apparel.

Another tip that others may have known but was new to me: I found that I'd been doing laundry "wrong" all these years. CR claims that if you allow the basin of the washer to fill up with water and detergent before putting clothes in, that it makes the detergent that much more effective. I've been doing it since reading that tip, and it might actually make a difference!!

Reviewed January 2018

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