While there are a lot of very strong opinions flying around about laundry powder versus laundry liquid, there are obviously pros and cons for each. Otherwise, we would see a clearly dominant type on our supermarket shelves. The fact that both types are equally accessible shows there are important differences between the two, with both viable options for laundry-doers of various cleaning priorities.
To help clear the waters on this issue, we break down the pros and cons of each type by the following metrics:
- Ease of use
- Environmental impact
- Shelf life
Per wash, laundry powder is almost always cheaper than its liquid equivalent. This makes it the preferred buy to get maximum bang for your buck. Laundry powder rarely costs in excess of $12 for a 2kg box, with some brands – including that from discount supermarket chain ALDI – costing roughly half that amount ($5). It’s also common to find laundry powder on special. Take a look down the cleaning aisle of your preferred supermarket and you’ll be sure to find at least one powder with a reduced price.
Laundry powder is generally a reliably strong everyday performer. For outdoor stains (e.g. tough dirt stains) and blood, laundry powder usually outperforms liquids. Powder is also able to carry more bleaching and brightening ingredients, as the dry powder is a more stable environment than in liquid where reactions with other ingredients and the water content itself can be harder to control.
One risk run by using laundry powders, depending on the brand and your washing machine, is white powdery residue left behind, particularly on dark clothing.
Ease of use
Just like with laundry liquid, standard use of laundry powder is as simple as measuring out the correct amount and adding it to the machine. Easy! Using powder to pre-treat fabrics, however, is a bit more of a process that can be a bit messier. You’ll need to dissolve powder into a small amount of water to create a paste to apply to particularly tough stains to start breaking them down before doing a full wash.
If your home water supply is hard water, powders tend to be less affected than laundry liquids.
Laundry powder is usually sold in cardboard packaging, which is easy to recycle or even compost if you’re a real earthy type. Some brands also offer bulk buckets, packaged in plastic buckets with plastic lids on top. On the one hand, this type of packaging is far less environmentally friendly, but if you repurpose the bucket or buy from a brand that uses recycled plastic that can end up still being far more eco-friendly than choosing small one or two liter plastic bottles of laundry liquid. While non-chlorine bleach can’t be used in laundry liquid as it deteriorates, it’s perfectly stable in laundry powder, meaning that you can generally get a stronger brightening result from powders.
If you use a septic system, you should be wary of exactly what kind of laundry products you use. Many powders are incompatible with a healthy functioning septic system. Check the ingredients carefully.
While the active ingredients in laundry powder are generally very shelf-stable and have a longer shelf life than those in liquids, they’re vulnerable to their storage environment. It’s quite easy for moisture in the air or a water spill to soak through the cardboard packaging and cause the powder to cake.
Laundry liquid is, per wash, more expensive than the powdered equivalent – yet it remains a hugely popular choice. You can expect to pay in excess of $12 for most laundry liquids, with some priced up to $15. There is clearly a trade-off going on between price and other desirable properties found in laundry liquids.
Laundry liquids tend to perform better than powder on greasy stains and soiling, from food or the body (that’s a plus for oily-skinned teenagers still suffering from typical teenager skin). It’s also gentler on delicate fabrics than powder, as all of the ingredients are already pre-dissolved into a smooth liquid as opposed to the fine-grit powder that needs to dissolve into water during the wash cycle.
Bleaches and other strong cleaning chemicals are harder to keep stable in laundry liquids, so there is some sacrifice on ability to really get in there and thoroughly clean tough stains. If you find your liquid is underperforming in this area, simply pre-treating parts of your clothes that need a boost may be your answer.
Ease of use
As laundry liquid is already pre-dissolved, you don’t need to worry about whether or not your active ingredients dissolve properly in the wash. This used to be a significant concern, but today’s laundry powder products are generally quite effective in this area.
The greater difference between the two comes into play when comparing how easy it is to use laundry liquid and laundry powder to pre-treat clothes. Laundry liquid is far easier to use, as all you need to do is pour liquid directly onto the target area to soak in and do its work.
The packaging for liquid detergents is almost always plastic, which is definitely not eco-friendly to produce or to dispose of. Some brands use recycled or plant-based plastics, so keep a keen eye out for those if you want to minimise environmental impact but really can’t leave liquids behind.
Laundry liquid also usually produces more environmentally friendly greywater, which is kinder on the ecosystem as well as your garden if you like to reuse your water.
The plastic bottle packaging of laundry liquid is very durable and well-sealed, protecting the contents and preventing leaks or spills. Fragrance used in laundry liquids are more vulnerable to breaking down thanks to the ingredients used for colour brightening. Compared to laundry powder, scented liquid is far more prone to fragrance deterioration over time. This may be why scented liquids rarely come in very large quantities.
Which is better – laundry liquid or laundry powder?
For the most cost-effective everyday laundry that gets the job done, laundry powder is perfectly fine. The main drawbacks for powders are suitability for delicate fabrics, and concerns about white residue left on dark fabrics. This is where liquid proves a clear winner. Despite powder being an overall stronger performer, many people choose liquid for the convenience factor plus concerns about powder leaving a build-up inside the washing machine.
Why not get the best of both – use powder for everyday laundry, and liquid to wash your delicate and important pieces?