What I learned from washing sheets (and more) with six specialty detergents — for Earth Day and every day.
Some time ago I began to notice bed sheets that didn’t smell fresh even after they were laundered in my new front-loader. I hoped my new machine would correct a problem created by long-time use of apartment house top loaders. So I began a deodorizing campaign using every remedy I could find, from vinegar in the final rinse, to baking soda. I also tried the sanitary cycle that heated wash water to near boiling. Little change.
Perhaps it was the laundry detergent? I’d always used Tide; my Mom used Tide. I never considered changing until a post about a detergent caught my attention on an internet laundry forum. With little effort I then found a number of premium laundry soaps I knew nothing about – each with different features and fragrances. So I decided to purchase six high end brands – liquids and powders — and do a personal test-drive to see how each one performed on my sheets. All were recommended for front-loading washers which use less water than top loaders and need less detergent and suds to get things clean. They might cost more than what I’d been using but, hopefully, they would do a better job.
Most of the sheets used in my wash tests are 100% cotton from Sferra. I selected a hem-stitched top sheet [right] plus a challenging vintage poly-cotton Wamsutta top sheet [left] which hadn’t been used in a long time. That one had yellowed slightly and retained a musty smell. But even after initially washing these two sheets in all the products, I kept using the various soaps on all my sheets over the next weeks and months.
Let me tell you very clearly that this was not, and is not, a scientifically conducted, impeccably consistent test. It’s simply my experience with this group of laundry soaps which may or may not cost more than supermarket brands per load. What I do know is that they offer a smorgasbord of qualities such as “earth-friendly” ingredients, special fragrances, essential oils vs chemical fragrance, enzyme whiteners, no phosphates, surfactants, optical brighteners, oxygen bleach and a few ingredients that require scientific knowledge to pronounce. I’m not a scientist or a test lab and some of the companies go into great detail on their websites to explain what’s in their products to potential users — I’ve linked those below in case anyone is interested. My aim was to find a high-quality laundry soap that would give me clean, soft, fresh-smelling sheets (I later threw towels into the mix). I’ve never been a fan of fabric softener and haven’t used it for years. This is just soap.
Most of the tests were done in my Bosch front-loader though I continued to use several of the detergents in the Asko at my house. I wash sheets at 140-degrees, not in cold water. But over time, I found no major differences in results based on either washing machine. As I tested, the greatest variations proved to be in the deodorizing ability, the quality and staying power of the fragrance, whiteness, and softness when the sheets were dry. Some detergents gave me perceptibly better whitening results than others. Some of the concentrated liquid soaps produced far more suds with recommended doses than others. A low sudsing level [Mrs. Meyer's, right] is more desirable for front loaders than abundant suds [The Laundress, left]. I did get more loads than most of the packages suggested. Yet I would not rate any of the soaps below average or even disappointing, though one was less cost effective than the others.
This test includes products that seemed best-known, most available, or recommended. I expect there are perhaps a dozen more to test — particularly in the growing eco-friendly/green segment. All the products included in here were purchased at New York area stores or online and paid for by me.
Persil Universal Megaperls
45 load box/6.68 pounds (3.03kg)
Suggested dosage: ¼ cup for front loader
Cost per load: about $ .50 to $1
Fragrance: Pine with a hint of floral.
Claims: anti-graying formula, stain dissolver, built-in water softener, not for silk or wool.
Made: in the EU, exported from Germany.
My Notes: Specifically formulated for European front loader machines and recommended especially for Miele and others, this top German detergent consistently got my whites brighter (likely due to the presence of tiny oxygen bleach granules in the mix and deodorized better than other laundry washes), leaving a slightly pleasant pine fragrance. I also got excellent results using half the recommended about per load, which decreases the cost. I was so pleased with it I began to use it on bath towels and colors. Overall, I felt it gave me the best results. I also have used other Persil products, the Persil Univeral Powder which is very similar to the Megaperls though it seems to me to be slightly less gentle, and the Persil Gel liquid (green) which was equally good. The beadlike Megaperls texture does not produce powder dust and is easy to measure with a 2 Tb. coffee scoop.
Sweet Pea Laundry Detergent Fragrance No 7
64 fl.oz or 1.9 lt.
Suggested dosage: 1 capful (about 4 oz.) for average 32 loads; for use in top and front loaders
Cost per load: about $.50
Fragrance: Made with essential oils of jasmine, bergamot, geranium and orange
Claims: “Earth-friendly.” Contains plant-derived sufactants and Borax. Uniquely formulated for the nursery. Mild yet highly effective against stains. Uniquely formulated for babies and children. For all washable fabrics, color safe.
Made: Caldrea, Minneapolis, MN
My Notes: I happened to buy this fragrance because it was the only one stocked at Gracious Home though it is one of 7 choices offered by Caldrea. This detergent was a delightful surprise – for me the strength is in excellent cleaning capability coupled with wonderful fragrance that remains after drying. I quickly came to adore the sweet aroma, especially for bath towels. It would be my first choice consistently for bath towels. It did not seem to have the same whitening power as Persil, though it was equal, if not better, in terms of deodorizing. It is the only Caldrea fragrance that does not have a companion linen spray, which I do like to use. Easy to measure with the cap.
Signature Detergent, Classic
32 fl oz/1 litre/3X concentrate
Suggested Dosage: Front-loader 1/8 cup=32 washes; top loader ¼ cup=16 washes
Cost per load: about $.47 cents based on 44 washes for a front loader; $. 64 based on 32 washes. This is so concentrated I reduced the quantity per load by half, especially for a front-loader. (See notes and photo, above.)
Fragrance: Baby powder/rain. Faint aroma.
Claims: non-toxic, biodegradable, allergen free, OOC-, phosphate, phthalate and dye free. The brand, created by a pair of Cornell graduates with fashion backgrounds, is marketed as a way to wash clothes that otherwise might need dry-cleaning with toxic chemicals.
Made: U.S., based in New York.
My Notes: The Laundress is like a bubble bath mousse for your sheets. The strength of this detergent is leaving sheets with an especially soft, very soft, silky hand. The line offers many special-use laundry products. The signature detergent has a fresh clean laundry-like fragrance, a bit like rain scent, that remains. It is slightly above average deodorizing. It is also highly concentrated and when I used the suggested 2 tbsps In the front-loader I got a gigantic amount of suds – slightly too much – throughout the entire wash cycle. The dose easily could be cut down to 1 tbsp per load or the soap could be diluted slightly which would produce a much higher yield and reduce the cost-per-load. Measuring can be difficult as the bottle has a flip spout and must be inverted so it can be challenging to measure carefully. I like this detergent, especially for towels.
Website & Purchase: The Laundress
Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day Laundry Detergent
64 fl. oz/ 1.9 Lt.
2 X concentrate
Suggested dosage: ½- capful for an ordinary load or 2 Tb. 64 loads per bottle /1 oz. per load
Cost per load: about $.26
Fragrance: Essential oils of lavender and orange. One of 8 herbal variations based on the garden of Mrs. Thelma A. Meyer, an Iowa homemaker and mother of 9 who founded the brand.
Claims: Formulated for all washers. Cruelty-free, never tested on animals and biodegradable. Bottles made with at least 205% post consumer plastic. Aromatherapeutic – lavender has long been valued for its relaxing scent that is soothing and is believed to relieve fatigue.
Made: By Caldrea, Minneapolis, MN
My Notes: Lavender, also citruss-y – similar to men’s cologne. Pronounced lavender/herbal smell when soap was dispensed and when washer was opened after end of cycle. Since the detergent is 2 x concentrated, only 1 oz per load is recommend. During the wash, more normal “low suds” were present. After drying, one sheet kept a faint herbal fragrance – definitely deodorized and improved. The hand is not quite as good as The Laundress produces but it is still soft and smooth. Another easy to measure cap, though the color makes it slightly less easy. This is a sister product to Caldrea.
Website & Purchase: Mrs. Meyers
Squeaky Green Laundry
Free + Clear
3 X concentrated
20 fl. oz
Suggested dosage: 4-5 pumps for 50 loads
Cost per load: about $.31
Claims: Tough on stains, biodegradable, plant based formula, Phosphate free, dye free and hypoallergenic Triple concentrated.
Made: U.S. – Based in San Francisco.
My Notes: I purchased Method at Duane Reade drugstore which offered only the non-fragranced free + clear at the time. There are 5 additional fragrance choices in the line. Against the line- up of similar products I was testing, however Method impressed me as average. It did its job but not stand out for any particular quality. While concentrated it did not produce more than usual suds. It is interesting to note that the pump-top bottle offers less value than the non-pump 34 ounce package which does 85 loads for $19.99 or $.23 per load. Fragrance notwithstanding, this may prove to be the value pick among all these brands.
Le Blanc Linen Wash
A Fine Specialty Cleanser
32 fl oz.
Suggested dosage: ¼ cup or 2 oz.
Cost per load: about $1.18
Fragrance: Slightly medicinal and not unlike grape-flavored cough syrup
Claims: Not tested on animals. No bleach, caustics, phosphates. Neutral ph, Biodegradable. Removes stains such as lipstick, red wine, grease. HE friendly. Recommended for cold-water washes.
Made: Tampa, Fla.
My Notes: Le Blanc requires more than any other detergent per load. It presents itself more as a stain remover than a regular laundry detergent so it may be limited to specialized uses. The sheets came out of the dryer with an exceptionally smooth, silky hand and brightly white, also smoother than with any other detergent. It did not, however, remove tiny old blood stains from a pillowcase I threw into one load. It needs a measuring spoon or other device for dispensing. I didn’t find the result/cost ratio to be especially in its favor nor did it seem to have any different effect on bed linens than the others. I found the fragrance oddly medicinal and not thoroughly pleasant.