Consumer Reports’ latest tests of laundry detergents revealed that using top-rated detergents like Tide 2X Ultra for Cold Water in cold water cycles can save people up to $140 per year. At 19 cents per average load, it costs roughly $80 per year less than the priciest detergents, and using cold water can trim another $60 in energy costs.
Tide’s 2X Ultra for Cold Water, a CR Best Buy, vanquished grass, wine and other tough stains almost as well as its top-scoring brandmate, Tide 2X Ultra with Color Clean Bleach Alternative, which costs 32 cents per load, among conventional detergents.
CR’s new tougher tests of more than 40 laundry detergents also revealed that you’ll save as more brands price low-sudsing, high-efficiency detergents designed for front-loading and high-efficiency top-loading washers comparably with those for top loaders. But the tests of almost 1,600 stained cotton swatches show that several detergents struck out at cleaning including Xtra New 2X Concentrated Lasting ScentSations Spring Sun Shine, lowest-rated among conventional detergents; and Purex Ultra Concentrate HE After the Rain, lowest-rated among high-efficiency detergents.
Another way to save without buying a new machine: Stick to the amount of detergent recommended by the manufacturer, since using too much can add rinse cycles and increase water use, besides compromising cleaning performance. CR’s testing found that fill lines were sometimes hard to see, though some brands were far better than others.
Cheap washers and dryers
CR’s latest tests also found top-performing washers and recommended dryers that won’t break the bank — two years ago, people had to spend $900 or more to get a high-performing washer. Those models include the GE WJK5500H, $550, and Estate ETW4400V, $400, among top-loading washers; and the Frigidaire Gallery GLER104FS, $450, and the Kenmore (Sears) 6962, $490, among dryers.
Not all inexpensive washers performed well in CR’s tests. Many of the washers with the lowest scores cost $450 or less, including Frigidaire’s $370 FWS1233F top-loading washer. More top-loaders washed as well as some front-loaders, earning a Very Good score, including models from Estate, GE and Maytag. But top-loaders still lag behind front-loaders in energy and water efficiency.
CR’s testing also found that “speed wash” cycles — meant for lightly soiled, small loads, advertised as taking 18 to 30 minutes — were a washout on four front-loaders from Bosch, Electrolux, Kenmore and LG: Wash performance dropped significantly in every case. CR also found mixed results for steam cycles on washers, which didn’t improve performance enough in tests to justify its expense.
Detergents and washers
• Be wary of special promises. Win High Performance Sport Detergent, 64 cents per load, is claimed to remove odors and stains. This pricey detergent worked on odor but was unimpressive on stains. Tide promises its TotalCare, which costs 45 cents per load, protects colors and fights stains, among other things. It did well at protecting the color of several cotton dresses after 30 washes. But Tide’s 2x Ultra for Cold Water detergent protected color comparably and cleaned better for far less.
• Question green claims. Simplicity Hypoallergenic Non-Toxic 2X and Seventh Generation Natural Powdered HE are among the detergents said to have more plant-based ingredients than petroleum. Both cleaned well and claim to be hypoallergenic. But manufacturers can make those claims without any checks or federal standards.
• Let location be your guide. The closer the laundry area is to the living space, the more noise and vibration matter. Top-loaders are slightly noisier but don’t vibrate. CR’s tests revealed huge variations in how much front-loaders vibrate.
• Avoid early retirement for dryers. The technology hasn’t changed much, so you won’t really get better performance or efficiency with a new one.