Washing powder vs liquid detergent: which is best?

July 18th, 2013


laundry powder vs liquid 1

People of Australia, you have a choice!

While some of you are busy worrying about the upcoming national election, Appliances Online has a greater dilemma for you to face:

Powder vs liquid laundry detergent

Move over Kevin Rudd! This is an issue of critical importance that affects each and every one of us.

First up, let’s take a look at washing powder:


laundry detergent powder vs liquid 1


•    Great for stain removal (especially for old, stubborn stains)
•    Powdered detergents are, generally speaking, cheaper
•    The cardboard packaging is more environmentally friendly


•    Sometimes it doesn’t dissolve properly, leaving residue on clothing
•    Contains sodium sulphate, which can be bad for septic systems
•    Contains more chemicals than liquid detergent = bad for waterways
•    Loses its potency when exposed to humid conditions (such as the inside of a laundry)

Moving right along, let’s now take a look at:


washing powder vs liquid 1


•    Detergent is pre-dissolved, so there’s less chance of residue
•    Liquid detergent contains fewer chemicals than powder = better for the environment
•    You can pre-treat stains by pouring the liquid directly onto the fabric
•    High efficiency machines are designed to work best with liquid detergent


•    Liquid detergents are generally more expensive than powder
•    The plastic packaging is not as environmentally friendly
•    Liquid detergent is good for fresh stains, but not terrific for old, ground-in stains

The verdict!

laundry liquid vs powder

Like anything in life, there is no cut-and-dried answer to this problem. Sorry!

However, we can say this:

Power is best for:

•    Washing heavily soiled clothes

Liquid is best for:

•    Highly water efficient washing machines
•    Self-dosing machines (such as the Siemens iDos)

Other considerations

washing powder vs liquid detergent 1


When shopping for laundry detergent, look out for the ‘P’ or ‘NP’ symbols on the packaging. These refer to phosphorus (P = contains phosphorus, NP = contains minimal amounts of phosphorus) – which softens water and helps to keep dirt suspended in the water (rather than re-attaching itself to your clothes).

The problem with phosphorus is that it’s bad for our waterways – it can lead to excessive growth of blue green algae. For this reason, we advise that you buy laundry detergent with the ‘NP’ symbol.

washing powder vs liquid detergent


Enzymes are used in laundry detergents to remove stains. Different types of enzymes target different types of stains – some target protein, some target starch. If you frequently launder stained clothes, enzyme-enriched laundry detergent is your friend.

However, enzymes are also known to cause skin irritations, so they should be avoided if anyone in your household has sensitive skin.

Additionally: the enzymes in laundry powder can become less active over time, especially if the powder is exposed to humid and moist conditions. Therefore it is not advisable to buy powder in bulk and store it in the laundry – otherwise you’ll find that it becomes less and less effective.

detergent powder vs liquid 1

Optical brighteners

‘Brighter! Whiter!’ If your laundry detergent makes these sorts of claims, chances are it contains optical brighteners. These coat the fabric with fluorescent particles which absorb ultraviolet light and then re-emit it as blue white. This makes your clothes appear brighter and whiter – even though they do nothing to actually remove dirt.

Optical brighteners should be avoided by those with sensitive skin, as they can provoke rashes.


Studies have shown that most people use too much laundry detergent. This is because people don’t generally run their washing machines at full capacity.

When you use too much detergent, you can end up with detergent build-ups on your clothes – which will irritate your skin. Additionally, build-ups can occur inside the machine itself, which will reduce its lifespan. And if you’re using an intelligent washing machine, it will run additional rinse cycles to get rid of the excess suds – which is a waste time and water.

If your clothes are not heavily soiled, you should be able to get away with only using half the recommended dosage.

It’s especially important to avoid overdosing in highly water-efficient washing machines.

Foam and water going down through the plughole

Grey water

Washing machines produce ‘grey water’ – i.e. water that’s full of dirt and detergent.

It’s a long story as to whether you can use grey water on your garden – the short answer is ‘no’. However you can use grey water to flush your toilet – which is a great thing you can do to help conserve this precious natural resource.

laundry detergent powder vs liquid

Stay tuned!

Next week we’ll be looking at cold water washing – is it effective at stain removal? And can you do a cold water wash in a front loader? All shall be revealed… soon!

Louise is a writer with a passion for appliances, especially those that involve food. She is particularly fond of ovens because they enable her to make cake. Apart from baking Louise also enjoys listening to alternative music, dying her hair various unnatural colours and writing poetry that has been described (by her Nan) as 'quite nice'. On her appliance wish list is a Hello Kitty toaster and 'Hero' the barking dog-shaped hot dog maker. She lives in Sydney. Google+

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