Liquid detergent vs. powder

I recently read an article talking about the almost extinction of powder laundry soaps. This makes me sad and a little upset. I used powdered soaps for years, and then slowly they started to disappear from store shelves. It’s not that I chose to switch to liquid detergents, I now make my own laundry soap, with five natural ingredients. The cost is about 75% cheaper than store bought liquid detergents.

Ironically, powder soaps are still prevalent in Africa, India, China, Latin America, and some highly developed western European countries. In my opinion people in the western world have been tricked into thinking the liquid detergent is better. Sodium percarbonate is the powder that is responsible for the whitening ability in powdered detergents. Liquid soaps have had trouble duplicating the whitening formula in a liquid state, making them most costly to produce. Liquid detergents are mostly made up of synthetic ingredients and developers struggled for a while to find a formula that deals with heavily soiled clothes. There is no substitute for soap.

An article in Chemical and Engineering News states that Tide first introduced a liquid detergent in 1984. In finding the best formula for a liquid detergent, they had to make sure every ingredient could function the way they needed in the wash besides” be compatible with each other in a liquid form and stable enough through manufacturing, store shelf life and eventually consumer use.”

I do not claim to be an authority on laundry detergent, and I have used both powder and liquid. Both have their pros and cons. As a former drycleaner though I can say I have used my fair share of laundry soaps. The most economical is the powder detergent by far. Maybe that is why it is still most prevalent in lower GNP countries.

In my opinion, I think the development of liquid detergents and the innovation of HE washing machines go hand in hand. HE washing machines push their efficiency numbers at you by using half the amount of water as traditional “full bath” machines. To me, half the amount of water means half the amount of clean. In an HE machine, powdered detergents don’t have the capacity to dissolve properly and do an effective job. Enter the liquid detergents that need less water and you have a winning combination. Manufacturers are happy and the customer is happy.

As long as they continue to make a “full bath” washing machine, I will continue to buy them.

Photo by Adrienne Andersen on

HE machines can either be top loaders of front loaders. One thing they do have going for them is with the absence of a large agitator in the center of the drum, they are much more gentle on clothes. Delicates and some dry clean items can now be safely washed with out the concern of too much hard washing. That being said, what about the items that need a good water bath? I do not think the HE low water fill machines allow enough water to come into the drum to sufficiently wash large bulky items, or heavily soiled items.

I have read my share of testimonials about machines leaving white chalky marks on garments and clothing just not seeming clean upon removal. In part it may be because there is not enough water used to appropriately dissolve the detergents and or, people think they see a larger drum that means they can add more clothes to each load. I would beg to differ. Lower water fill would mean smaller loads in my mind. So much for efficiency.

Another big difference between powder and liquid detergents? How come no one is recognizing the large amount of plastic waste the liquid detergents produce? Powder detergents stick with a coated cardboard container that breaks down much sooner than a giant size plastic jug. Just a thought.

One thought on “Liquid detergent vs. powder

  1. I have an HE washing machine and your homemade washing powder dissolves perfectly and cleans everything so well. It also smells great. Please keep selling it on Etsy because it’s now my favorite laundry soap.


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