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Liquid vs Powder Laundry Detergents

December 11, 2023

Doing the laundry can be somewhat of a science—there are several things that you have to consider when it comes to hand washing your clothes.

For starters, you have to take into consideration the kind of fabric. Different materials require different kinds of care; you can’t just assume that you can wash everything the same way.

The products that you use on your clothes are equally as important, detergent being one of them.

Should you use liquid or powder detergent? How are they different? What type of laundry detergent should you get? For the answers, keep scrolling – we’ll be going over everything that you need to know below.

How do Laundry Detergents Work?

how do laundry detergents workLiquid and powder detergent contains many different components including chelating agents, surfactants, enzymes, dyes, and fragrances.

It’s the surfactants, however, that do the majority of the cleaning. These special molecules have one end that is attracted to water-repelling substances like grease and oil and another that is attracted to water.

The way it works, one of the ends attaches to the dirt whereas the other side pulls the item toward the water. This allows it to remove the dirt and grime from your clothes. The dirt is then either suspended in the wash water or rinsed away.

Powder Detergent vs Liquid Detergent

Aside from liquid detergent (the most common variety), there is also powder detergent and detergent pods, the latter of which was introduced in the early 2010s. At one point in the ’60s and ’70s, tablet detergents were also popular.

Regardless of their shape and form, these products work in the same way—they contain surfactants that lift dirt away from your clothing.

With that said, they do have differences that make them unique, which we’ll be going over later.

History of Liquid Detergents

Liquid detergent was developed in the early 20th century. In 1907, a man named Otto Rohm discovered that enzymes could be incorporated into cleaning agents to improve washing performance. His detergent, Burnus, later became the most widely used powder laundry detergent in Germany.

It wasn’t until the 1930s, however, that liquid detergent became available in the United States. The credit goes to Robert Duncan, a P&G worker who discovered surfactants while in Germany.

Thanks to his work, P&G was eventually able to work out a deal with German companies that allowed them to use these molecules. P&G’s first liquid detergent, Dreft, was released to the market in 1933.

Ingredients in Liquid Detergent

Liquid laundry detergents more or less contain the same type of compounds as powder detergents. It’s just the ratio of ingredients that is different.


Alkalies are one of the major ingredients of liquid detergents. A type of soluble salt, it is effective in removing dirt and other impurities from fabric.

For instance, sodium and potassium are great at eliminating oil; this is achieved by forming an emulsion of the grease particles (it is then rinsed away with cold water afterward).


As mentioned earlier, surfactants play a critical role in liquid detergent. How do they work? They surround the dirt and lift it into the water.

Without surfactants, dirt would not be able to dissolve properly in water. Common surfactants include ethers, alkyl sulphates, and alkyl ethoxylate sulphates.


Enzymes are often added to powder and liquid detergents to enhance performance. Depending on the product, it can either be processed or natural (i.e. plant-based).

Fragrances and Dyes

More often than not, fragrances and dyes are added to liquid detergent. This might be obvious but they are not involved with the cleaning process.

Instead, they are used for aesthetic appeal. While that may be true, there is always a possibility that these chemicals can lead to skin irritation. For this reason, those with sensitive skin are advised to use fragrance-free and dye-free detergent. Using too much detergent can also make the issue worse.

Advantages of Liquid Laundry Detergent

is liquid detergent better than powder laundry detergentLiquid detergent works well, which explains why it’s so popular.

They’re also easy to use. For one thing, they come all ready to be used in bottles; all you have to do is open the lid, measure the liquid, and pour it into the right laundry detergent drawer.

If you want, you can even use it as a stain pre-treater or spot cleaner.

Relatively inexpensive, one bottle of liquid laundry detergent will last you many washes. It’s important to note, however, that they do have expiry dates. As a general rule, they are good for about six months upon opening; afterward, the chemicals will start to degrade and break down.

Other advantages of liquid laundry detergent:

  • They dissolve completely in water
  • They do not contain any substances that can accumulate in your machine
  • Liquid detergent contains fewer chemicals than powder detergent, which makes it better for the environment
  • Many washing machines work better with liquid detergents
  • Less expensive than one-use laundry pods
  • Excellent for getting rid of oil and grease stains (liquid detergents penetrate deep into the fibers)

Disadvantages of Liquid Laundry Detergent

As wonderful as they may be, they do not have disadvantages. For instance, the measuring lines on the bottle cap can be hard to read; as a result, many people pour more detergent than they need.

Not only does this lead to waste, but it can cause skin irritation as well (residue is left over on the fabric even after being washed).

The plastic bottles that they come in are also not environmentally friendly. While they can be recycled, most eventually end up at the landfill (not everyone participates in recycling programs).

Over time, this can have a big impact on the environment.

Other disadvantages of liquid laundry detergent:

  • Liquid detergents are generally more expensive than powder laundry detergent
  • They can limit the effectiveness of other cleaning agents (e.g. bleach)
  • They have a shorter lifespan

More About Powder Laundry Detergent

liquid vs powder detergentPowder detergents aka washing powders, were the first types of soap that people used for their laundry. By the time liquid formulas came to the market, they had already been used for many years. One of the first mass-marketed brands was Rinso, a type of soap powder that was released in 1908.

In the years afterward, more and more companies began to produce powdered detergent. However, their popularity eventually plummeted with the released of liquid soaps. With that said, they are still used regularly by households today.

Ingredients of Powdered Laundry Detergent

Despite their different forms, powder detergent, and liquid detergents contain many of the same ingredients.

For instance, they all contain surfactants, which allow the compounds to penetrate deep into the fabric by reducing the water’s surface tension. More often than not, they also contain enzymes, brighteners, whiteners, and fragrances.

Advantages of Powder Detergent

While they might not be as popular as they once were, powder detergents are still effective cleaning agents. In fact, they are better than liquid detergents in several ways.

For one thing, they are generally much more effective at removing stains (especially those old, stubborn spots). Not only that, but they are cheap; you can easily get a box for less than $10.

The pros don’t stop there, though—they are also much better for the environment. Instead of plastic bottles, powder detergents come in cardboard boxes, which can easily be recycled. As a result, less goes to the landfill.

Other advantages of powder detergent:

  • Just as effective as liquid detergent
  • Takes up less space in storage
  • Generally more stable than liquid detergents
  • Ideal for those who live in areas with hard water
  • Fewer dyes are used compared to liquid detergent

Disadvantages of Powdered Detergents

is powder detergent better than liquid detergentPerhaps the greatest issue with these products is the fact that they don’t come pre-dissolved. Rather, you have to dissolve them yourself in water. If done incorrectly, residue can easily be left on clothing; this can lead to skin irritation and allergies.

Another thing to consider is that it tends to get airborne when you’re adding it to water; this makes it unsuitable for those with respiratory conditions.

On top of that, the powders have a tendency to get “stuck” in the crevices and corners of the washing machine, which can become a problem over time.

Other disadvantages of powder detergents:

  • These types of detergent usually contain sodium sulphate, which is bad for the waterways
  • Difficult to transport due to their weight (i.e. they have a larger impact on the environment)

Best Powder Detergent for Workout Clothing

powder detergent for workout clothingWhen it comes to washing workout clothing, you want to use something that is suitable for synthetic fabrics. After all, most of the activewear out there is made from man-made fibers.

Standard detergents are not recommended as they are not effective at removing dirt and oils from these types of materials.

We highly recommend ACTIVE Detergent instead as it’s specially formulated to tackle grime and odors on synthetic fibers. Not only that but it will also protect your clothes from breaking and wearing down. On top of all that, it’s organic, fragrance-free, and easy to use!

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Sophia Grant

Sophia Grant brings her extensive knowledge of laundry and clothing care to the masses with her intensive cleaning guides. Her thorough understanding of fabrics, detergents, and washing techniques helps readers master the art of maintaining their wardrobe. Sophia's advice ensures that anyone can achieve professional-level results at home, keeping their garments looking pristine and lasting longer.

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