TODAY   |  March 19, 2012

Which laundry detergent wins the clean test?

TODAY consumer correspondent Janice Lieberman visited the labs of the Good Housekeeping Research Institute to get the “dirt” on which laundry soap does the best job.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> back now at 8:43. this morning on "today's consumer," laundry deturningent. a lot of us just grab whatever is on sale. which deturningents really work the best? consumer correspondent janice lieberman has the dirt on that.

>> definitely going to get this thing clean. we spend $7 billion on detergents last year and we thought it was time to ask the lab experts at good housekeeping magazine to air their dirty laundry and show us which brands actually come clean. because there's been a great new change in cheer

>> reporter: let's face it, it's not glamorous, and it's not fun but someone has to do the dirty work . everyday products are promising something new, but do they work?

>> detergents are improving in terms of performance overall.

>> reporter: the choice in detergents can be dazzling. dozens line store shelves. how much do you really need to spend per cycle? a buck or just a few cents. we asked good housekeeping director carolyn forte.

>> we calculated our price for large or heavily soiled clothes.

>> reporter: we got access to the good housekeeping labs as they conducted their dirty business . testing different soaps' performance.

>> we tested 74 detergents, liquids, powders and the new single dose tabs in hot and cold water .

>> reporter: this mess is purely scientific at their lab. what do you have here?

>> a cotton swatch that we blocked off into 20 different stains. when we're doing our actual test we let them sit overnight and then we wash them.

>> reporter: forte wasn't easy on these competitors.

>> lipstick. mustard. spaghetti sauce . and grass. back at the lab the deterngents tested were some of their best performers. tide powder with bleach. ecover zero detergent and target's up and up liquid detergent .

>> to simulate actual home use we ternlgents.

>> reporter: after a full wash cycle we dot the results. first ecover 's laundry powder zero, somewhat pricier than the others.

>> this is one of our plant-based picks. what we would normally do is allow this to air dry and then we would give it a grade. it did well. you know, struggled with spaghetti sauce .

>> reporter: a lot.

>> mustard is hard but that's not bad.

>> reporter: next target's up and up. a bargain brand, there was still some light staining.

>> this didn't get the blood out.

>> no, it didn't. if you don't have heavy stains, you pretreat your stains, this is certainly a very viable option.

>> reporter: and last, one of the top picks, tide powder with bleach.

>> there's no detergent that's going to get out every single stain. the mud is gone. mascara looks good. blood is good. ink is good. i can't say it enough, you definitely have to pretreat stains.

>> reporter: good housekeeping says there were no bad performers. and do realize that we do 400 loads of laundry a year. so this is important.

>> i was going to say, don't say that. so depressing. what was the biggest surprise to come out of this?

>> that they all did pretty well. even the cheaper brands were pretty good. there were no real losers in the bunch. and they 2k7 4.

>> even in cold water .

>> and in cold water . if you want to save energy, why not try a load or two and see if it does okay for you.

>> we have the laundry hall of fame . this was the best laundry detergent powder form.

>> tide tied with itself.

>> good one.

>> the bleach and the powders, they won. but gain was a good runner-up.

>> okay.

>> then for liquids, powders really are the cheapest. but liquid is a little bit more convenient. also tide did very well. but era came in. so that's a little less. if you want to go green, they like ecover and caldria. tide was about 30 to 40 cents a load. this is a little bit higher.

>> some people have the perception that maybe they don't clean as well.

>> and good housekeeping said they did pretty well. that is an option but it is a little pricier.

>> this is special detergent for cold water . i got to tell you i didn't know you needed special detergent.

>> you probably could get away with it. these did very well. and this is gain, another runner-up to tide. because it's not a tide commercial but they did do well.

>> okay.

>> but for eleven cents a load they like target and they also like this from walmart. so you can definitely do it for a lot cheaper than 50, 60 cents a load if that is a concern.

>> and finally i love this idea. pods. just throw them in there.

>> this is awesome. they were very surprised that they work and also they really run you about the same as the liquid. so they're not crazy priced.

>> take us to laundry clinic. tips, the first one is immediately remove fresh stains.

>> if you're in a restaurant and wine gets on you, lift it as much as you can with a towel and try to lift as much as you can. don't blot it out with water and mush it in.

>> you lift it with a dry towel.

>> yes.

>> pretreat stains.

>> very important. if you see wine or lipstick or something, let it soak for awhile, you know, preferably overnight if you can.

>> you keep thinking my stains are from wine.

>> because mine are!

>> i'm really guilty of the next one. overloading the washer.

>> if you just want to stuff it in to get it done, you really have to be careful, because it's not going to get clean.

>> right.

>> so use the right amount of detergent.

>> yes. follow the directions. sometimes people do a little bit less. or sometimes they overdo it.

>> doing more is actually not good.

>> it's not good because it's just going to get full of soap and it won't come out. you really want to clean. you don't want a film on it. you want to use what they say. they do scientific research .

>> follow the directions. and then you say air dry stains.

>> this i thought was very interesting. if you find a stain, you put it in the wash and you're not sure it came out, air dry it. don't put it in your dryer. that's just going to set it. if you have to redo it at least you have another shot. once you put it in the dryer you're finished.

>> why wouldn't you put it right back into the washer.

>> well you want to see if it came out. how much laundry do you do?

>> obviously not a lot. coming