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How Detergents Work to Clean Clothes and How to Select the Best Detergent

To get the best results from any laundry detergent, there is a three-fold process of chemical energy, thermal energy, and mechanical energy that must be used when washing clothes.

The chemical energy is, of course, the laundry detergent. The ingredients in the laundry detergent you choose will affect the final results. Less expensive detergents have fewer or no enzymes. Fewer enzymes equal less cleaning power.

Thermal energy pertains to water temperature. Different detergents are formulated to work best at different temperatures. Be sure to read the directions to select the best product for your laundry.

Mechanical energy comes from either a washer or a person hand-washing clothes.

There are dozens of choices on the laundry detergent shelves. How do you choose? The best choice is the one that suits your family’s needs in terms of effectiveness on specific soils, personal preference for fragrance, form (powder, liquid or single dose), and price.

Here’s how to start. Assess your family’s laundry including the types of stains and the amount of body soil. If most of the garments are only lightly-soiled with few stains, you may find that a less expensive detergent and a good stain remover is all you need. If you have heavy soil, gym clothes with lots of body odor and lots of food/grease/outside stains; you need a heavy-duty detergent.

Next, read the laundry detergent labels or go online to read the ingredients. It is important to look for surfactants and enzymes to remove soil and stains. Bargain brands have fewer of these components and will not clean as well. You may find that having two formulas on your laundry shelf will serve your needs; one detergent for lightly soiled clothes and one for heavily-soiled clothes.

Although most detergents will work in cold water, it is better to choose one formulated for cold water if you plan to use cold water exclusively.

You can now find liquids and powders in concentrated or ultra formulas. Although packaged in smaller sizes, they provide the same cleaning power as their larger unconcentrated counterparts. To determine the correct amount to use, follow the label instructions and use the companion measuring cap or scoop. These products simply have the extra water or fillers removed making them easier and less expensive to ship and store. The single-dose packs and pods are concentrated even further and may actually save you money by preventing overuse.

Many people chose their laundry detergent based on scent. Just remember that “smelling clean” is not the same as being clean. Be sure that soil is actually being removed and not just covered up with perfume.