Liquid Vs. Powder Detergent: Which Is Best For You?

Bowls of powder and liquid detergent on a table with clothespins.

Choosing the right laundry detergent depends on a number of factors — average load size, different types of stains and even hard water can all play a role. If you’re not sure which type of detergent you need, our guide can help you learn more.


Is liquid detergent better than powder?


Both liquid and powder laundry detergents are effective at cleaning clothes and helping remove stains. However, both varieties have their own benefits based on things like cost per load and packaging. You can find a brief overview of the pros and cons for both liquid and powder detergent below:



  • Dissolves and rinses easily
  • Better for grease and oil stains
  • Doubles as stain pre-treatment and can be used for hand washing


  • Can be slightly more expensive than powder detergent
  • Can be easy to use the wrong amount
  • Plastic packaging is bulky and may not be recyclable in all areas
Liquid detergent is poured into a washing machine dispenser above a load of laundry.
Powder detergent is poured into a washing machine dispenser.



  • Can cost less per load
  • Comes in recyclable paper packaging
  • Better for mud, grass and blood stains


  • May not dissolve as well as liquid detergent
  • May not rinse as easily, leaving residue on clothes or washer
  • Can clump and cake in the packaging
  • Inconvenient to use for stain pre-treatment or handwashing

What’s the difference between powder and liquid detergent ingredients?


Laundry detergents use different compounds, or surfactants, to remove stains from clothes. Powder detergents use alkylbenzene sulfonate to remove stains, while liquid detergents use alcohol ethoxylates. Liquid detergents use alcohol compounds because they are more stable in liquid form.


Is powder or liquid laundry detergent better at fighting stains?


While both types of detergents are designed to help fight stains, powder and liquid detergents may remove different stains more easily.


Because of the difference between powder and liquid detergents when it comes to specific stains, some people may choose to have both on hand for different types of laundry. For example, you may choose to use powder detergent on outdoor athletic gear or gardening clothes, while using liquid detergent on everyday wear or items that are frequently exposed to oils and grease like coveralls.
A pink stain on a light blue shirt.

Is liquid or powder detergent better for your washing machine?


Most appliance experts say that liquid detergents are generally better for washing machines vs. powder detergent. If powder detergent doesn’t dissolve completely with each load, it can clump up and cause blocks in hoses and drains that can affect your appliance’s performance. In contrast, liquid detergents like Swash® limit residue and other build-up.


It’s also important to choose the detergent that works best for your appliance’s wash cycle. If you have a high efficiency washing machine, choose an HE detergent — it’s specially formulated to clean clothes with less water.


Of the two types of detergent, which is better for hard water?


Small bowls of liquid and powder laundry detergent on a table with clothespins.

Liquid detergents are generally recommended for washing in hard water. This is because the ingredients in liquid laundry detergent are less likely to react with hard water minerals. Liquid detergents also rinse more easily than powder in hard water, so they’re less likely to leave residue behind.


While powder detergents sometimes contain water softening ingredients, it may not be enough to counteract hard water minerals. You can use warmer water cycles and more detergent if you have hard water, but this can be more expensive in the long run. Instead, consider using detergents formulated for hard water, or a highly concentrated option like Swash® Laundry Detergent. Its Precision Pour Cap ensures that you always use the right amount of detergent for an effective clean.


Is liquid detergent better than powder for septic systems?


Septic systems can also be adversely affected by powder detergents, as their ingredients can interact with the liquids in your septic system and cause drainage issues. If you prefer to use powder vs. liquid laundry detergents, make sure the brand you purchase is labeled “safe for septic systems” to avoid problems or costly repairs.


Do you need more powder detergent to clean each load of laundry?

This is generally a toss-up. Each type of detergent is different, and each one may require a different amount per load. To avoid over- or under-dosing, it’s important to follow the instructions on the package to make sure you’re using the right amount.


This situation may change if you live in an area with hard water. In order to clean more effectively, you may need to use more powder detergent with hard water to counteract the minerals that can interfere with cleaning. Liquid detergents, on the other hand, are less reactive with hard water and can therefore be used at regular amounts. To help with measuring, look for measuring marks in your detergent cap or choose a detergent like Swash®. The Precision Pour Cap helps ensure that you get the right amount of detergent for every load. A basic guide for using powder and liquid detergents can be found below.


Tips for using different types of detergent


Using the right detergent for the right wash load can help you get more done on laundry day. The following tips can help you get the best results from both products.



  • For top loading washing machines, add detergent directly to the wash drum before adding your clothes
  • For front loading washing machines, add detergent to the detergent drawer
  • Use powder detergent for loads with extra dirt stains
Powder detergent in a scoop being poured into a top load washing machine.
Swash detergent being poured into a washing machine detergent dispenser.



  • Measure your liquid detergent and add it to the detergent dispenser. If your washing machine has a detergent storage and dispensing system, such as the Whirlpool Load & Go Dispenser, you can skip this step
  • Next, add clothes to the drum
  • Use liquid detergent for food, grease and oil stains, as well as stain pre-treatment

Get great results on laundry day with Swash® detergent

Three different bottles of Swash arranged on a counter.

The right detergent can make all the difference when it comes to cleaning your clothes. That’s why Swash® Laundry Detergent is specially formulated to both wash and care for your clothes with every wash cycle. Its concentrated formula combined with our Precision Pour Cap ensures that you get the right amount of detergent for each load of laundry. And with three different scents to choose from, you’re sure to find a fragrance you’ll love. Browse our collection of Swash® detergent and purchase some for your home today.