Powder vs. Liquid Detergent — What’s the Difference and When to Use Each One

published Sep 4, 2022
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Left: Someone pouring liquid detergent into washing machine. Right: Someone pouring powder detergent into washing maching.
Credit: Left to right: Getty Images/Capelle.r; Sutterstock/nhungboon

Piles of dirty clothes got you down? Using the right laundry products can make a huge difference, adding efficiency and effectiveness to the process. One of the simplest ways to tweak your laundry routine is knowing when to use which kind of detergent. 

At the end of the day, you can get the job done with either powder or liquid detergent (assuming you follow the product instructions). “Detergent is detergent,” says Wayne Edelman, CEO of Meurice Garment Care and CLEAN by Meurice. “They basically wash with the same results.” 

That said, if your goal is to save time and money while getting your laundry as clean as possible, Edelman notes some key differences in each laundry product’s performance that can help you determine when to use each one. 

Here’s what you need to know about powder and liquid detergent.

Liquid detergent 

Liquid detergent, one of the most popular laundry options these days, comes with plenty of positive features — but before you add it to a load, understand what it can and can’t do.


  • Easier for hand-washing 
  • Dissolves in any temperature water
  • Can be used for pre-treatment or spot treatment
  • Great at removing oily stains 


  • Less environmentally friendly due to plastic waste and water content
  • Less cost-effective because you use more per load
  • Can be cumbersome to lift and pour 

When to use liquid detergent

Liquid laundry detergent is a great pick if you’re most concerned about convenience. Liquid detergent contains water, which has its pros and cons. While water content makes it heavier to lift and transport and takes a toll on the environment, the liquid nature makes it easier to use for laundry.

If you ever hand wash, it’s a good idea to keep liquid around. “It dissolves quicker and easier,” says Edelman. You can also easily pre-treat to target spots with liquid detergent. Plus, it dissolves well in any temperature, so you’ll be less likely to deal with residue in your machine or on your clothes. 

As for stains? Liquids are great at removing greasy spots due to their ingredients (such as alcohol ethoxylate, a type of surfactant that breaks down oily soils). 

Powder detergent 

Powder detergent may be an old-school option, but it still has plenty of perks. Before adding powder to your next load, review the pros and cons. 


  • Easier to measure than liquid 
  • Great at removing mud or dirt stains
  • More eco-friendly 
  • More cost-effective 


  • Doesn’t dissolve as well in cold water
  • Harder to use for pre-treatment unless you form a paste with water
  • May leave residue in your washer or on your clothes

When to use powder detergent

If you’re concerned about saving the planet and saving money, powder detergent may be a good choice. It’s easier to measure out than liquid, so you can save coins on each load. “A 92-ounce bottle says it cleans 64 loads, whereas a box of the same powder detergent will clean 180 loads,” Edelman says. Plus, he adds, powder products use less plastic and water than liquid ones, making them more environmentally friendly. 

Powder detergent contains cleaning chemicals that some liquids don’t, so it’s a great pick for fussy mud, dirt, and clay stains (think kids’ clothes or sports uniforms). You can also pre-treat with powder if it’s all you have on hand; just add water to form a paste.

Keep in mind powder detergent can leave behind residue on your clothes and in your washer because it doesn’t dissolve as well in cold water. Either run powder detergent with warm or hot water or opt for the extra rinse function when you’re using a powdered product. The extra water use may cancel out some of the environmental benefits, but if you’re dealing with heavily soiled clothes, it may be worthwhile.