Should I use liquid or powder washing detergent?

Powder detergents have a water softener base, usually sodium carbonate. This water softener binds minerals in the water, allowing the surfactant in the detergent to work effectively.

Liquid detergents generally don’t contain water softeners, because soft water doesn’t contain many minerals. As a result, they are generally a better option in soft water areas.

Water hardness

To find out water quality, contact your water provider, check on your council website or Google it for your suburb. Rainwater and distilled water is soft.

  • For water hardness 20–60ppm (softer water), consider using a liquid detergent.
  • For water hardness 60–120ppm (moderately hard water), consider using a powder detergent.
  • For water hardness 120ppm and above (very hard water) consider adding a laundry booster (eg Vanish) or sodium carbonate to the main wash cycle. Check the packaging for quantities, but generally adding 2 scoops is sufficient.

For more information, refer to the Water Hardness page.

Suds and water softeners

To know whether enough water softener has been added, check to see how clean the items are out of the machine and look for enough suds in the cycle.

This video demonstrates a cycle with adequate suds

Excess suds in softer water

When powder detergents are used in soft water, they can create excess suds. Excess suds are not an issue in a top loader machine, but are in a front loader machine. Excess suds can create a cushioning effect, which prevent friction between items, which prevents everything from being washed properly.

See the Excess suds in Front Loader page for troubleshooting techniques.

This video demonstrates a cycle with excessive suds

For more information on what is in detergents and the function of the raw materials see our information on surfactants, enzymes, optical brighteners and fragrances and the WashWise information sheet on Laundry Detergent Ingredients .