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How to choose the best washing agent for your laundry

Updated on December 3, 2012

Things of the past

Flat Iron
Flat Iron
Good old fashioned scrubbing brushes
Good old fashioned scrubbing brushes

Modern advances in Laundry

Hot on the heels of my hub which will hopefully help you choose the right washing machine for you, comes this hub aimed at making sure that you also use the right cleaning agent.

So to start with here I go again, harping on about the past, but for those of you born in the last thirty odd years or so, you may not realise that choosing a washing agent used to be easy.

As a child in the fifties I was fascinated watching my old Great Aunt wash laundry. She would take out a large block of carbolic soap and rub this over dirty collars, cuffs, armholes and then generally all over the item to be washed. She would then scrub away before finally rinsing. Whites were still boiled in an old, huge, pan on the stove until they were whiter than white. The only additional products she ever used was Soda, to soften the water, and Starch to make colaars and cuffs uncomfortable rigid.

Of course she was a little eccentric. She even used to iron with an old Victorian flat iron which she would heat on the coal fire. Eventually in the late sixties she had a gas fire installed and this put paid to her flat iron days. She would occasionally still use it by heating it but on the stove. This was a dangerous practice and finally she gave in to family pressure and the old flat iron became a door stop.

Most other women, in the Fifties and early Sixties, in England, were using washing powder to do laundry. It may sound sexist saying women but back then very few men ever did laundry. Those that lived alone usually managed to have a Sister or Mum who would oblige.

The choice of cleaning agent however was easy as there were only a few products. The ones that spring to mind were:-

  • Omo
  • Daz
  • Surf
  • Persil
  • Fairy Snow

I seem to think that was about it. Of course eventually as we all became more worldly OMO disappeared altogether. All of the above were washing powders. Each only had one fragrance and one variety. Fabric Softener was a mere twinkle in the eye of some entrepreneur, somewhere in the future.

I do not quite remember when the variety of washing agents grew to be as large as it is now. Even around 35 years ago the choice was minimal. Still somewhere along the line the choice grew and became one other headache for shopper on the lookout for such a product.

The worrying thing is that the manufacturers do not seem to know when to stop. Each time I visit the supermarket the shelves of washing products has expanded further. Personally I find it easy. This amount of choice has deterred me from browsing properly. I simply grab my tried and tested Ariel Biological powder and I am away.

For those who may be new to this type of purchasing here are a few hints and tips:-

  • Do not discount the store brand products. Especially if money is tight for you, these could be a bargain. However only purchase the smallest pack available. If the product turns out to be rubbish then you have not really lost anything. You can always use it up for cleaning the drive or patio outdoors.
  • I would say that it is always best to buy the smallest pack of any new product. anyway, for obvious reasons.
  • Once you have found a product that suits you shop around for the best price. It will usually be a very large sized pack. I buy a huge box of my Ariel powder which weighs a ton but lasts absolutely ages and works out to be good value. The trick is making sure that you only use the recommended amount for each wash or less. The temptation can sometimes be to use a larger amount, because you have plenty of the product.
  • Remember that products change over the years. I used Daz washing powder for a long time, as the results were good and it was good value. Suddenly, about 20 years ago I developed a rash. It turned out that the ingredients of this product had been changed and I was now allergic to it. The rash vanished as soon as I swapped products.
  • When you purchase your new all singing and dancing washing machine the manufacturer will usually recommend a product. For many years I used Bold, combined powder and fabric softener, until I had problems with my machine. The maintenance man stressed that the machine would work better with the manufacturer's recommended product which was Ariel. I swapped products and have stuck with Ariel. It gives great cleaning results and seems to help my machine tick over. It is a little more costly but is worth it.
  • Fragrances are not for everyone. These days many washing products are heavily scented. If you use a fabric softener with a different scent the result can be overpowering. Again try small samples first before you make you proper purchase. My Hubby is prone to migraines and so heady scented bed linen will do him no favours. Bear in mind that some scents may not be good for those with asthma, breathing problems, or allergies either.
  • Perhaps a Sensitive product will be better for those with such health issues. Most makers now manufacture a cleaning agent which is aimed at those with allergies and the like.
  • New products are being added constantly to the ranges. We now have OXY cleaning agents when it is claimed can really clean. I have to say that I have had mixed results with these. However I did have a new white top white recently which was blathered in Red Wine from a night out with the girls. Following the instructions on the tub I added some water to a little OXY so that it became a paste. I then applied this paste onto the wine stains and left for 1/2 an hour. Voile`. When I rinsed the garment the stains had vanished, as if my magic. I kid you not. I was truly amazed and shall use this again as I have no doubt such stains will reoccur. Please note though that this was only recommended for white material as I guess it was a type of bleach.
  • If you are happy with your product do not switch. All new products claim to have better and better results and obviously this may not be the case.
  • Fabric softeners can leave your laundry soft, fluffy and full of lovely fragrance but they may damage your machine. Remember to regularly clean out your machine's dispensing drawer. If you do not the left over softener may clog the drawer completely.
  • The newest products are often concentrated. This means that the overall size is smaller and the product requires less packaging. This is good for the environment, is easier to carry and ultimately should be cheaper. Look for products that are environmentally friendly packaged.
  • Think about the environment also in relation to what harm the actual product may do. Read the packaging as some are less harmful to our water courses and the like.
  • A good product should only need a small amount each wash. This can work out cheaper in the long run and be less harmful to your laundry.
  • Remember that your local water quality will have a bearing on how much of a lather your cleaning agent provides. Hard water may leave a scum and soft water will only need a small amount of washing agent.

I am not going to recommend a product as the choice is yours. I just wanted to point out how vast that choice is and how far doing the laundry has travelled.

Consider you own household and pick what is right for you. For example, if you wash someones old, painty overalls, which have not been clean for years, it probably will not matter much how clean the garment actually is. However, if you wash your tiny baby's pink fluffy cardigan you will want it to stay soft, be really clean, smell nice and be non irritating. If necessary buy different products for different items of laundry.

I imagine the choice will only become greater with time. Happy Product Hunting.


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    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      There are just way too many products now! Sometimes I just stand in the supermarket aisle staring at them. I usually end up buying the one on sale. Thumbs up!

    • ethel smith profile image

      Eileen Kersey 8 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

      I know Peggy. Was Monday traditionally washing day in your country?

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      This brought back many memories of the old wringer washing machines, the double rinse tubs, the lines outside to hang the wash, Fels Naptha soap, etc........all from my youth. Fun journey in my mind. Thanks!

    • ethel smith profile image

      Eileen Kersey 8 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

      Isn't it annoying. Yes I have found out the hard way that less is more with new washing products :)

    • Gypsy Willow profile image

      Gypsy Willow 8 years ago from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand

      Just bought a large bargain package of detergent and the smell is nasty, your advice is so wise!