Hard water can leave residue on laundry and make clothes, towels, and linens look dingy and feel rough to the touch. This residue can also weaken fabrics’ fibers, which shortens the overall lifespan of your belongings. Fortunately, there’s a way to combat stiff, dingy fabrics in the home: Switch out your current laundry detergent with one that can handle hard water. Read on for what you should keep in mind when choosing the best laundry detergent for hard water, and learn why these picks are the best available detergents in each category.
- BEST OVERALL: Rockin’ Green Natural Laundry Powder | Lavender Mint
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Arm & Hammer Liquid Laundry Detergent Plus OxiClean
- BEST DETERGENT BOOSTER: Charlie’s Soap Booster & Hard Water Treatment
- BEST FOR SENSITIVE SKIN: Charlie’s Soap Laundry Powder Fragrance Free
- BEST STAIN-REMOVING: Persil Liquid Detergent ProClean Intense Fresh
- BEST ECO-FRIENDLY: Biokleen Laundry Detergent – Citrus Essence
- ALSO CONSIDER: Rockin’ Green Natural Laundry Powder | Unscented
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Laundry Detergent for Hard Water
Hard water contains a high concentration of minerals like calcium and magnesium. These minerals stick to fabric as it is laundered, leaving a residue on clothes and linens. Instead of cleaning clothes, some ingredients in laundry detergent also attach to minerals in the water. Using more detergent and hotter water can help but is pricey in the long run. A highly concentrated detergent, or a laundry detergent for hard water, is a smarter solution. Below are some options to consider when choosing the best laundry detergent for hard water.
Laundry detergent comes in different forms, including liquids, powders, pods, and strips:
- Liquid detergents are well suited to use with hard water. They tend to react less with the minerals in hard water, leading to a better clean. Since they are already in liquid form, these detergents dissolve readily and are less likely to leave a residue. They are convenient for hand-washing and pretreating stains. Measuring liquid for each load can make a bit of a mess; households that use liquid detergent can easily adjust the amount of detergent they use in each load. In hard-water homes where it’s sometimes necessary to use more soap, this flexibility is a great advantage.
- Powder detergents are affordable options and should not be overlooked for hard-water laundering. Some water-softening ingredients, like sodium carbonate, tend to come in powder form and are often used in powder detergents’ formulations. These detergents can work very well in hard water, and, like with liquid detergents, the proper amount needs to be measured before running a load of laundry. A disadvantage to using powder detergents is that the powder may not dissolve completely if it’s used with cold water. Powder is also sensitive to water and damp conditions—moisture can cause the powder to clump.
- Laundry detergent pods are single-use, premeasured packets that are very convenient and portable to use. With pods, there’s no measuring required and no risk of spills—just toss a pod into the drum with each load. The downsides of pods are that they are generally the priciest laundry detergents, and they’re less versatile than liquids or powders because users can’t use more or less detergent when it’s warranted. Finally, laundry pods aren’t suitable for hand-washing or for pretreating stains.
- Strips are an eco-friendly laundry detergent option. Unlike laundry soap, which is stored in bulky bottles or pouches, these strips pack the power of detergent into a thin, water-soluble sheet. The entire strip dissolves in the wash to clean clothes with less packaging and no measuring or mess involved.
Scented vs. Unscented
Scented detergents make clothes smell extra clean and fresh. Laundry detergents can include artificial or natural fragrances.
Artificial fragrances are made from chemicals and are available in a variety of scents. Fresh scents such as citrus and cotton are popular because they leave fabrics smelling crisp and clean. Laundry scent boosters add a stronger or longer-lasting scent and sometimes last for weeks after washing.
Naturally fragrant detergents are also popular, especially for those who prefer chemical-free cleaning products. These detergents use essential oils—typically floral and herbal scents, like lavender or eucalyptus—to impart a pleasant smell.
Laundry detergents include a variety of additives to tackle dirt, odors, and stains. Here are the main additives to keep an eye out for:
- Surfactants do the bulk of the cleaning in soaps and detergents. Surfactants break down the bonds between oils and water and dissolve oils, dirt, and grime from fabrics so the water can wash them away.
- Enzymes break down tough stains and odors to achieve a deeper clean. Different enzymes break down different molecules, such as proteins, starches, cellulose, and fats—the main culprits behind stains and smells. These enzymes can be naturally or chemically derived.
- Optical brighteners boost and brighten white fabrics and make colors look crisper. These brighteners enhance blue light and minimize the appearance of yellow light, which makes white fabrics look whiter to the eye.
- Sodium-based ingredients, such as sodium carbonate and sodium citrate, are water softeners. The sodium ions react with residue-causing minerals in hard water and help the detergent work better. Sodium carbonate is found in many washing sodas and laundry powders for hard water.
- Bleaching agents whiten and brighten clothes and remove stains. Chlorine bleach and oxygen bleach are the two most well-known types. Most laundry detergents use oxygen bleach instead of chlorine because it is gentler on colored fabrics.
- Sodium percarbonate is a main ingredient in oxygen bleaches like Oxiclean, and it’s great for whitening fabrics and removing stains without damaging colored fabrics. A gentler alternative to chlorine bleach with many of the same benefits, sodium percarbonate is a good deodorizer, too.
In newer-model washing machines, high-efficiency (HE) models are the new eco-friendly standard. HE washing machines use less water than standard models and reduce costs associated with energy and water bills and detergent usage. Since they use less water, they require less detergent.
Here’s the catch: Only HE laundry detergents are safe to use in HE washing machines. These detergents create fewer suds and won’t clog HE washing machines or leave residue behind. Since HE detergents are safe to use in standard washing machines, many detergent manufacturers now produce HE formulas. HE detergents are easy to recognize because they are labeled with an “HE” logo on the packaging.
The aforementioned additives that go into many laundry detergents have wider-reaching effects than just making clothes clean: Some are also harmful to the environment. To protect the earth, many manufacturers produce eco-friendly laundry detergents that contain fewer harsh chemicals. Instead, they use biodegradable, plant-based, or naturally derived ingredients.
Some eco-friendly laundry detergents are Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Safer Choice certified, which signifies that a product uses safer chemical ingredients than others on the market.
Reducing packaging also contributes to the eco-friendliness of a product. Some detergents for hard water come in easily recyclable packaging, like cardboard boxes. Ultra-concentrated laundry solutions come in smaller bottles and, therefore, use less packaging. These formulations are a good pick for households with hard water, who might have to use more than the recommended amount of detergent to get their laundry clean.
Our Top Picks
Hard water can put a damper on laundry day, leaving clothes and linens feeling dirty even after a wash. Get your laundry soft, fresh, and clean with the best laundry detergents for hard water.
Specially formulated for hard-water laundering, this powder detergent from Rockin’ Green is an eco-friendly fix for hard-water woes. Its special formulation is effective even in very hard water (over 180 ppm mineral content). The clean-rinsing detergent prevents hard-water minerals from redepositing on fabrics during the wash, which results in cleaner and softer clothes.
With a plant-based and vegan ingredient list, including water-softening sodium carbonate, Rockin’ Green is 100 percent biodegradable. This product is also free of sulfates SLS and SLES, bleach, dyes, phosphates, optical brighteners, parabens, and artificial fragrance.
This concentrated laundry formula comes in a resealable bag and washes 90 loads per package. It is safe to use in all washing machines, including HE machines, and leaves fabrics scented with a natural lavender mint fragrance.
With boosts of baking soda and OxiClean, this liquid detergent from Arm & Hammer packs a cleaning punch. This detergent can tackle over 101 types of stains but doesn’t contain harsh chemicals. It’s formulated with baking soda and oxygen bleach instead of additives like optical brighteners and phosphates. The brightening, whitening, and stain-fighting formula helps reverse some of the discoloring effects caused by hard water, and it fights new stains.
With 70 loads’ worth of washing in each bottle, this affordable laundry detergent is a suitable pick for daily laundering. The low-suds formula rinses clean in both standard and HE washing machines, leaving a fresh scent behind.
If your favorite laundry detergent isn’t as effective as you’d like in hard water, there’s no need to ditch it. A hard-water detergent booster works alongside any laundry detergent to achieve a better clean.
This booster from Charlie’s Soap can be used as needed or in every load and contains biodegradable phosphates that soften the wash water. Softer water boosts the effectiveness of laundry detergent so it can work effectively and reach its cleaning potential. This powerful formula also fights stains, whitens clothing, and softens stiff fabrics. It rinses away clean, leaving behind residue-free laundry.
Charlie’s Soap booster comes in a plastic pouch with an easy-to-open hook-and-loop zipper. It is safe to use in standard and HE machines.
This pared-down, low-sudsing laundry powder from Charlie’s Soap provides a deep, residue-free clean, even in hard water. The formula is free of brighteners, perfumes, and dyes, reducing possible irritants for sensitive skin.
High on the powder’s four-ingredient list is sodium carbonate (otherwise known as washing soda), which is both an excellent water softener and laundry cleaner. All of the powder’s ingredients are natural, fragrance-free, hypoallergenic, biodegradable, and septic safe, earning this detergent an EPA Safer Choice certification. Each pouch seals with a hook-and-loop closure and washes up to 100 laundry loads in either standard or HE washing machines.
Laundering in hard water often means using more detergent than usual, so it stands to reason that the more concentrated a detergent is, the better it will work in hard water. For a stain-fighting boost, consider this ultra-concentrated liquid detergent from Persil. This product is twice as concentrated as Persil’s regular detergents—one bottle washes 110 loads.
Persil’s deep-cleaning Pro10 formula offers a range of benefits, including whitening, brightening, anti-graying, and tackling odors and stains. With several enzyme ingredients, this detergent breaks down daily odors and stains for cleaner laundry. The formula is safe for use in all washing machines at all water temperatures and leaves a long-lasting crisp scent on clothes and linens.
This laundry detergent from Biokleen uses eco-friendly and plant-based ingredients rather than caustic chemicals to rid laundry of tough stains and odors. The formula is EPA Safer Choice certified, which is a seal of approval for environmentally conscious consumers. Each 64-ounce bottle is super concentrated to reduce packaging and washes up to 128 high-efficiency loads of laundry.
Biokleen’s ingredient list is free of phosphates, chlorine, ammonia, brighteners, dyes, and artificial fragrances. Its plant-based and biodegradable surfactants offer an effective clean. Instead of strong chemical fragrances, this product is scented with grapefruit seed and orange extracts. Even in hard water, Biokleen’s formula washes out completely, leaving no residue behind—just a light citrus scent.
The unscented version of Rockin’ Green’s hard-water detergent is ideal for sensitive skin. This product is specially formulated for hard-water use. By preventing minerals from reattaching to fabrics, clothes come out softer and cleaner. Ingredients such as sodium carbonate help to soften water, and the formula works to break down grime and wash it away.
Rockin’ Green’s concentrated formula is plant-based, vegan, and free from SLS, SLES, bleaches, dyes, phosphates, optical brighteners, parabens, and fragrance. This bare-bones ingredients list suits those who are sensitive to smells and chemical ingredients. Each resealable pouch washes up to 90 loads of laundry in any type of washing machine, including HE machines.
FAQs About Laundry Detergent for Hard Water
Laundering in hard water can be a hassle. Switching up your laundry detergent is a simple solution that doesn’t require installing a water softener. A laundry detergent for hard water is an affordable and effective pick for cleaner laundry. If you still have questions about hard water and laundry detergents, look below for answers to the most frequently asked questions.
Q. Can hard water ruin clothes?
Yes, hard water can damage clothes by leaving mineral residue, weakening fabric fibers, causing grime buildup, and making whites and colors look dingy. Using a laundry detergent that’s specially formulated for hard water doesn’t just make clothes look cleaner and nicer; it can also help them last longer.
Q. Is a liquid or powder detergent better for hard water?
Regular liquid detergents usually perform better compared to regular powder detergents. The ingredients in liquid detergents tend to react less with minerals in hard water, allowing them to work more effectively. This doesn’t mean powder detergents are a no-go, though: Some water-softening ingredients, such as sodium carbonate, often come in powder form. Powder detergents with these ingredients can perform very well in hard water.
Q. How many cups of laundry detergent should I use?
It is best to use the amount of laundry detergent recommended by the manufacturer. The right amount of detergent depends on the liquid concentration, size of the laundry load, and whether you are using an HE or standard washing machine. The detergent packaging will specify the recommended amount depending on these factors.
Q. How many scoops of washing powder should I use?
The right amount of washing powder depends on the concentration of the powder, washing machine type (standard or HE), and size of the laundry load. For the most effective clean, it is best to follow the packaging recommendations with these factors in mind.