Pods vs. Powder vs. Liquid Detergent: Which Works Best?

By: Jeremy Glass & Sascha Bos  | 
man doing laundry
Nobody likes doing laundry. So why not make it as easy as possible? byakkaya/Getty Images

Even though we have only had access to an automated washing machine since the 1850s, humans have been washing our clothes since ancient times, beating them over rocks and scrubbing them with sand.

Today things are much easier; we just drop our clothes in the washing machine and go.


But which medium works best for keeping your clothes fresh and clean? It's time to explore pods vs. powder vs. liquid detergent.

A Brief History of Laundry Pods

Laundry tablets were first introduced in the 1960s when Procter & Gamble released Salvo as an alternative to liquid or powder detergent. The tablets didn't dissolve well and were off shelves by 1970.

Procter & Gamble released its first detergent tablets, Salvo, in the 1960s. They didn't dissolve well so they came off the shelves soon after.
Wikimedia/(CC BY-SA 2.0)

A decade later, P&G tried again with Cheer Power pouches. Consumers were not impressed by these either.


It wasn't until 2012 that laundry pods found their place in the greater laundry-doing world. That's when P&G finally had success with Tide PODS, and many others have followed in their pod footsteps since. Now the market is flooded with all brands of laundry pods.


How Laundry Pods Work

Much like dishwasher pods, laundry pods contain liquid (and sometimes powder) cleaning ingredients inside a dissolvable film that's made to be added directly into the washer drum. When the pod hits the water, the film dissolves, releasing the cleaning ingredients into the wild world of soiled garments.

Pros of Laundry Pods

Aside from the obvious convenience factor, many people consider laundry pods superior to liquid detergents because they come premeasured.


Jennifer Ahoni, principal scientist at Tide, takes that one step further and says pods not only perform better because they are measured correctly, but also because they have more concentrated cleaning ingredients.

tide pods
Tide PODS were the first laundry pods to become commercially successful. They hit the market in 2012.

"Tide PODS actually contain three inner chambers, so the active ingredients are separated before use, and then released into the wash at just the right time," she says. It's hard to do that unless you're standing there watching your clothes wash.

Some pods, like Tide 3-in-1, include multiple technologies in one pod that eliminates the need to buy several different products (theoretically). For instance, you might not have to purchase detergent, fabric softener and odor eliminators because one laundry pod can do the work of all three.

This also means laundry pods can save space. If you live in a tiny New York City apartment and don't have much room for storage, one box of the right laundry pods could replace fabric softener, a box of detergent and other stain boosters.

And if you have to trek to the laundromat to do your wash, taking a few pods instead of a heavy box or bottle of detergent is much easier when you're already lugging pounds of dirty clothes.

Cons of Laundry Pods

Of course, laundry pods aren't superior to regular detergents in every way by far. They are much more expensive than both liquid and powder detergents. Some can cost as much as 50 percent more. Powders are the most inexpensive of the options, followed by liquids, then pods.

And while there is a definite convenience factor in their preportioned packets, that convenience also limits you. With liquids and powder detergents, you have much more control. If you want to run a very small load, for instance, you can choose a small amount of detergent with powders and liquids.

With pods, if you have an extra-large load of laundry, you might need to use two — and that can get expensive if you do a lot of large loads. On the flip side, if you have a small load of delicates, you're limited to the amount of detergent already in the pod, which is likely too much. That can sometimes lead to buildup of chemicals on your clothes.

You also can't pretreat stains with pods like you can with liquid detergents. Because they're meant to simply be tossed into the machine that means you'll need to buy something extra for pretreating stains. And if you do any handwashing of delicates, you'll need something for that, too.

Even Tide's Ahoni agrees pods are great, but they can't do everything. "I do use liquid detergent in some cases," Ahoni says. "It's a great option when I have stains, or I want to pretreat prior to washing. I also use liquid detergent for items that I hand wash."

One last thing about pods that is of concern: In 2012, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a warning after about 500 kids were poisoned from eating laundry pods. (More were sickened when they ate the things to impress their friends on TikTok for the "Tide pod challenge.")

Just keep the things out of reach of kids if you end up buying them.


Pros and Cons of Powder Detergent

The obvious advantage of powder laundry detergent over pods and even liquid laundry detergent is the cost. Powder detergent is cheaper and can be more environmentally friendly than other options because it requires less packaging and less water.

If you want to be truly eco-friendly, you can make your own powder detergent or refill it at a zero-waste grocery store.


Some people find powder detergent easier to measure than liquid laundry detergent, which can also save you money, since you'll always use the exact amount you need.

The biggest problem with powdered detergent is that it doesn't always dissolve completely in washing machines, especially if you wash clothes in cold water. To use powder detergent for spot-treating stains, form a paste with hot water and apply to blood stains, clay stains or mud and dirt stains.


Pros and Cons of Liquid Detergent

Liquid laundry detergents are more expensive than powdered versions but cheaper than pods. They won't leave residue on your clothes, no matter the water temperature.

Liquid detergent is also a convenient option for handwashing clothes, since you don't have to wait for the detergent to dissolve as you would with a powder or pod.


Liquid detergent is also handy for stain removal and particularly effective at removing grease and oil stains. To use liquid detergent for removing stains, simply apply a small amount of the detergent before washing as a pre-treatment.

How to Choose the Right Laundry Detergent for You

Before diving into the pros and cons of pods, liquid and powder detergent, assess your laundry needs. The following questions can help you choose a detergent:

  • Do you have sensitive skin?
  • Do you have a high-efficiency washing machine that may not be compatible with all forms of detergent?
  • Where does your detergent go — straight in the machine or in a detergent drawer?
  • Do you want specially formulated detergents for different applications (such as delicates and technical clothing) or one formula that does it all?
  • What temperature do you typically use to wash laundry?

Be honest about your laundry needs and weight those against what you now know about pods, powder and liquid detergents before you stock up for your next load of laundry.