10 Different types of Detergents & other Cleaning products for clothes

Information about detergents and cleaning products specifically designed for clothes, differences between these products, their benefits, and how they work and What is special about them ?

Choosing the right detergents and cleaning products is very important when it comes to maintaining clothes like new. You can choose them according to the fabrics, stains, and then your own preferences.

I never bothered to look carefully at the labels on the detergents I bought and always tossed the usual brand into my shopping cart until the day my kid started breaking out in rashes. The doctor we consulted suggested that a change of laundry detergent from the current one to a PH Neutral one may help, and it sure did. It was some allergy to the ingredients in the detergent we used.

detergent bottles

You do not have to wait till you break out. You never may, but you can as well. If you start looking more closely at what detergents you use for washing clothes, you can make more informed choices. Knowledge about what you put on your clothes may not be as important as the food we put inside us, but it is not unimportant.

The different types of cleaning agents we use to clean our clothes

1. Detergents

detergent powder

Detergents are the most commonly used cleaning agent for fabric – that which we put into the washing machine in powder or liquid form. They suspend, solubilize, dissolve, or separate dirt and soil from fabric so that they will not re-deposit on the fabric’s surface but will stay put, suspended in the water.

They are usually called synthetic detergents as most of the detergents today are made from petrochemicals and contain wetting agents and emulsifiers – they are sulfate or sulfonate salts. Detergents are very effective for removing dirt/soil from manufactured and blended fabrics.

Some of the qualities that you may be looking for in your detergent may be

  • Effective stain removal and cleaning power. Effectively removes dirt from clothes.
  • Suitable for sensitive skin and is dermatologist-tested. It is fragrance-free, phosphate-free.
  • Biodegradable.
  • Plant-based and free from synthetic fragrances and dyes.
  • Affordability.
  • Fresh scent ; Neutralize odors leaving them smelling clean and pleasant.

Ingredients of Detergents.

Detergent: Product the formulation of which is specially devised to promote the development of detergency. Note: A detergent is a formulation comprising essential constituents (surface active agents) and subsidiary constituents (builders, boosters, fillers and auxiliaries). www.chem-online.com

Most of the detergents you use have the following ingredients –

Surfactants are the dirt removing agents – they are named anionic surfactants, nonionic surfactants, and cationic surfactants. Most of them are biodegradable.

Builders like zeolites and phosphates are added to the surfactants to boost cleaning.

Fillers like Sodium sulfate, Borax, Sodium chloride, water, alcohol, and Anti-foaming agents are added for various purposes. Other ingredients include bleach, enzymes, and whitening agents may also be added.

There are so many different types of detergents today since their introduction (said to be during the first world war), and every so often, new ones are being discovered that promise to do exciting things in cleaning. Many even promise the sun shining on your clothes.

Many additives are added to the detergents to make them more efficient.  Some of the additives added maybe counterproductive to the cleaning you have in mind so reading the label of the cleaning product you buy is very important.

  Types of detergents

Powder detergents are more effective than liquid detergents but liquid ones are more gentle on fabric and best for cleaning lightly soiled clothes. Detergents are also available in a cake form.

soap bars for cleaning

Generally, detergents are of two types Anionic and non-anionic. Some are a combination.

The powder-form detergents are of the anionic class. They are the fatty derivatives of aromatic sulfonic acids. They are good for cleaning natural fabrics like cotton, linen and work well to remove oily stains and clay. They work best with warm soft water. Do not use hard water with these detergents.

The non-anionic detergents are mostly in liquid form and do not produce much foam. They are good at cleaning synthetic fabrics and work well to remove oily soils and work ok in hard water.

Enzyme detergents, phosphate-free detergents, are terms commonly heard and very much desired. Phosphate free detergents promise to be good for the environment. Today most detergents are phosphate free.

Enzyme detergents are good for stain removal. They are good for removing protein stains like blood-stains

Presoak detergents are used to soak clothes prior to cleaning and they are meant to loosen up and remove hard stains.

Hand washing detergents are used for hand laundering specific types of fabrics for eg. hand laundry detergents for woolen clothes. They have special properties that take care of the properties of the fabric they cater to.

Which fabrics and clothes should only be washed with specially formulated detergents?

Silk, wool, cashmere, Merino wool, Rayon, clothes made of water-repellant fabrics, , Lingerie, baby clothes, delicate lace should be washed with specially formulated detergents for delicate fabrics. If you do not want dark and bright colored clothes to fade, you may have to use detergents formulated to stop color bleeding and fading.

2. Soaps


Soap is a biodegradable cleaning agent (fatty acid salts ) made by combining fats (animal or vegetable) with Lye  (Sodium Hydroxide).

All our ancestors used soap to clean their clothes for a long long time. No one cared that their clothes increasingly became dull and grey. Even if they cared they had no alternatives; till the detergents were discovered.

Soap forms a deposit on clothes, especially with hard water. When you have access to only hard water ( with dissolved salts of calcium, magnesium and/or iron) for cleaning clothes (even mildly hard water) these salts combine with soap to form a curd-like  precipitate- very undesirable ugly looking scum

Soap is not as effective as detergents especially with synthetic fabrics like polyester, nylon, spandex, and acrylic. And not suitable to use in the washing machine because of the scum.

If you are hand washing and rinsing, the scum can be removed with many rinses. So if you are environment conscious (It is environment-friendly) and you do not mind a little extra labor, you may try washing clothes with soap.

Which clothes can be washed with soap?

Soap has an alkaline nature, with a pH value higher than 7. So it is generally not suitable for washing normal clothes and fabrics. But you can use soap to wash very soiled clothes made of cotton. It emulsifies oils and lifts away dirt. Synthetic fabrics like polyester and nylon are also less sensitive to alkalinity of soap.

Which clothes or fabrics should not be washed with soap?

Wool and Cashmere, clothes with embellishments, newly dyed clothes, perfomance wear, fabrics with special finishes like water-resistant, stain-resistant, or flame-retardant finishes.

3. Bleach


There are two types of bleach – Chlorine bleach and Oxygen bleach. Chlorine bleach is strong and can whiten clothes very effectively but it can weaken fabric fibers. So you are not supposed to use chlorine bleach on protein fabrics like silk, wool or on lycra, spandex, elastic.1 part liquid bleach to 4 parts water is the usual formula used to clean stains on fabrics that will take bleach – like cotton, linen.

Oxygen bleach is color safe and more gentle on fabric fibers. Learn more about bleach use here.

4. Laundry Boosters

They are added as an addition to detergents to improve the performance of detergents. They help in the better removal of stains and brighten the color of clothes. They may also have water softening properties. Some of them can help tackle tough stains, brighten colors, improve odor removal, and enhance the overall cleanliness of your clothes.

They are not substitutes of detergents. They work in conjunction with your detergent to address specific cleaning challenges.

5. Stain removers

stain removers

Stain removers target stains and they are usually used before washing as spot stain removers. They may be a combination of detergents, alcohols, mineral spirits, and enzymes and work effectively in removing the stain without fading colours.

Stain removers are applied directly to stains before washing to help break down and lift the stain particles.

6. Optical Brighteners

These are additives that make the whites appear whiter. They can also enhance the vibrancy of colors in your clothes, especially in darker or colored fabrics.

They absorb ultraviolet light from the sun or from fluorescent fixtures and emit it as blue light. They may be already added in your detergent.

You can use bluing agents in a separate final rinse on white clothes to get the brightening effect.

7. Fabric Softener

fabric softeners

After the clothes are washed they take on a stiff scratchy feel – if you do not like this you can add fabric softeners to the water. They coat your clothes with a waxy lubricant that adds a soft hand to them.

They also reduce static buildup in the dryer and do not let the clothes tangle with each other. Fabric softeners also reduce wrinkling. Towels come out fluffy, bed sheets soft, and your blouses almost wrinkle free. You can read more on fabric softeners here.

8. Shampoo

Hair shampoo is used for washing clothes by many people – especially for handwashing natural fibers. But not all shampoos are effective as cleansers- some may even do harm. They may have ingredients not suitable for the fabric fibers. Do not buy shampoo with additional ingredients like oil conditioning etc. They will leave an oily residue.

You should be looking for ingredients like Lauric acid,  Myristic acid, palmitic acid, and stearic acid in your shampoo for it to be effective as a good cleaning agent for clothes. 

9. Water softeners

water softeners

So many homes have access to only hard water all over the world – those who have good soft water for drinking and cleaning should count themselves lucky.

Hard water is caused by minerals present in the water. As a result, detergent won’t lather up and clean clothes as effectively as with soft water. The clothes will look dull and white clothes especially will start to look grey after some time.

Water softeners are added to the water to change the hard water property to soft. Usually, they are available as a tablet and they are added to each wash. Check out this post on different ways to reduce the hardness in water.

10. Home remedies

Home remedies for washing clothes

Baking soda, washing soda, Lime juice, Vinegar, Hydrogen Peroxide – there are many home remedies that we regularly use to clean things. Most of them can be used for clothes too.

Dish washing liquid is used as a spot stain remover, especially for oily stains. Dishwasher soap powder is also used this way- as a spot stain cleaner. 

You can check out more of those simple solutions to cleaning clothes here – How to wash your clothes in a washing machine; How to remove stubborn stains from clothes with Home remedies.

Reference : Consumer reports books – How to clean anything.

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Hi, I love sewing, fabric, fashion, embroidery, doing easy DIY projects and then writing about them. Hope you have fun learning from sewguide as much as I do. If you find any mistakes here, please point it out in the comments.

12 thoughts on “10 Different types of Detergents & other Cleaning products for clothes”

  1. Can I use to get little fuzzy black things off my mattress it hurts also I don’t know what it is but it’s very tacky looking and it sticks to everything

  2. There is a lot of great information that I never knew about and I feel totally embarrassed because I’m 58 yrs young and should have known.

    Thanks for a great article loaded with great information.

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