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Are Laundry Soap and Laundry Detergent the Same Thing?

A bottle of laundry detergent sits next to powdered detergent, clothes pins, and a towel.
New Africa/Shutterstock.com

You’ve probably heard laundry soap and laundry detergent used interchangeably. After all, they’re the same thing, right? Well, not so fast. While these two items might have the same goal, they’re not the same.

When it comes to the differences between laundry soap and laundry detergent, it all comes down to how they clean and what they use to do it.

You might know by now, but most traditional laundry detergents—much like all detergents—use surfactants to clean. These chemical compounds are made of two ends—one loves water, and the other hates it—the combination of the two allows it to pull dirt, debris, and soil from your clothing.

Typically, detergents are specifically designed to work in your washing machine, and they’re great at dissolving quickly and removing oil-based stains. They’re most often liquid and are available in high-efficiency formulations as well as pod versions.

Gain + Aroma Boost Liquid Laundry Detergent

Many major brands, like Gain, are predominantly detergents.

Soaps, on the other hand, are gentler and simpler. They are typically combinations of gentle acids and oils that work together to clean clothing, but when it comes to laundry, they might not be best for everything. Because soaps are a gentler cleaner, they’re not always able to get out tough soiling, but as a mark in the pro column, they do rinse more easily from clothing preventing a build-up over time. The gentleness and ease of rinsing also make them good choices for your delicate clothing and items you don’t get deeply soiled.

Dr. Bronner's Pure-Castile Liquid Soap

Dr. Bronner's is a common laundry soap.

Soaps can also get dicey when it comes to use in your washing machine. Most machines are now made to work with detergents, and soap can build up in a drum over time.

Which should you use? Ultimately, that’s up to you. But if you often get stains or visible soiling, detergents tend to offer a deeper clean. Soaps, on the other hand, can offer a gentler alternative for delicate clothing.

Shea Simmons Shea Simmons
Shea Simmons is the Assignments Editor at LifeSavvy. Previously, she worked as a freelance writer with a focus on beauty and lifestyle content. Her work has appeared in Bustle, Allure, and Hello Giggles. Read Full Bio »
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