Discover the key differences between bio and non-bio washing powders, based on the results of our independent lab tests.

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We’ve been testing washing powder for more than 50 years, so we know a thing or two about getting your laundry clean.

Here, we bring together the results of our tough lab tests to investigate the differences between bio and non-bio washing powders, laundry liquids and capsules.

We’ve tested more than 30 laundry detergents, including 14 non-biological ones. Our tests reveal how they compare when removing food, make-up and grease stains; preserving brightly coloured clothes; and keeping whites pristine.

What’s the difference between bio and non-bio washing powders?

The key difference between biological and non-biological washing powder is the presence of enzymes. Biological powders, laundry liquids and capsules contain enzymes that help break down proteins, fat and starch. This helps remove stains, such as chocolate or burger grease.

Bio detergents containing enzymes are generally more effective at stain removal than non-bios

Biological laundry detergents containing enzymes are generally more effective at stain removal than non-biological powders and liquids, based on our testing.  But our laundry detergent tests have revealed some decent non-bio powders. Lidl Formil Non-Bio Caps is the highest-scoring non-bio laundry detergent we’ve tested.

It does a good job of tackling grease and drink stains, and is a respectable choice if you prefer non-bio. Different types of stain are removed by different ingredients in the detergent.

Besides enzymes, surfactant (soap) and bleach in the detergent tackle different types of stains. Bleach helps remove tea stains, for example, and some surfactants work on greasy stains, such as cooking oil.

What are the enzymes used in washing powder?

Enzymes are naturally occurring proteins that are harvested from micro-organisms, such as bacteria and algae. They work at low temperatures, which means they can help you save energy because you can wash your clothes in cooler water. They are also completely biodegradable.

Many people think non-biological washing powders and detergents are kinder to their skin, because they don’t contain enzymes. However, there is little scientific evidence to suggest that enzymes can cause skin irritation.

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The NHS Choices website says: ‘There’s no evidence that using washing powders with enzymes (bio powders) or fabric conditioners will irritate your baby’s skin’. But take care if you’re washing delicate fabrics, such as wool or silk.

Many biological washing powders, including Ariel, Daz, Persil and Surf, state on their packaging that they’re not suitable for washing wool or silk.

Many bio powders aren’t suitable for washing wool or silk

This is because some enzymes can start to break down the protein in wool fibres, damaging the fabric over time. Instead, use wool-safe or delicate detergents that are specifically made for these items.

Non-biological washing powder in the UK and abroad

The UK is one of a handful of countries worldwide in which non-biological and biological powders are marketed alongside one another. In most countries, non-biological washing powder (sometimes known as enzyme-free) is less widely available, or sold only for use on delicate silk and wool items.

But we know our members make use of bio and non-bio detergents, so we test both types to tell you how they compare at removing stains, keeping coloured clothes bright, and stopping whites from going grey.

We’ve found that biological detergents are usually better than non-bios for all-round stain removal, but that doesn’t mean all bios are brilliant stain-busters.