Any suggestions/experiences of the best characteristics for a baby clothes detergent would be appreciated. We are in the UK, in case that influences the options we should look for.
We did buy special soap for our first child (it is very expensive) but by the time the third and fourth came around we didn't have time to wash their clothes separately and we found it completely unnecessary. I would use regular soap (without perfumes) and see what happens. If your child seems to be having a reaction (rash) then speak to the Doctor about suggestions (it may not be the laundry or he/she can tell you what to use)
I'm from the US, so I'm not familiar with the brands available where you live. Here, though, the most popular "baby detergent" is Dreft. If you compare the ingredients in Dreft with most other laundry detergents, you don't find much of a difference. I have the feeling that the same thing would be true of baby detergents in the UK.
I agree with @morah; you should try regular detergent, and only consider switching if your baby has a reaction. Then take a look at the ingredient list yourself, to see if paying more for a special detergent is worth it.
Both of our children have sensitive skin (to the point that it seems like looking at their skin cross-eyed causes a breakout, and they would have rashes anywhere the clothing would touch) and we switched our whole family to Charlie's Laundry Soap (you can get it on Amazon for approximately the same cost as other detergents) on our pediatrician's recommendation. Haven't had any issues since.
Edit: our pediatrician felt that the dyes and fragrance chemicals in 'standard' detergents were causing the problem. Since Charlie's is dye-free and fragrance-free, he felt it would be a good one to try. No more rashes since we switched!
It depends on the child. Our first one would get a rash from normal detergent, so we had to hand wash her clothes in Lux soap flakes (it clogs up washing machines). Very annoying. Our son had no such problems, so we used Amolin detergent which claims to be for sensitive skin. Luckily, our daughter can now handle Amolin so everything can be washed together.
Biological detergent has enzymes in to help clean. A few people are sensitive to those, so you might want to avoid biological powders or wash hotter. (Washing with bio powder at over 40c destroys the enzymes.)
Fabric softeners stop fabrics from being absorbant. So you don't want to ise them on towels. A bit of "rustling" before use softens towels.
If your child still has skin problems I'd get a doctor's advice. If a child has ecxzma you can apply to your water supplier for a discount to cover cost of extra washing you need to do.
Oh, how I laugh at myself now because I bought that special baby detergent and separated all my baby's laundry from mine when my first son was young! You live and you learn. As others have said, it depends on the baby. Some babies need gentle detergents and others don't.
Throw a few items in your usual wash and see if baby reacts. If not, ditch the " special" detergent! You have better things to spend your money on!
*Here's an exception: cloth diapers made from anything other than cotton should only be washed in perfume and dye free detergents. Synthetics hold onto the fragrances especially and it'll react with baby's urine and cause stink-ironically-(best case scenario) or will burn your baby's bottom (worst case scenario). Always defer to the diaper manufacturer's recommendation, of course.