Phosphorus (P) from detergents contributes to water pollution and eutrophication. Understanding the impacts of detergent use on P inputs to surface waters and their main drivers is vital for supporting Sustainable Development Goals on clean water. This study aims to quantify past and future trends in P inputs to surface waters from detergent use in China. We modify the Model to Assess River Input of Nutrient to seAs (MARINA) model to assess the effects of past policies and explore options for the future on mitigating detergents P losses in China. The total consumption of detergents tripled from 2000 to 2018. However, P inputs to surface waters from detergent use decreased by 35% during these years. Although P losses vary across regions, most losses occurred in rural areas. Clearly, the P-free detergent policy which was initiated in the year 2000 has been effective. Without this policy, the detergent P losses would likely have increased fourfold during 2000–2018. In the future, detergent P inputs to surface waters in China may be further reduced to very low levels (95% reduction relative to 2018) by a combination of completely P-free detergents, an increasing urbanized population connected to sewage systems, and improving P removal in sewage treatment systems. Our results enhance the understanding of P pollution in surface waters from detergents and, illustrate the effectiveness of measures to control detergent P losses.