Adding Detergent to a High-Efficiency Washer

high efficiency laundry detergent in a hamper

The Spruce / Michele Lee

A high-efficiency (HE) washer usually has a drawer that slides out from the front of the machine with special compartments for liquid or powder HE detergent, as well as for bleach and fabric or water softeners. Use no more than the recommended levels of detergent, bleach, and softener; there are guides marked on the drawer that show maximum levels for each of the products.

You can also use single-dose detergent packs in an HE washer. Unlike liquids or powders, these should be placed directly in the drum of the washer. And you should do so before adding your clothes; adding the pack after the clothes can prevent it from completely dissolving.

HE vs. Traditional Machines

HE washing machines use only 20 percent to 66 percent of the water required by traditional washing machines, according to the American Cleaning Institute (ACI), a trade group for the cleaning products industry. They also use only 20 to 50 percent of the energy of traditional machines and most of that savings comes from having to heat less water.

HE machines typically tumble the clothes around in a drum in what amounts to only "a shallow pool of water," according to the ACI. Traditional models use a central agitator to move the clothes around in a much larger volume of water. Because of this difference in washing method, HE machines are also gentler on your clothes and less likely to cause tearing of the fabric.

HE machines can be either top-loading or front-loading; front-loaders are generally the most efficient, testing by Consumer Reports showed.

HE machines typically use multiple rinses rather than the single rinse cycle of a traditional washer. Because they use very little water for each rinse, they still use less water during the rinsing process.

HE vs. Traditional Detergents

HE detergents produce a lower volume of suds than regular detergents, so less water is required to rinse the clothes. Out of necessity, they're also better than regular detergents at preventing dirt from reattaching to clothes.

You should never use a non-HE detergent in an HE machine. Doing so can spoil the performance of the machine and leave unrinsed detergent on your clothes and a foul-smelling residue on the inside of the washer's drum. Using the wrong detergent may also void the manufacturer's warranty on your washer. So always look for the high-efficiency logo when shopping for detergent and avoid any without it.

HE logo on a detergent bottle

The Spruce / Michele Lee

Amount of Detergent to Use

The amount of HE detergent you need will be determined by several factors:

  • Size of the load you're washing: If you're doing a small load of clothes, you'll need less detergent. If you're completely filling the washer, you'll need more.
  • Amount of dirt in your clothes: You'll definitely need more detergent if you're washing heavily soiled clothes, like a sports uniform or clothes you wore on your construction job.
  • The hardness of water: If you have hard water, you'll need to use extra detergent.

Other Do's and Dont's

Don't mix liquids and powders in a single part of the drawer; the ACI says that can cause the dispenser to clog.

Do continue to separate clothes according to color. Because of the low volume of water used, dye transfer can occasionally be a problem, according to the ACI.

If you mistakenly add liquid or powder HE detergent directly to the clothing being washed, as you would in a traditional washing machine, do use an extra rinse cycle to clear the soap residue from the clothing.

Don't ever add bleach directly to the wash load; it can cause fiber damage because it won't be diluted prior to coming into contact with the clothes.