Get the Best Results From a Top-Load HE Washer

Top-load HE washer with lid open and folded yellow towels

The Spruce / Almar Creative

High-efficiency washers look very similar to the old standard models on the outside, but when you open the lid the inside is entirely different. There is no agitator in the center of the tub, just a wash plate with a couple of little protrusions in the bottom of the washer. And, when you start the wash cycle, the tub doesn't fill with water. In other words, this is not your grandmother's washing machine, and to ensure your clothes clean properly, you need to use the machine correctly.

Understanding a Top-Load HE Washer

High-efficiency top-load washers are much more like their front-load washer cousins than a standard top-load washer. The inner drum rotates around a horizontal axis like a front-loader, but it's loaded from the top, which has a liftable lid. The machines operate and spin just like a front-loader and use half the amount of water required for a standard washer. 

Top-load HE washer dispensers for detergent, bleach, and fabric softener operate through gravity and centrifugal force, reducing breakable components. On a front-loader, the dispensers must be opened by a solenoid valve. The vertical design of a top-loading washer makes it simpler to move water in and out than the actions required for a front-load washer. Because of gravity and drain location, top-load washers do not typically hold water after the cycle is finished, nor do they require the folding rubber bellows seal that can trap moisture and cause mold and mildew odors in front load washers. Therefore, cleaning a top-load HE washer is quite simple.

Troubleshooting a Top-Load HE Washer

If a top-load HE washer isn't getting clothes clean, you can point the finger at a number of issues—but not all are going to be the culprit.

  • The machine sounds funny. After years of listening to the sounds of the old standard washer, a HE model may seem like it isn't working correctly. You might hear what seems to be water running all the time, plus a lot of stops and starts. After you load the soiled laundry into the washer, make your cycle selections and push start, the washer will lock the lid but doesn't spring into action immediately. This is because the machine is "thinking" or determining how much water to use based on the size of the load. The wash plate will begin to spin without any water in the tub to balance the load. The washer is sensing the size of the load and the weight of the fabrics in the load. By determining how much laundry is in the tub, the correct amount of water will be added. Using less water saves you money.
  • The water stopped filling the tub. After the water starts filling the tub, you'll notice that it stops, even though there is not nearly enough to completely cover the clothes. The water flow stops for a designated time, so the detergent in the water has time to soak into the clothes and begin the cleaning process, also known as a presoak. The washer is letting the stain-removing properties of the detergent get to work and this is what does a great deal of the cleaning. As the machine senses that the water has been absorbed in the soiled laundry, more is added until the proper amount needed is reached.
  • The detergent isn't working. Now, this just might be the reason your top-load HE washer isn't getting clothes clean. Always use laundry detergent with the HE label. These products are formulated to create fewer suds, which is important because less water is used during the cycle. Many manufacturers will not honor the machine's warranty if you have not used the correct type of detergent. However, you can safely use homemade laundry products because they do not produce extensive sudsing.
  • There's too much detergent. More is not better when there is less water in the mix. Most loads only require 1 to 2 teaspoons of HE liquid laundry detergent or one single-dose pack. Additionally, place the detergent in the bottom of the drum before you add your dirty clothes. All single dose laundry packs must be placed in the bottom of the washer, never in the dispenser.
  • The detergent isn't reaching all the clothes. When you fill a HE top-load washer, do not pile the clothes in the center. Evenly distribute the dirty clothes around the edges of the wash plate. This will help balance the load more quickly and speed up the wash cycle.