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The Ultimate Guide


High Efficiency vs. Traditional Washing Machines

Father and son loading a washing machine

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How does a high-efficiency (HE) washer differ from a traditional washer, and how do you know if a washer requires HE laundry detergent? Let's get into it:

What Puts the "High Efficiency" in a Washer

To be touted as a high-efficiency (HE) laundry appliance, a washer must meet certain criteria and guidelines with regard to water, electricity and detergent use. In short, it must use less (than a traditional washer) water, energy, and detergent in order to be called a HE washer. If it falls short of the set guidelines, it cannot sport the HE symbol. While not all high-efficiency washers are front loaders, they do have some visible signs: The HE symbol proudly displayed and a missing agitator.

Front-Loading vs. Top-Loading HE Washers

This new generation of high-efficiency washers uses a different washing system than its traditional parent appliance, a gentle rotating tumbling action rather than a harsher agitation to get clothes clean. A high-efficiency top loader has a slightly different washing action, a re-designed shorter agitator that draws the load down into the low water and detergent to effect cleaning. HE top-loaders must meet the same stringent guidelines in order to be called HE washers and either style is efficient when it comes to cleaning performance.

high efficiency washer
The Spruce

HE Detergent Use

Since a high-efficiency washer uses less water, low-sudsing HE detergent must be used in these washers in order for cycles including the rinsing action to work as designed. This applies regardless if the washer is top-loading or front-loading, as long as it has the HE seal.

Is a HE Washer Also Energy Star Compliant?

Yes, high-efficiency washers are also Energy Star compliant. Since a HE washer already meets stringent energy guidelines which are higher for high-efficiency, it has already met the (lower than HE) targets to carry the Energy Star compliance seal.

Other Benefits

  • High-speed spin cycles remove more water from the load, resulting in shorter drying times.
  • Load capacities are generally larger than with a traditional washer, partially because the agitator is gone (or much shorter), which means fewer washloads to process and less water, detergent, and energy to wash and dry.
  • Accompanying dryers must also meet certain criteria for lower energy use to carry the HE symbol. The Energy Star program has not been extended to dryers.
  • Lower washer water levels mean there's less water to heat which means less energy use.

How to Use and Care for He Washers

First, you'll need HE detergent to use with a high-efficiency washer. Cycle times are much longer partly due to the low water use—it takes longer to get clothes clean. Similar to high-tech top loaders, most HE washers have numerous wash cycles and settings—more than you would find on a basic washer, which may take more time to explore or understand. If you don't like long cycles, it may mean experimenting with wash cycles to find a shorter one that still gets your clothes clean. Most HE washers have sensors to adjust water temperature, level, and spin to match the load so there's no guesswork once you've chosen a wash cycle.

The biggest difference in using a high-efficiency washer is that it needs more care than a basic washer. Since water use is low, there's a tendency with some washers to not flush the soap and washload residue properly, leaving damp accumulations within the washer, which can cause mildew to grow. For this reason, with a high-efficiency washer, you must run the machine cleaning cycle as recommended by the manufacturer or more often, to reduce the risk of bacterial growth.

It is also recommended that the door and dispenser drawer be left open, in order for the door gasket and interior drum to dry properly. Some consumers have found that more maintenance or cleaning of other washer parts is necessary, while others have merely lowered their detergent use and/or have chosen to not use liquid softener in the washer, but rather fabric sheets in the dryer, to reduce residue build-up in the washer.

Though extra care can sound intimidating, most consumers love their high-efficiency laundry team. Just be prepared to give a new high-efficiency washer more TLC and attention than you may have given your traditional washer.

Though high-efficiency washer and dryer prices have become more competitive, they still do cost more. But the range of laundry appliance sizes and capacities has increased, making it easier for the consumer to find the size of washer and dryer they need.