How Much Laundry Detergent to Use

laundry detergent in a measuring cup

The Spruce / Erica Lang

To answer the question, "Am I using too much laundry detergent?" take a look at your freshly washed laundry:

If any of these problems relate to your laundry, then the answer is to the question is, "Yes"!

how much detergent to use
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How Much Detergent to Use

The amount of laundry detergent you should use per load of laundry depends upon the type of washing machine you use, the size of the load, the level of soil on the clothes, the hardness of your water supply, and the stated concentration of the detergent (2X, 4X, or 10X).

If you are pre-soaking a load of clothes that are heavily stained, use the same amount of detergent you would use for a full load of clothes. If you are soaking only one garment, use one teaspoon of liquid or powdered detergent per gallon of water.

using a teaspoon of detergent for pre-soaking
The Spruce / Erica Lang

High-Efficiency Washers 

Whether you have a front-load or top-load high-efficiency washer, you are using much less water per load than a standard washer. Without all the extra water to distribute the detergent and then rinse it away, you must use less detergent. Even if you religiously purchase and use a product with the "he" symbol, you must still be careful about overdosing.

  • The optimum amount of 2X liquid laundry detergent for a high-efficiency washer is two teaspoons; 4X liquid laundry detergent: one teaspoon; 10X liquid laundry detergent: 1/4 teaspoon for a 12-pound load of laundry.
  • If you have soft water in your area, use even less. For hard water that is untreated, use about one-fourth more product per load.
  • If you are using a pre-measured packet, use only one per load. Follow label usage directions to the letter and the packet should dissolve and disperse correctly.
  • For exceptionally soiled clothes, you will be much better off pre-soaking the load than adding extra detergent. If you do decide to use more detergent, add only 50 percent more per load.
  • If you have an extra-large capacity washer (some can hold up to 25 pounds of laundry) and you routinely fill it completely with soiled laundry, double the optimum amount of detergent suggested here. However, if you only do "regular-sized" loads (12 to 15 pounds), use less detergent.
  • For washing with a high-efficiency powdered commercial detergent, add two tablespoons directly to the drum before loading clothes. Do not use an automatic dispenser, the powdered detergent needs maximum exposure to the water to dissolve completely.
  • If you make your own homemade laundry detergent, there are no ingredients that cause excessive sudsing. Use two tablespoons of liquid or powdered homemade laundry detergent per load.
bottle of laundry detergent
The Spruce / Erica Lang 

Standard Top Load Washers 

Standard top-loading washers use around 40 gallons of water in the wash/rinse compared to the 20 to 25 gallons a high-efficiency washer uses; so overdosing with laundry detergent, while still possible, causes fewer problems. The biggest issue from overdosing is wasting money.

  • To save money and still achieve clean laundry, use only one-half of the amount recommended by the manufacturer. For 2X liquid laundry detergent, this is usually two tablespoons or one-eighth cup. Use a standard measure or mark the correct amount on the detergent bottle cap with a permanent marker to prevent overdosing.
  • If you have soft water, use less—about one and one-half tablespoons of liquid laundry detergent. For untreated hard water, use the full amount.
  • Use only one pre-measured packet per load.
  • For heavily-soiled clothes, pre-soak or spot treat stains with a bit of liquid detergent rather than add extra detergent to the entire load.
  • Use 1/4 to 1/3 cup commercial powdered laundry detergent.
  • Use 1/4 to 1/3 cup powdered homemade laundry detergent and 1/8 to 1/4 cup liquid homemade laundry detergent.
1/8 cup of laundry detergent
The Spruce / Erica Lang 

What Labels Tell Us

Now that you know the exact amount of detergent you really need to use, there is one thing you need to understand up front: detergent manufacturers wish you would use more. Why? To increase their sales.

With the increased use of larger high-efficiency washing machines (about 44% of United States households have one), consumers are using less detergent than they once did. Lower water levels used in this type of washer require less laundry detergent. The washers actually offer better performance if you use less detergent. If you use too much detergent and must add a second rinse, you are using lots of extra water and might as well have a standard machine.

A second blow was dealt as home washers have increased in load size capacity. Consumers can now efficiently and effectively wash huge loads. Fewer loads = less detergent used.

The final hit to free-flowing detergent sales was the introduction of single-dose detergents. Pre-measured packets now make up about 13 percent of liquid-detergent sales allowing even those most inept at doing laundry to get the amount of detergent used per load correct. Thus, there is no waste and no need to replenish detergent supplies as often. 

laundry detergent pod
The Spruce / Erica Lang