Can You Use HE Detergent in a Regular Washer?

person pouring HE detergent into a washer dispenser

The Spruce / Michele Lee

Can you use HE detergent in a regular washer? It's a common question that needs explaining.

What Is HE Detergent?

HE, or high-efficiency laundry detergent, is a low-suds detergent specially formulated for use in high-efficiency washers.

Just about every brand of laundry detergent in all forms (liquid, powder, gel, or pod) has the HE symbol on the packaging and is now formulated to be safely used in high-efficiency or standard washers. Read on to learn more about if you can use HE detergent in your non-high-efficiency standard top-load washing machine, the differences between HE detergent vs. regular detergent, and whether HE detergent will get your clothes clean.

HE Laundry Detergent in Standard Washers

You can use HE detergent in a regular or standard top load washer with a center agitator but not the other way around. Non-HE detergents cannot be used safely or effectively in high-efficiency top or front-load washers.

HE detergent contains the exact same cleaning ingredients, surfactants, enzymes, and water conditioners as the non-HE detergents of the same brand. The difference is HE detergent is formulated to be low-sudsing for high-efficiency, energy-saving washing machines that use less water in the wash and rinse cycles. You may certainly use it in a standard or regular washing machine. You will notice fewer suds, but your clothes will be just as clean.

HE Laundry Detergent Characteristics

As with most liquid detergents sold in the United States today, high-efficiency laundry detergents contain less water and are more concentrated than detergents were in the past. Containers can be smaller because shipping big bottles filled mainly with water is very expensive and reduces profits. It's safe to say most stores would prefer smaller containers because they wouldn't want to store the large bottles. Retail shelf space is at a premium and retailers and detergent manufacturers want to put as many of their products in front of your shopping cart as possible.


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How Much HE Detergent Should You Use?

Since the detergent containers and measuring lids are smaller than you may remember, it is important to take a few minutes to read the directions and determine how much product to use for your load capacity and type of washing machine.

For standard or regular top-load washers that use many more gallons of water, use around 1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) of high-efficiency laundry detergent for a regular-sized load of laundry. High-efficiency front and top-load washers only need around 2 tablespoons of HE detergent per load of clothes because they use so little water.

If you have an automatic detergent dispenser in your standard top-load washer, check your manual to see how much detergent it holds. Lost the manual? Use a measuring cup to fill the dispenser with water to determine how much it holds. Compare that amount to the suggested 4 tablespoons. You probably need less HE detergent than the dispenser holds. If the dispenser functions better with more product, add the detergent and then fill it up completely with plain water.

If you skip the measuring step and simply turn the bottle over and pour the detergent directly into the washer, you are wasting money and may actually end up with clothes that are not as clean. Excessive detergent that isn't washed away attracts soil and leaves clothes looking dingy.

The term HE does not necessarily indicate quality. It is still important to shop wisely to determine the best detergent for your family's laundry needs.

Why HE Laundry Detergents Are Sold

When you are shopping for laundry detergents, you may actually have a hard time finding a detergent that doesn't have the HE symbol. The need for HE detergents came to the forefront when front-load washers were introduced to the United States appliance market in the early 2000s. While front-load washers have been a European standard for decades, Americans had to relearn how to do laundry, including how much detergent to use.

Americans were persuaded through advertising (and a few "Looney Tunes" cartoons) to believe that lots of suds and bubbles were necessary for clean clothes. High-efficiency washers, both front-loading and top-loading, can't handle lots of suds because there is not enough water to flush them away. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that a standard washing machine uses 41 gallons of water per load, but a high-efficiency washing machine can use as little as 13 gallons per load. With the average family doing five loads of laundry per week, this is a savings of 7,000 gallons of water per year.

Excessive bubbles and suds from a non-HE detergent can actually destroy the electronic capabilities of a high-efficiency washer, void the warranty, and cause excessive odors to build up. So, low-sudsing or HE detergents had to be introduced to the consumer market.

Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. High Efficiency Washers and Detergents. American Cleaning Institute. 

  2. Water Efficiency Management Guide: Residential Kitchen and Laundry. United States Environmental Protection Agency.