Can HE Laundry Detergent Be Used in a Regular Clothes Washer?

Filling washing machine
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The laundry detergent aisle in grocery and mass market stores is filled with dozens of laundry detergents each claiming to be the best. Not only do you have to decide which brand and type - liquid, powder or pod - to select, there's a new symbol that indicates that the detergent is HE or for use in high-efficiency washers. You have an older - or new - standard top loader. Is this HE detergent safe to use in a regular washer and will it get your clothes clean?

Can HE Laundry Detergent be Used in a Regular Clothes Washer?

The simple answer is yes. You can use HE detergent in a regular or standard washer, but not the other way around.

HE or high-efficiency laundry detergent contains the same cleaning ingredients - surfactants, enzymes, 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 just notice fewer suds but your clothes will be just as clean.

How to Use HE Laundry Detergent in a Standard Top Load Clothes Washer

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 mid-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 used to believing 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 uses less than 28 gallons of water (most use around 14 gallons), saving of 6,000 gallons of water per year for an average family.

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-sudings or HE detergents had to be introduced to the consumer market.

As with most liquid detergents sold in the United States, high-efficiency laundry detergents contain less water and are more concentrated that detergents were in the past. Containers are smaller because shipping big bottles filled mainly with water is very expensive and most stores don't want to store the large bottles. Retail shelf space is at a premium and detergent manufacturers want to put as many of their products in front of your shopping cart as possible.

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.

High-efficiency front and top load washers only need around two teaspoons of HE detergent per load of clothes because they use so little water. For standard or regular top load washers that use many more gallons of water, use around one-fourth cup of high-efficiency laundry detergent for a regular sized load of laundry.

If you have automatic dispensers in your standard top load washer, review the amount of detergent that you normally add to the dispenser. You probably need less HE detergent. If the dispenser functions better with more product, fill it up completely with plain water.

If you skip the measuring step and simply turn the bottle over and pour 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.