How Much Laundry Is a Full Load?

Woman loading washing machine in kitchen
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If you're like most people, you save your loads of laundry until they pile up, and then you want to get it all done as quickly as possible. It's tempting to stuff the washing machine to the brim and hope for clean clothes at the end of the cycle. And while it's energy-efficient to run only full loads of laundry, overfilling the washing machine is not good for the clothes or the machine. But how do you know how much laundry makes a full load?

There are a couple of easy options.

Laundry Machine Capacity

How much laundry makes a "full load" depends on the size, or capacity, of your washing machine. Low-capacity top-loaders may accommodate only 6 pounds of clothing to be full. Medium-capacity top-loading washing machines can usually tolerate 7–8 pounds. The highest capacity top-loaders might do well with as much as 12–15 pounds. Front-loading washing machines often can hold as much as 18 pounds of clothing. Refer to your machine's owner's manual or contact the manufacturer for specific load-weight recommendations for you machine model.

How Much Does Clothing Weigh?

So how many items are in 1 pound—or one load—of clothing, or can you simply weigh it? Either approach works, and you can choose whichever you prefer. To weigh a load of laundry, put the entire load into a laundry basket. First, weigh yourself on a scale without holding the laundry basket.

Then, weigh yourself while holding the basket. Subtract the first weight (just you) from the second weight (you with the basket); the result is the weight of the laundry load (minus the weight of the basket, which you can estimate).

The other approach is to estimate the weight based on the total clothing items in the load.

To give you an idea of how much a typical load weighs, the following items all together weigh about 10 pounds:

  • Seven pairs/sets of underwear
  • Seven pairs of socks
  • Five short-sleeve T-shirts
  • Two long-sleeve shirts
  • One sweatshirt or sweater
  • Two pairs or jeans or four pairs of shorts
  • One sheet set
  • One towel

Clothing Size

In addition to weight limitations on washing machines, there are also size restrictions. The best load of laundry is one that mixes items of varying sizes. This allows clothing to move fluidly in the washing machine and helps ensure complete washing and rinsing. By contrast, a machine that's overloaded with too many items or with large or bulky items has a hard time getting everything wet and distributing the soap evenly, resulting in poor washing, rinsing, and spinning, and the clothes come out wetter than they should. Overloading also can lead to clothing damage, especially in old-style top-loading machines with tall agitators. The packed-in clothes get pulled and twisted more when there's not enough room to move. Front-loading machines, which don't have an agitator, are much better with large items than old conventional top-loaders.

Determining what's too big for your machine is up to your judgement.

But as a general rule, if a single item fills more than 3/4 of the tub, it's probably too big for the machine. If so, wash the item in a high-capacity machine in a laundromat. Fortunately, the largest items are usually comforters and bedspreads, and those need only periodic washing.