What Is HE Laundry Detergent and Do You Need It?

pouring liquid detergent into a measuring spoon

The Spruce / Taylor Nebrija

Walk down the laundry detergent aisle in any store and almost every single bottle, box, and bag are now labeled as HE detergents.

What Is HE Laundry Detergent?

HE laundry detergent, which stands for high-efficiency laundry detergent, is marked with a small "HE" symbol on the product's label. HE detergents only create a small amount of suds and must be used in high-efficiency washing machines.

Any laundry detergent or laundry product like stain removers, boosters, and fabric softeners with the HE symbol are formulated to be used in high-efficiency washing machines like front load washers as well as top load washers that require a low-sudsing detergent.

Laundry basket filled with towels and detergent

The Spruce / Sarah Lee

High-efficiency washers use much less water than older standard washers. The HE detergents are developed as low-sudsing and quick-dispersing cleaners for use in low-water volume machines. The HE detergents are specially formulated to hold soil in suspension in that lower volume of water, so it is not re-deposited onto clean clothes.

Washer manufacturers recommend that only HE detergents are used in their high-efficiency washers, and most will even recommend a particular brand. Read on to understand what makes this type of detergent best suited to these washers and learn more information that can help guide your laundry choices.

closeup of the HE notation on a bottle of detergent
The Spruce / Taylor Nebrija

When You Should Choose HE Laundry Detergent

Most Americans grew up using a standard washer that pulled nearly 40 gallons of water through a load of laundry during the wash and rinse cycles. The detergents that were used produced lots of bubbles because manufacturers thought that lots of suds meant the clothes were getting clean. Fortunately, the washer used enough water to rinse away all those suds. Even the newer standard top load washers use around 27 gallons of water to handle detergent/soil residue. However, high-efficiency washers use only 20 to 60 percent of the water used by traditional washers, about 11 to 14 gallons of water. 


Click Play to Learn More About HE Laundry Detergent

HE detergent can be used a regular washing machine but you should never use regular laundry detergent in a HE washing machine. Using a traditional laundry detergent in a high-efficiency washer will produce too many suds that will not be fully rinsed away. Excess suds will interfere with the tumbling action used to clean clothes in both types of high-efficiency washers. The use of traditional detergent with lots of suds can also cause the washers to leak, damage the electronic system of the washer, and may void the manufacturer's warranty. HE laundry detergents are concentrated laundry detergents that are low-sudsing. High-efficiency washers are available in either front- or top-load washers that are usually confirmed by the HE symbol on the washing machine. They use a low amount of water.

The use of traditional detergents in HE washers also contributes to the growth of mold and the odor that can linger in the washer. There isn't enough water used in each load to wash away all the suds and the soil they contain. The sticky combination may cling to the washer interior and become the perfect breeding ground for mold that causes odors.

he laundry detergent
 Illustration: © The Spruce, 2018

How Much Should I Use?

As with all detergents, take time to read the label and guidelines on how much to use per load. More is not always better! If there is one thing to remember in using a high-efficiency washer, it is this:

  • For a normal size load of laundry, you need only one to two teaspoons of high-performing high-efficiency detergent. 
  • Use only one or two single-dose detergent units per load. One is sufficient unless the load is heavily soiled or super large.

If your high-efficiency detergent is not getting your clothes clean, do not simply add more. Overdosing only leads to more problems like stiff and scratchy fabrics, trapping of odor bacteria, and streaks from the redepositing soil. Instead, switch to a better quality detergent. Yes, it will cost more, but you can use less and avoid re-washing clothes.

Most high-efficiency washers have automatic detergent dispensers. Read your washer's care and use guide on how to fill the dispensers. If you have lost the guide, you can find it here. Most will accept either powder or liquid detergents. Never mix the two in the same dispenser because caking and clogging can occur.

If you choose to use single-unit detergent packs, those should be placed in the empty washer drum before adding the dirty laundry and water. Never place a laundry pod in a dispenser.

different types of HE deteregents
The Spruce / Taylor Nebrija

Can I Use It in a Standard Washer?

If you still have a standard washer and picked up a bottle labeled with the high-efficiency symbol, you can use the high efficiency in a traditional top load washer with no problems. You won't see lots of suds, but your clothes will still be clean.

Use no more than 1/4 cup HE laundry detergent in a standard washer for a normal to large load. This is useless if the load is lightly soiled or smaller.

You can also learn how to make your own high-efficiency laundry detergent.

Soapy water inside washer machine

The Spruce / Sarah Lee

Can I Use It in a Hybrid Washer?

When front-load (high-efficiency) washers first came out, they sported the HE symbol, which made it easy to identify as a high-efficiency machine requiring HE detergent. There's now a hybrid breed of washing machines on the market.

These hybrid washers sport a traditional top-loading style that is more familiar to some, with most cycles being low level or sensors that automatically adjust the amount of water for the wash. One hybrid feature is that it allows you to use a higher water level when you want to. That means a cleaner wash for bulky items and large bedding. With some high-efficiency cycles and sensors, it gives you the best of both worlds—traditional and high-efficiency laundry.


Today, the only way you can tell now what kind of detergent is recommended in your new washer is to read the product manual. Heeding the manufacturer's recommendations can help protect your new investment and keep it working longer.

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. Mold. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.