When to Use High-Efficiency (HE) Laundry Detergent

Why Your Low-Water Washer Needs Special Detergent

Tide HE Laundry Detergent lined on store shelves

Mike Mozart/Flickr

High-efficiency (HE) laundry detergent is a specially formulated solution for washing clothes in high-efficiency washers that use a low amount of water. Washer manufacturers recommend that only HE detergents are used in their high-efficiency washers, and most will even recommend a particular brand. Understanding what makes this type of detergent best suited to these washers can help guide your laundry choices.

HE Detergents Prevent Bubble Overload

HE laundry detergents are concentrated laundry detergents that are low-sudsing. High-efficiency washers are available in either front-load or top-load washers which are usually confirmed by the HE symbol on the washing machine. They use a low amount of water.

As with any washer that uses less water, the agitator or the washing cycle can stir up the detergent, creating an overload of bubbles. That happens even when you use regular detergent in a traditional washer with a low-level washer. The HE detergent avoids that bubble overload.

If regular detergents were to be used in front or top loading high-efficiency washers, the presence of too many suds could confuse washing cycles, cause delays, and make proper rinsing of clothes difficult. Only HE detergents should be used in HE washers. HE detergents are also designed to work better with cool or cold water, another energy-saving step.

This is similar to the reason you shouldn't use dish soap in a dishwasher. If you do, you will have too many suds, which can even froth out onto your kitchen floor. Dishwasher detergent is formulated to be non-sudsing.

Buying HE Detergents

HE detergents can readily be found where regular laundry soap is sold. Look for the HE symbol. There is no difference in price (or shouldn't be) for this particular type of detergent, nor is there any reduction in loads per container. Buying in bulk can reap savings and ensure you have it on hand for all your washing loads.

Both Tide HE and Ultra Sunlight HE clean very well. The Tide brand has a nice mild fragrance and is safe for septic systems, while the Ultra Sunlight brand sports the HE symbol, sensitive skin, and fragrance-free labels, which is a real plus for people with allergies. Using proper HE detergent for your high-efficiency low water washer will enable your laundry appliance to perform as it should.

Detergents for Hybrid Washers

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 which 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. Using the wrong soap could affect your warranty, should you require service if your washer responds negatively to the wrong detergent.