What is HE laundry detergent and when you should use it

Understanding laundry appliances and proper detergent use

Tide HE Laundry Detergent lined on store shelves
Mike Mozart/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Question: What is HE laundry detergent and when is it used? Does it matter what I use in my washer? Suppose we just continue to use regular detergent in front-load washers instead of he detergents? Washer manufacturers recommend HE detergents be used in their high-efficiency washers, but is it necessary?

Answer: HE laundry detergent is a specially formulated solution for washing clothes in a high-efficiency washer.

Washer manufacturers recommend that only HE detergents are used in their high-efficiency washers, and most will even recommend a particular brand of HE detergent. High-efficiency washers are now available in either front load or top load washers which are usually confirmed by the 'he' symbol on the washing machine.

There is a good reason for using HE detergent in these newer high-efficiency washers. HE laundry detergents are concentrated laundry detergents that are low-sudsing especially for use with low water high-efficiency washers.

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.

Similar to why dish detergent does not work well in a dishwasher which requires specially formulated non-sudsing dishwasher detergent, performance can be severely affected by the use of improper detergents in HE detergent low water washing machines.

HE detergents can readily be found where regular laundry soap is sold. Look for the 'HE' symbol the next time you shop. 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.

I've used both Tide® HE and Ultra Sunlight® HE and found they both 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, a real plus for allergy sufferers. Using proper HE detergent for your high-efficiency low water washer will enable your laundry appliance to perform as it should.

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 new breed of washing machines on the market; I call them hybrids.

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 I love 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.

The GE GTWN4250 Top Load Washer is a prime example of this new breed of washing machine. This model looks and feels like a traditional washer, but the manufacturer recommends using HE detergent in it. With an old style agitator action, some of the low default water levels can be overrun with bubbles if regular laundry soap is used.

Today, the only way you can tell now what kind of detergent is recommended in your new washer is to read the product manual. And 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.

Read More About High-Efficiency Front Load and Top Load Washers:

High-Efficiency Washer & HE Detergent Use

Washer 101 - from buying to care
Front-Load Washer Care & Preventing Mold
Can I Use Regular Detergent in an HE Washer?
Does 2x Detergent Need to be Diluted?
Laundry Basics