Here is the ultimate guide to HE laundry detergent and other high efficiency laundry supplies, to make sure you know what's needed about these commonly found products.
I know you don't sit around all the time thinking about the differences between traditional and HE, or high efficiency detergent, but when you walk down the laundry aisle in the store you may wonder which jug or box you should choose.
It's actually a pretty important choice, so here is a nutshell version of the differences between the two types of detergents and other supplies and why it matters.
HE detergent, also known as high efficiency laundry detergent, is simply detergent that is formulated to work in high-efficiency washers, also known as front loaders.
The key difference between a top and front loader, at least as far as what detergent should be used, is that top loaders use lots more water to wash clothes than a front loader.
In fact, on average a top loader uses 17 gallons of water when washing a load of clothing, while a front loader uses only 4-8 gallons of water.
As you might imagine, then, a detergent works differently in lots of water, where it becomes less concentrated as compared to one that uses less water, and where the detergent doesn't get as diluted or provide as much water to rinse out the soap.
Therefore, the HE versions of laundry detergent are formulated to do the following:
The term "HE" is not necessarily synonymous with the term "ultra" when it comes to detergents.
Ultra detergents are concentrated, which many HE ones also are, but not all ultra detergents are formulated to be low sudsing or rinse away easily.
As I mentioned, the high efficiency versions of detergent are actually formulated to be low-sudsing. The reason for this is that suds and high efficiency washers do not get along.
When a detergent makes lots of suds it makes it hard to rinse off, which will not work well when your washing machine uses lots less water such as a HE washing machine does. Plus, the way HE washing machines work, with tumblers instead of agitators, they actually create more suds anyway, so they need low-sudsing formulas.
When you get too many suds in your HE washing machine the following problems can result:
A very common question that I've been asked is whether you can use regular detergent, in smaller quantities, in a front loader instead of having to switch to an HE laundry detergent.
The reasoning is that you just reduce the amount of detergent to correspond with the lower water level, and everything should be fine, right?
The answer, according to both the detergent and machine manufacturers is no. Because of the high-sudsing nature of regular detergents reducing the amount of detergent used will not solve the problem because they'll still produce too many suds and muck up your machine.
My opinion is that if you're buying laundry detergent anyway, I would just spring for the high efficiency version. It used to be harder to find, but these days most manufacturers have HE or dual compatible versions readily available and there is not much of a price difference, if any. (You'll find out more about dual compatible detergents below).
The real issue is when you want to use your own homemade laundry detergent. These homemade soaps aren't necessarily formulated to be low-sudsing, and many recipes (including some on this site) suggest to just use less if you've got a front loader.
Some people use such homemade versions fine for years in their HE washers with no problem, while others experience problems with too much suds, washer malfunctions, and/or excess odor in their machine or their clothes after just a few weeks of using a homemade version.
Only you can decide for yourself whether you want to try a homemade detergent in your HE machine based on the information presented here. If you do make your own laundry detergent in an HE washer, I'd love for you to share your recipe with me here, so I can tell people which ones have worked best in this type of machine.
Recently, instead of having both a traditional and a HE version of detergents available manufacturers are beginning to make what they call "dual use" or dual compatible detergents, which are formulated to work in both top loading and front loading machines equally well.
This makes a lot of sense for manufacturers, since they don't have to have make so many different product lines.
It also makes sense for you, since you don't have to worry about grabbing a bottle or box on the shelf, and coming home to find you grabbed the wrong formulation.
You can easily tell which detergents are dual compatible since they will have the HE symbol on them, with the words saying something like compatible with both HE and standard machines. (In fact, the image above shows a dual compatible HE symbol.)
Please note that dual compatible detergent formulations are all low-sudsing, even when used in top loading machines. If you're used to seeing a lot of suds in your top-loading standard washer, you won't see them anymore when using one of these formulations. This may lead some people to think the detergent doesn't work as well, but that's just not the case.
While this article has focused on HE laundry detergent, since it is the most important cleaning agent you add to your HE washer, it is not the only type of HE laundry supply that you need to worry about.
If you have a front loader, you need to consider whether every supply you add to your washing machine is low-sudsing or high-sudsing.
For example, did you know that some laundry stain removers are high-sudsing and could cause problems if used in high concentrations in your HE machine?
Fortunately, as HE washing machines become more common many manufacturers are reformulating the various laundry supplies, making sure they are HE compatible (typically dual compatible so everyone can use them). This includes stain removers and bleaches. Make sure, when purchasing products, that it has the HE symbol on the packaging to keep sudsing from becoming a problem.
If you want to use a product for cleaning your clothes or stain removal, and you're not sure if it is HE compatible or not, either use it sparingly or rinse out as much of the product as possible after treatment but before you wash it in your HE washer just to be on the safe side.
While you need to pay attention to lots of laundry supplies HE compatibility status, that is not the case with liquid fabric softeners. The reason is that they are added to the rinse cycle, and therefore do not need to be HE formulated since virtually all HE machines have a dispenser which can dispense it properly, at the right time, as it is.
Nonetheless, I've seen more and more softeners marked as compatible for these high efficiency machines, presumably to allow people to feel comfortable using them in that way.
I know you're a busy Mom, who may not think about the issue of HE laundry detergent very often. However, I hope this article has helped you understand some of the important facts about these supplies, so you can make the right choice for you and your family as you choose products in the laundry aisle of your local store.
Hi, I'm Taylor, a busy mom with 3 kids, so I have lots of hands on experience with house cleaning, laundry and my fair share of spots, spills and other messy catastrophes. Thanks for visiting my site.
I update the website all the time with tips, tutorials, cleaning recipes, reviews of products from readers like you, and tests I've done on various cleaners, removers and laundry supplies.
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CAUTION: This website is provided for informational purposes only. It is provided as is, without warranties or guarantees. Some stains and messes just won't come out, and are permanent. Further, some cleaning methods can harm your item, so if what you want to clean or launder is sentimental or expensive call a professional. See disclaimer of liability for more information.
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