Can You Use Regular Detergent In an HE Washer?

As HE washing machines become more popular, many homeowners are learning—often too late—that these special appliances come with their own special detergents.

If you have a preferred brand of detergent you love or just a mostly-full bottle you don’t want to waste, you may be wondering if you can still use it.

So, can you use regular detergent in an HE Washer? No, you really should not use traditional detergent in a high-efficiency washing machine. The sudsing action of these detergents can interfere with the cleaning process and even break the machine.

Below, we’ll dive into how something like detergent can have a major impact on your new washer, what can happen if you use the wrong product, and what natural options you have with an HE appliance.

woman putting regular detergent in an HE washer

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How Is an HE Washer Different from a Traditional Washer?

a couple shopping for an HE washer

High-efficiency (HE) washers first hit the scene about a decade ago, but they have recently gained popularity as energy costs skyrocket. And there’s a good reason for that — HE washers are far more energy and water efficient than conventional washers.

Their efficiency all comes down to how these machines clean.

Conventional washers rely on a central agitator to move laundry back and forth while suspended in a tub of water. These newer machines use a tumbling action to push laundry into and draw laundry out of a shallow pool of water.

The frequent surface friction between the water and clothing helps make up for the cleaning power lost by not having the laundry submerged for the entire wash.

Top load HE washers are becoming more popular. These offer similar energy and water savings to front-load HEs. They rely on an impeller and the friction of clothes rubbing against each other rather than an agitator.

The result is a machine that is just as effective at cleaning clothes as a traditional unit but requires less water to get the job done. And because these machines use less water, they also help lower your energy bill since your heater does not have to heat as much water.

HE washers in a nutshell:

  • Rely on tumbling action and impellers to wash clothes more efficiently
  • Use 34 to 80% less water than traditional washers
  • Use 50 to 80% less energy than traditional washers

How These Differences Impact Detergent Use

Since HE washer uses less water during wash cycles and rinses than a conventional washing machine, using the wrong type of detergent can lead to problems.

As mentioned earlier, these machines rely on the friction created as laundry is pushed into and pulled out of the water. If the water surface is oversaturated with suds, then the surface contact friction drops considerably, causing laundry not to get as clean.

Those suds also cause issues with rinsing. If you’ve ever washed dishes by hand, it takes considerably more water to rinse a lot of bubbles off a plate.

This problem is even more exaggerated with fabrics since they tend to hold onto suds better than solid surfaces. The result is a washer full of clothing that is still a little soapy at the end of the cycle.

TAKE AWAY: Detergent that creates too many suds causes HE washers to clean and rinse less effectively.

How Is HE Detergent Different?

woman pouring HE detergent in the bottle cap

Unlike traditional detergent, HE detergent does not create nearly as many suds.

These newer products are made using more innovative detergents that can clean better without creating bubbles. If you compare a traditional detergent with a newer HE formula, you’ll also notice that the latter has more stabilizers and sud reducers.

Because of these subtle differences, HE detergent can permeate fabrics with less water present and is rinsed away cleaner and faster with minimal water required.

FUN FACT: Both traditional and HE detergents use many of the same ingredients. Both are primarily made up of detergent cleaners, which differ in chemical makeup and cleaning action from true soaps. Check out our soap vs. detergent article for more information.

What Happens If You Use Regular Detergent In an HE Machine?

technician checking the washer

As we covered above, the main problem with using regular detergent in an HE washer is that it will create too many suds. This will cause the clothes to not get cleaned as thoroughly and cause them to come out of the washer with detergent and grime still clinging to the fabrics.

But the problems don’t stop at soapy, dirty clothes.

The presence of suds during cleaning and rinse cycles can trigger your machine to inject more water and run additional cycles, negating the water and energy savings of an HE model.

In worst-case scenarios, the excess sudsing can cause the water pump to overheat or the machine to overflow.

Additionally, according to CleaningInstitute.org, using the wrong detergent can cause a buildup of detergent residue in the machine. This can lead to unpleasant odors and potential machine malfunctions or damage.

TAKE AWAY: Using traditional detergent in an HE model can lead to:

  • Cleaning issues
  • Machine malfunction and overflow
  • Increased water and energy use
  • Unpleasant odors
  • Damage to the appliance

Can You Use Natural Detergents In an HE Washer?

woman shopping for a natural detergent in the grocery

As HE appliances become more popular, many commercial detergent manufacturers have created HE-safe versions of their most popular products. These detergents are marked with a small blue and white HE emblem.

But what about natural detergent products? Can you still use these original formulas in HE washers?

In many cases, yes, you can use natural detergents in an HE washer even if they aren’t expressly marketed for that purpose. This is because true, all-natural products are generally made with sodas, mild soaps, and surfactants that are naturally low-sudsing.

Additionally, unlike synthetic detergents and softeners, the ingredients in many natural laundry soaps are made to rinse out easily. Plus, they are much safer for you and your family and do not contain toxic ingredients.

To be safe, check with the manufacturer of your favorite natural soap to assure it won’t cause any problems in your HE washing machine.

Some of our favorite natural, non-toxic products that are advertised as being safe and effective in HE machines include:

  • Truly Free – This highly effective refillable laundry wash is safer for your HE machine and the planet.
  • Molly Suds – All these great laundry powder products are HE safe and made with natural sodas, minerals, and salts that are better for you and your family.
  • Grab Green – This powerful enzyme cleaner works without creating excess suds and features the HE-safe emblem right on the packaging.
  • Dirty Labs – This ultra-concentrated natural detergent brings science and nature together to give you a better clean that’s safer for all.
  • Charlie’s Soap – Another all-natural product that features the HE emblem right on the label, this hypoallergenic powder is perfect for sensitive individuals.
  • Sheets Laundry Club – These easy-use laundry sheets make it easy to go all-natural with your new HE washer.

In addition to commercial natural products, you’re also fairly safe using most natural laundry detergent alternatives in your HE machine. Baking soda, vinegar, oxygen boosters, and many more options we featured in our article create minimal to no suds. Of course, this does not hold true for dishwashing detergent, which you should never use in an HE washer.

Can You Use HE Detergent In a Non-HE Washer?

Did your favorite laundry detergent just switch from its old formula to an HE formula? Don’t worry, you don’t have to go find a new favorite brand.

HE detergents are perfectly safe and effective in traditional washing machines. They won’t create the same kind of sudsing action as the old formula, but the new, improved detergent ingredients will still provide the same (or better) cleaning power.

The Verdict

Regular detergent is not safe or effective to use in an HE washing machine. The sudsing action of these traditional detergent products will cause clothes to not get as clean, not be rinsed completely, and can cause problems to the machine itself, including overflow, energy overuse, and mechanical malfunction.

To keep your HE washing machine performing its best, use only detergent products marked with the HE emblem. These products are made with newer, more effective detergents that clean without forming bubbles. It is also safe to use natural detergents and detergent alternatives that do not create excess suds.

Still have questions concerning the use or makeup of HE detergents? Comment below and we’ll find you the answers.

About The Author

Sara Seitz is a freelance writer and novelist. She lives with her husband and wildling toddler in Colorado where she spends her days working on their house, gardening, and reconnecting with nature.

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