High-efficiency washing machines, often in the form of front loaders, have become one of the best selling appliances of the past decade, according to the American Cleaning Institute. However, these machines, which can wash larger loads of laundry with significantly less water and electricity, require specific types of soap in order to work effectively. The "HE" designation on the package of laundry detergent is not just a gimmick, but an important consideration when you're choosing which product to use.
If you own a high-efficiency machine, always use laundry detergent labeled for that machine type. High-efficiency machines use significantly less water than traditional machines –up to 80 percent less – and use a tumbling action to clean the clothes instead of an agitator. Traditional laundry detergents create suds to get the laundry clean, but when the clothes are tumbling in a high-efficiency machine, the suds can actually "cushion" the clothes and prevent them from getting completely clean. The low-suds high-efficiency soaps, in contrast, allow the clothing to tumble freely and get clean. HE detergents are also formulated to hold dirt and dyes in suspension, preventing them from returning to the clothing – something that regular detergents can't do.
If you accidentally use non-HE detergent in your high-efficiency machine, the first thing to do is stop using that particular detergent and replace it with HE detergent. Over time, using the wrong soap can damage your machine, leading to costly repairs, as the extra suds that regular detergent creates can cause the machine's pump to overheat or break down. Some machines might actually use more water, negating the water and energy savings you get from using the machine. In addition, the extra soap residue can build up inside the machine, leading to mold, mildew and unpleasant odors.
Cleaning the Machine
While using regular detergent in your machine once or twice may not lead to long-term problems, you still need to clean the machine to remove excess residue. To clean the washer, run a maintenance or cleaning cycle. Some machines offer this cycle as a pre-set, but if yours does not, fill the bleach dispenser to the top, and run the empty machine on a wash cycle with hot water. Set the machine to perform an extra rinse to remove all the bleach from inside the washer. This cleaning cycle removes excess soap residue and helps keep the machine free from odors. If you've been using non-HE detergent for an extended period, consider having a technician inspect the machine for damage or potential problems.
It might be tempting to use regular laundry detergent in your high-efficiency machine – in theory, less detergent should create less suds – but avoid that temptation. Always use laundry detergent designed for your machine. Any amount of regular detergent in a high-efficiency machine can potentially cause damage, and your laundry just won't get as clean. Also, read laundry detergent labels carefully. Some detergents are marked "HE compatible." According to the American Cleaning Institute, these detergents, in most cases, are actually regular detergents and could damage your machine. Always choose laundry detergent labeled for HE-machines.
An adjunct instructor at Central Maine Community College, Kristen Hamlin is also a freelance writer on topics including lifestyle, education, and business. She is the author of Graduate! Everything You Need to Succeed After College (Capital Books), and her work has appeared in Lewiston Auburn Magazine, Young Money, USA Today and a variety of online outlets. She has a B.A. in Communication from Stonehill College, and a Master of Liberal Studies in Creative Writing from the University of Denver.