Bottle and Detergent

Using Regular Detergent in a High-Efficiency Washer is Risky Business

If you’ve ever wondered what’s the difference between regular laundry detergents and those designated as “High Efficiency” or HE or if they’re interchangeable, and if you could possibly make your own to cut the cost … you are not the only one! Those are questions that frequently show up in my mailbox.

Bottle and Detergent

Dear Mary:  First, thank you for your column, I love it! I just inherited several bottles of regular laundry detergent. I have a HE front-loader washer. Is there a way to use or modify regular laundry detergent for HE use? Christin

Dear Christin:  Standard washing machines that use traditional laundry detergent (the type of detergent you’ve inherited) use up to 35 gallons of water per load. 

Full-sized energy-efficient top-loaders like my beloved LG High-Efficiency Top Load Washer (which I loved and gifted it to my son when we moved and our new laundry room configuration could not accommodate it), use about 13 gallons of water per load—a savings of more than 3,000 gallons of water per year—operate much differently than a standard machine. This is one of the reasons that HE detergent is quite different than the standard type of detergent.

So, can you use standard detergent in your HE machine? I must advise you that your owner manual is not likely to support such an idea, potentially putting your warranty at risk.

That being said, I will admit that I did use standard detergent from time to time in my LG top-loader that required HE detergent. But I used MUCH less per load because it uses so much less water.

Too much detergent will clog up the machine because the amount of water it uses is not sufficient to rinse it out. That build-up can cause the machine to malfunction and eventually will create an offensive odor.

Now, when I say “less” detergent I mean a lot less. Like one-fourth the amount you might normally use. I measured it in tablespoons, not capfuls. And I diluted it in a large container of water before pouring it into the machine.

Would I do that again? Yes, but not on a regular basis. I want you and all of my readers to know that to do so would be taking a potential risk should the machine require service under its warranty, as per the manufacturer’s guidelines,

Given the potential harm you could do to your machine, you might want to consider re-gifting the detergent to friends, family, or a shelter in your area that uses traditional washers. Then make a big batch of my homemade HE detergent. That way others win and you win, too. I hope that helps. And thanks for loving EC.

First published: 7-7-15; Revised & Updated 5-17-20

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4 replies
  1. Deena Costley says:

    So is Borax safe to add when washing whites in an HE machine? I just upgraded my 30 yr old set & it’s not stated on the Borax box that it can be used in HE machines.

  2. cheryl says:

    Hi, I’d like to add the neighborhood animal shelters. They would be so grateful to have anything that will help them keep the towels/blankets/cages, etc. clean. Gave them a couple of bottles of bleach once, and you’d have thought I gave them a winning lottery ticket! :0) I also give them towels that have seen better days, that I’m not gonna use as a car towel.

  3. Heidi says:

    Before you give it all away, consider saving a small amount for when you do hand laundry. I love the ‘laundry detergent’ smell and it’s my reward for the extra effort I’m putting in.


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