Using Regular Soap in an HE Washer

Using regular soap in a high efficiency (HE) washing machine is a common question for many homeowners. HE washers are designed differently than traditional top-loading machines, so the type of detergent used is an important consideration. There are a few factors to think about when deciding whether regular soap can be used safely and effectively in an HE washer.

How Do HE Washers Differ from Traditional Washers?

HE washers use less water and energy compared to conventional top-loading machines. On average, HE washers use between 15-30 gallons of water per load compared to 40 gallons for a regular washer.

Here are some key differences between HE and traditional washers:

  • Smaller wash tub – The tub in an HE washer is much smaller and fits less water. This allows it to use less water while still effectively cleaning clothes.
  • Low-water wash cycles – HE washers have special low-water wash cycles that use extended tumbling to clean clothes with less water.
  • High-speed spin – HE washers spin at very high speeds up to 1000-1400 RPM to extract more water from clothes, reducing drying time.
  • Low suds detection – HE machines have sophisticated sensors to detect suds and detergent buildup, adjusting the cycle accordingly.
  • No center agitator – Rather than an agitator, HE washers use an impeller or rotor to turn clothes over gently. This allows high-speed spinning without twisting clothes.

Understanding these key differences helps explain why detergent choice matters in an HE washer. The low-water cycles, lack of agitator, and suds sensors mean that regular high-sudsing detergents can cause problems.

Disadvantages of Using Regular Detergent in an HE Washer

Using a regular, non-HE detergent in a high efficiency washing machine can lead to a few problems:

Excessive Suds

Regular detergents are designed to create lots of suds with agitation. But HE washers do not provide as much agitation and use less water. So the suds have nowhere to go and can cause an overflow of bubbles.

The machine’s suds sensor may repeatedly rinse and spin if it detects too much foam buildup. This wastes water and energy.

Reduced Cleaning Performance

Too many suds can also reduce cleaning performance in an HE washer. The suds can prevent the detergent from effectively contacting the laundry load. Detergent may get trapped in the bubbles rather than dissolving in the water.

Regular detergent may not activate properly to remove stains and soils in low-water HE cycles. This can result in poor cleaning results.

Clogged Pumps

Excessive sudsing can lead to component failures. The drain pump in HE washers can become clogged with thick suds. This may require a repair service to fix the issue.

Musty Odors

When suds are not properly rinsed away, they can lead to musty, mildew smells in the machine and on laundry. Excess moisture gets trapped along with detergent residue.

Voided Warranty

Using the wrong detergent may void the warranty on some washing machines. Manufacturers specify that only HE or low-sudsing detergents should be used.

To avoid all these potential problems, it’s best to use a detergent specifically formulated for high efficiency washers.

Key Differences Between HE and Regular Laundry Detergents

There are a few key differences that make HE detergents effective in high efficiency machines:

Low-Suds Formula

HE detergents contain surfactants and enzymes that allow effective cleaning with far fewer suds. There is no need for piles of bubbles with an HE washer. Low-sudsing detergents won’t overload the sensors.


The low-water environment requires detergents that dissolve quickly and activate faster. HE detergents are formulated with ingredients that dissolve rapidly and thoroughly.

Enhanced Stain-Fighting Enzymes

HE detergents contain enzymes that break down stains and soils in low temperature, low-water cycles. This allows HE washers to get clothes clean using less energy.

Compatible Fragrance

Some regular detergents contain certain dyes and scents that can stain plastic washer components if excess suds occur. HE detergents use suds-safe fragrances.

Designed For Wash Cycles

HE detergents are designed for the wash cycles in high efficiency machines. The concentrations and rinse characteristics align with low-water amounts.

When shopping for an HE washing machine detergent, look for the “HE” logo indicating it’s safe for high efficiency models. Using one of these low-suds formulas will help your washer work properly.

When Can You Use Regular Detergent in an HE Washer?

In some select cases, using regular detergent in an HE washer can be okay. Here are some tips on when it may work and when to avoid it:

Use Only For Some HE Machines

Some HE washers are designed to handle occasional regular detergent loads. Check your owner’s manual – some brands allow limited use of regular detergent if needed. Using it all the time is not recommended.

Use Half the Recommended Amount

To control suds, use far less regular detergent than you normally would – about half the recommended amount. This greatly cuts the bubbling. But cleaning may still suffer.

Use For Heavy Soil or Fabric Softener Loads

Some use regular detergent on a separate heavy soil or fabric softener cycle. The extra bubbles may help suspend soils. But cleaning results can still vary.

Don’t Use Pods/Packs

Detergent pods or packs should never be used in an HE washer – they are highly concentrated and cause extreme sudsing. Use only powder detergent.

Skip If Using Delicates

Avoid regular detergent for delicates or handwash cycles. These gentle cycles need low-suds. Too many bubbles can damage fabrics.

Don’t Use If Suds Persist

If you observe persistent suds or leaking with regular detergent, discontinue use. Sticking with HE detergent is safest for your washer.

While it may be possible to use regular detergent in an HE machine, it’s generally not worth the risks of poor performance, damage, and voided warranties. HE-specific detergent is the wisest choice.

Top HE Detergent Brands

All the major detergent manufacturers make effective HE detergents. Here are some top brands to consider:

Tide HE Turbo Powder

Tide is the most popular detergent overall and their HE formula provides excellent cleaning with low suds. It works well in all water temperatures and is safe for septic systems.

Gain HE Original Scent Powder

Gain HE powder has a refreshing original scent and contains antioxidants for bright colored clothing. It works well in both HE top loader and front load washers.

Persil ProClean Power-Caps

This HE-specific detergent from Persil contains 4 powerful enzymes to break down tough, set-in stains. The caps allow customizable dosing.

Arm & Hammer Clean Burst HE

Arm & Hammer uses baking soda for its cleaning power. It helps remove odors and is formulated for high efficiency machines.

All Free Clear HE Powder

For those with sensitive skin, All Free Clear is a hypoallergenic HE detergent. It’s dye and fragrance free but still cleans thoroughly.

Be sure to follow dosage directions, as using too much HE detergent can still create excess suds. When in doubt, use a bit less until you find the optimal amount.

HE Machine Maintenance When Using Regular Soap

If you do end up using regular detergent occasionally, take some extra steps to keep your HE washer running properly:

  • Wipe seals – Wipe any detergent residue off door seals and the washer tub rim after use. This prevents buildup.
  • Dry tub – Prop the door open after use to allow the washer tub to fully dry out between loads. Moisture breeds mold and mildew.
  • Clean machine – Run a monthly cleaning cycle. Use either white vinegar or an affresh cleaning tablet to keep soap scum under control.
  • Check filter – Remove and rinse the drain filter regularly to make sure no suds sludge is clogging it.
  • Low-suds cycles – When using regular detergent, select a “handwash” or other low-suds cycle to minimize bubbling.

Avoiding buildup and residue is key to prevent odor and component clogging issues when straying from HE detergent.

FAQs About Using Regular Soap in HE Washers

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about using regular detergent in high efficiency washing machines:

Can I use any type of regular detergent in an HE washer?

No, you should only use a powder regular detergent, never liquid or pod/packet detergents. Liquids and pods create copious amounts of suds. Powder at least allows you to control the dosage.

What’s the worst that can happen if I use regular detergent?

Excessive suds can cause leaks, water drainage issues, pump clogs, and sensor malfunctions. Your washer may become inoperable and require a costly repair service.

How often can I safely use regular detergent in my HE washer?

Most manufacturers recommend only occasional or limited use of regular detergent in an HE machine. For best results, HE-specific detergent should be used for at least 90% of your loads.

Can I mix regular and HE detergents together?

It’s not recommended. The formulations don’t interact well together. Just choose all HE or all regular detergent for a particular load based on your needs.

Should I use more or less regular detergent versus HE in my machine?

Always use less regular detergent – about half the amount you’re used to. Even a normal dose creates big suds. Start with just 1-2 tablespoons until the appropriate amount is found.

How do I get rid of soap buildup and residue if I’ve used regular detergent?

Run cleaning cycles using white vinegar or citric acid to dissolve the buildup. Wipe seals and the drum thoroughly. Check the pump filter for trapped residue as well.

Using some regular powder detergent minimally and with care may be suitable for some washer models. But HE detergent is still highly recommended for optimal performance and trouble-free operation.

The Bottom Line

While tempting to just pour in the usual regular detergent, high efficiency washers perform best with low-sudsing, HE-specific detergent. The formulations are designed to dissolve quickly and activate in low-water cycles. This prevents oversudsing and allows effective stain removal.

Occasionally using regular powder detergent in small amounts may be feasible for some washers. But it risks reduced cleaning, machine damage, odor, and voided warranties. The smartest choice is sticking with detergent made for HE machines, following dosage guidelines, and properly maintaining your washer.

With quality HE detergent and proper care, your high efficiency washer will function as designed – using less water and energy for clean, fresh-smelling laundry.

Using Regular Soap in an HE Washer

Using regular soap in a High Efficiency (HE) washer is generally not recommended but there may be some instances where it can be done successfully with care. Here are some key tips on using regular soap in an HE washer:

Why Regular Soap Causes Issues

  • HE washers use low-water wash cycles so regular high-sudsing detergents can oversuds
  • Excess suds lead to poor rinsing, pump clogs, odors, and machine damage over time
  • HE washers lack a center agitator so need low-suds detergent to properly dissolve and activate

When You May Be Able to Use Regular Soap

  • Some HE washer brands allow occasional regular detergent loads per the manual
  • Use half the amount of powder-only regular detergent to control suds
  • Stick to all low-suds cycles like delicates when using regular soap
  • Avoid liquid or pod/packet regular detergent which causes extreme sudsing

Tips for Using Regular Soap

  • Manually select low-water wash cycles and extra rinse cycle
  • Wipe seals and tub after each use to prevent residue buildup
  • Run monthly cleaning cycles with vinegar or affresh tablets
  • Check pump filter more frequently for trapped suds
  • Leave door open after loads to dry out machine and prevent mold

Best Practices for HE Washers

  • Use HE-specific detergent for 90%+ of loads
  • Follow dosage directions carefully to prevent oversudsing
  • Use powder detergent only if using regular soap occasionally
  • Clean machine regularly to remove any soap scum
  • Avoid using fabric softener with regular detergent

The Bottom Line

While it may be possible in some cases, using regular soap in an HE washer comes with risks of poor performance, odors, and clogs. For best results, always use a low-sudsing, HE-designed detergent.