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After we bought our new high-efficiency washing machine, I was warned by a few different people not to use too much detergent. High-efficiency washers use less water and require less detergent to do their job (hence, the efficiency.) I didn't give it too much thought, though. What's the worst that could happen?

Then one day I was caught in a torrential rainstorm. When I got home my jeans were drenched, and I noticed something curious: a row of white suds had formed above each knee. I realized that my walking action had agitated the denim and brought trapped, excess detergent to the surface. I had to wash my clothes with no detergent just to get rid of the embedded soap.

A recent report in the Wall Street Journal
confirms I'm not alone in my detergent overkill tendencies. Loads of Americans are overdosing their high-efficiency machines, either because the measuring lines in detergent caps are too hard to read or because they're simply used to traditional washers. And the consequences go beyond sudsy jeans. According to Consumer Reports, detergent build-up can lead to mold, odors, and bacteria in the machine, which is exactly what you don't want. Too much soap can clog filters and ports, causing the machine to break down eventually. Plus, some detergents cost 65 cents per load; using too much adds up.

According to Jeffrey Hollender, the co-founder of an environmentally sensitive household product maker called Seventh Generation -- I may have been onto something when I washed my jeans with water alone. Hollender told a Wall Street Journal reporter: "You don't even need soap to wash most loads," implying that agitation of washing machines will clean your clothes just fine.

To combat this detergent epidemic, reports the Wall Street Journal, some detergent manufacturers are designing caps with more defined measuring lines to ensure proper dosing. I'll admit that I'm not someone who measures detergent. I just pour it in. Why? I don't want to take the time to read the back of the detergent container and then figure out which of the lines on the inside of the cap apply to this load. Those lines inside the cap are hard to see in a dim laundry room. And I don't really trust manufacturers. I mean, look at how much toothpaste the commercials show people using on a toothbrush. I use about one-quarter that amount. With detergent, I guess I go the opposite route and use too much.

Plus, you almost have to be a scientist to figure it all out. Whirlpool says the correct dosage depends on the hardness of your water (softened water needs less) and how soiled the clothes are.

In my opinion, much of our detergent overdosing is simply a bad habit. It just feels right to pour in a certain amount. But bad habits can be turned into good habits. That would mean reading the label on the high-efficiency container, and using the cap -- however difficult it is to read -- to measure out the correct amount. Within time, the new amount will seem normal. Whirlpool offers this tip: If soap remains at the end of the cycle, you're probably using too much.

Ok, time to come clean: Do you use too much detergent in your laundry?

Recommended reading:
The Future of Laundry: No More Water
Top 10 Time-Saving, McGyver-Style Cleaning Tricks

  • NancyBCrow

    The person who wrote that editorial about the laundry detergent is supposed to be a bright person. Does she not see detergent labeled HI Energy for use in a front loading machine? I use it all the time. Do not use more than the recommended amount. I could not believe the article when it said a person can wash clothes without detergent. Many people wash clothes in cold water. That does NOT kill bacteria and dust mites that form on sheets and mattresses. I wash all bedding in hot water. Most of the time, I use hot water to wash towels. If someone just rinses off his hands without using soap, that dirt left on the hands winds up on the towels. Using hot water does not cause a significant rise in the electric bill.

  • Melissa

    True... i don't even have a high efficiency washer and i know that you have to use a different detergent for it... this article is such a waste

  • Green Homes

    Actually, heating water is where a large portion of the energy consumed in U.S. homes is spent. (Unless you are you solar energy to heat your hot water tank.) If you are concerned about dust mites and other bacteria that might be on your clothes, the heat of the dryer will take care of it.

  • Didier

    Hello NancyBChes witrow! We think alike! Isn't that gross!? Washing clothout soap is definitely a no, no! I know I definitely almost always use a little more laundry detergent than I should, but I just don't understand people who ust don't follow the laundering rules! Who taught these people??? I'm 27 and my mother was very specific... Ha, ha.

  • Didier

    We think alike! Isn't that gross!? Washing cloth without soap is definitely a no, no! I know I almost always use a little more laundry detergent than I should, but I just don't understand people who just don't follow/abide by the laundering rules! Who taught these people??? I'm 27 and my mother was very specific... Ha, ha.

  • Simzee

    Did anyone ever try making their own laundry soap? It's very low suds. Which is great for these HE machines. It's not that hard to make. Look up on the internet "Homemade Laundry soap" for easy recipes.

  • HopeLivzOn

    Don't forget the whites. I use the "Sanitary" setting, with the hottest water possible and chlorine bleach on my whites and white towels. My bedding and colored towels are done in hot water with a scoop of OxyClean added to the low sudsing detergent - imperative for a front loader. And I give an extra rinse to all of the above. Everything else gets warm water wash and cold rinse.

  • Al Schrader

    Nancy- Heating water in your hotwater heater is very in-efficient because it uses a 2,000 watt resistance element. Water has a very high "specific heat" and it takes a lot of energy to warm 70 o F water to 120 o F. Anything you can do to pre-heat the supply water will reduce you energy bill. One way is to place a solar collector in series with the waterheater water supply. Most modern washers have a 3 way load switch small, med, large. Use the setting for the load you have. Just a few shirts ? Use the low setting. As for detergents, they have a built in indicator... If the amount of soilage in your clothes exceeds the amount of detergent you have added to the water, the detergent wont suds (no bubbles). Start with a small amount of detergent and add more just to the point where suds appear, then you have the perfect amount....Email me if you have

  • Marty


    The author said CLOTHING... not bedding. And 15% of an energy bill goes toward heating water. I'd say that's a fairly large portion.


    There are billions of people in the world that do not have clean water to drink and you are double rinsing? People managed to survive before the concept of washing clothes was ever invented. Let's not go overboard here.

  • Ron

    The person said they washed their clothes without detergent after they had gotten their clothes wet and noticed them sudsing at the knees. They washed them without detergent to get the residual detergent out of the clothing. Try to re-read the article.

  • kevin

    Anyone over 12 years old or has half a brain in their head already knows this stuff about laundry.

  • D.A.

    Come on people. give the writer a break here. We ALL 'over-do' things sometimes, thinking that 'more' will do an even better job. The author is a male, which is living proof that there ARE differences between the sexes, and been here done this myself. (now dont lie, and say you never had the over-sudsy issue with your new machine) Side note: keep liquid fabric softner on hand. It cuts the suds down to zero for those times when you DO screw up.

  • LollyBlue

    how many MEN are named, Kathy, you dunce!! lol

  • lola

    Kathy is a man fool

  • sherry

    I have an old, basic washer and drier, with no fancy settings, no mix of water temps or air temps. They've run forever. I am thrifty with detergent. Clothes come out just fine, whether light or heavy, or light or dark.

  • Cathy

    Hi Everyone

    I do not use laundry detergent at all and save lots of money. I use 11.5 water which replaces my laundry detergent, and works FANTASTIC !!!

  • HUH?

    What is 11.5 water?

  • Shelley

    My husband and I bought new HE Whirlpool machines last year. I actually AGREE with this article. Most of the time, I don't use detergent when washing my clothes. Unless my kids bring home dirty stains from playing, I don't see the need for it. Detergent can break the fibers down in your clothing and, over time, wear your garments out. I DO use a small amount of baking soda to make my clothes smell more fresh. My clothes look fine.
    My point is, don't get mad at the article, just do what you want. Stop getting your underwear in a bunch because someone doesn't do exactly what you do.

  • Yroarrah

    The idea of not using soap and hot water is not a good one. When you wash underwear, you are more often that not coming into contact with E. coli, which can be a highly dangerous organism, especially to the very young and the elderly. Add soap to the machine, and then wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water. Also, use a chorline or some kind of non-bleaching wipe to remove any residual E. coli from the laundry basket before putting your clean clothes inside of it to carry it out of the laundry room for foldling it. Yes, some types of E. coli are not as dangerous as others, but your underwear is exposed to fecal material!

  • Levi

    Yroarrah, here is a little health lesson for you- Everything around you, including yourself, is covered in germs.! The risk of getting an E. Coli infection from touching dirty underwear or contact with toilets, etc. is miniscule. It sounds like you have been watching too many undercover investigations showing "dirty" bathrooms and "dirty" restaurants. Here is some news for you- THE WORLD IS COVERED IN BACTERIA! Just because it is there, doesn't mean it will make you sick. You are exposed to E. Coli and a host of other "dangerous" bacteria on a regular basis, but it is unable to infect you because our bodies have amazing defense systems. On very rare occasions, those bacteria are able to infect you, but can be treated with antibiotics. Cases requiring hospitalization or causing death are usually the result of a weak immune system, which ironically enough can be caused by obsessively washing your hands. Our bodies need to be exposed to bacteria so that we can naturally build our immunity to them. It is fine to wash your hands after using the restroom or when they are visibly dirty, but after doing laundry? That is unhealthy and borderline OCD.


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