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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

  • ackmer

    I bought the latest GE front loader washer & dryer. The machine dips into the HE deturgent resevoir and extracts the right amount for the load of wash in the machine. At the end of the cycle, it tells the dryer what kind of load it's about to handle. It does a great job and I don't have to measure detergents.

  • wldctfan

    I live in a senior retirement community that has the front-load washers. Every day you can go to the laundry room and find several of the washers overflowing the detergent that has been used. I believe our problem is the detergent drawers. You cannnot remove them to clean the old detergent out, instead our maintenance person just flushes what's in the drawer down into the machine. When you add a 1/4 c of liquid to that, you have much more detergent than is needed.

  • JO


  • cocovt

    I agree. The measuring line inside the dispenser is about 4 times what is needed since the detergent companies keep making the HE detergent more and more concentrated. You barely need to cover the bottom of the dispenser. My Sears maintenance man told me this. You only need a tablespoon. If you can run your front loader empty and still see a load of bubbles, you have overused detergent. Too many bubbles makes the tub overflow, ruin some major part which I don't remember, void your warranty, and necessitate getting a new machine because the repair is too expensive.

  • Nay Nay

    I had a high-efficiency washer once. It broke because of using too much detergent and especially not using High Efficiency detergent. The salesman told me I could use regular detergent but just a smaller amount. She should have said, "NEVER use regular detergent!" I only had it for about 5 years. I replaced it with the old fashioned top loader. My HE washer was kind of a pain. If I accidentially left one little thing in a pocket, it would get caught in some mechanism, which caused a problem. Also, you can't toss that last little item in after the wash starts.

  • TWIGGY0749

    I have had a front loader for several years. Never wasted the money on HE detergent, just used less of the regular (Purex, not the pricey brands). A LOT less. As in, not enough to cover the bottom of the detergent reservoir. No problems whatsoever. And I never use hot water, only warm or cold. Not had a problem yet. : )

  • PatsyS

    Gee, have none of you ever heard of vinegar? I use 1 cup of vinegar in the rinse every time I do laundry. Not only does it get soap out of my clothes, it keeps the pipes and drains clear. When I bought a new washer several years ago, the guy who installed it could not believe how little soap residue there was in either the hoses or the machine.

    Oh, and your clothes don't smell like salad dressing. And you don't need to add fabric softener.

  • Joe Papierz Jr

    Does Kathy Price-Robinsons Mom still hold her hand when she crosses a
    street? Duh....................Maybe she should be told that wash day
    products have instructions printed on the container that tell you how
    best to use the product. It's written by people who can read expecting
    that the purchaser of the product can also read or get their mommies
    to read it for them. Unfortunately most AOL articles are pure rubish.
    This one fits that catagory perfectly.

  • jenjen

    Gee whiz...this is a light-hearted little article that manages to be amusing while offering a little advice. Seems to me she did a nice job researching and has a nice, breezy little style to boot. My husband sometimes does his own laundry and, being a semi-old coot, always adds too much detergent and even returns after the load is going to make sure there are enough soap bubbles on top. Drives me crazy, but it's a battle I don't choose to fight. He's a dentist, so he is a true germ-a-phobe. Too much soap hasn't killed our ancient machine yet (20+ years). Anything is better than beating your clothes on a river rock or hand-washing in the sink. In fact, I think I'll do laundry right now just because I can. With soap...maybe water. Hot? Warm? Gentle cycle? Perma-press? Hi fill? Low? Decisions, decisions... and don't get me started on dryer selections. My brain aches. More coffee.

  • Maddison

    About the 65 cent per load...
    Im suddenly happy I am allergic to the "good" stuff (even Tide screws me up, I get the 23 load container from dollar tree (: )

  • MaryLou Michelin

    I bought a high effiency washer and dryer and hate both of them. The clothes do not slosh in the water as I like - as a matter of fact the water hardly covers the clothes. You can not adjust the water level. Boo is what I have to say for Kenmore Elite.

  • chrisdjon

    I feel the same way. I don't think that the clothes are getting clean. In fact many times, they,ve come out with the same stains they went in with. I might blame the hard well water I have. I can surely overload detergent and never see suds. Cest la vie.

  • ycav4424

    One little article meant to be informative sure gets people worked up. I am a single guy that didn't get to concerned about how I did my clothes as long as I got it done. So this article did teach me something. Basicley just to pay attention for 5 seconds while I am getting through an unpleasant chore. Go figure.

  • Christina


  • Christina

    That's the whole point ... they aren't supposed to slosh around in 20 gallons of water because it isn't necessary. If it didn't work, then there wouldn't be so many of them on the market.

  • pd39

    The writer is very fortunate she didn't end up with a nasty azz rash in her crotch. The first time I used that hi-effeciency detergent and it didn't get fully rinsed out of my clothing I broke out in such a rash. And it spread. I was covred from my knees to my belly button for about 3 months. Now I double rinse every load.

  • Yroarrah

    I love my front loader, just because it uses less soap and water. However, the idea of not using soap 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!

  • L.

    Had to laugh to read the first few articles.....It all goe back to the THINK OUT OF THE BOX......You know TAKE OFF THE BLINDERS......
    Not everyone is thinking like you were....The instructions need to be for anyone using the washer.....I have come home to having my floor mopped clean before....If not the washer the dish washer....Can't fine the dishwasher soap lets use this or that....WOW! BUBBLES GALORE..
    But sometimes you have a helpful person, the child (because they have only watched, I think we do it like this)or the senior (can not read the instructions beacuse the PRINT IS TOO SMALL FOR ANYONE TO READ BECAUSE THE INSTRUCTIONS NEED TO FIT THE PACKAGING) Companies need to protect themselves from any and everything....They did print the instructions, some people just do not READ.................RIGHT???? It is another learning experience.

  • Noel

    What about taking a cap from an old detergent bottle and marking it with waterproof marker or nail polish to use in the laundry only need a "bright" light once to do it and it can still be used in a "dim" light there after-and you can mark the level at a lower amount if needed. Can be done with powdered detergents too.

  • lola

    Kathy is a female you fool.


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