A mini experiment answers once and for all: is my high efficiency washer compatible with homemade detergent?

Guest post by Amanda

Wow. Some HE Washers now come with pretty graphics. (From LG)
It seems that one of the biggest questions regarding DIY laundry soap is: Can I use it in my high efficiency (HE) washer? Lots of people say they use it in their HE washers, and it works wonderfully.

But is anecdotal evidence good enough for this pseudo-scientist? Well, actually, yes, and if I had a HE washer, I’d feel comfortable using it based on those recommendations. But I had some time to kill this evening, so I decided to dig deeper.

According to this Cleaning Institute pamphlet, the reason there’s specific soap for HE washers is low water volume. That’s partially how HE washers are so efficient – they don’t have lots of water to heat up. But regular laundry soaps are sudsy. Lots o’ suds + not much water = sudsy clothes that don’t get very clean. The suds can also clog up your HE washer. Boo. The pamphlet also mentions special formulas that hold dirt in suspension in the water so it doesn’t re-dirty your clothing, but that’s only mentioned briefly, and the point that’s hit over and over is the suds. So we’ll test for suds.

Before agitation.

I took two bowls, filled them with an equal amount of water, and then added a teaspoon of laundry soap to each. On the left, we have the bowl for homemade soap. On the right, we have the bowl for the Seventh Generation soap, which has the little HE symbol on it, telling me that it’s good for HE washers. (And non-HE washers, too.)

I agitated each bowl simultaneously for 60 second. The results?

After agitation. The DIY verision didn't suds much at all.

The DIY soap had almost no suds in it. (The few that were there popped before I could get a picture in.) The HE soap had a low level of suds, too. I wish I had some non-HE laundry soap hanging around for an even better comparison, but alas, I don’t. (And I can’t bring myself to buy even more detergent, given my current abundance.)

Anyway, the moral of the story is: DIY laundry soap is very low-suds, and should be safe for your HE washer.

Also, these mini-experiments are a blast.

Comments on A mini experiment answers once and for all: is my high efficiency washer compatible with homemade detergent?

  1. I use a semi-homemade dry soap for our diapers, and it is rated for HE machines, you just have to use less of it than you would for normal machines. I don’t see why true homemade stuff would be different.

    • There are tons of different ones online. You can make a powder or liquid one depending on your preference. Even after you find one you like, you can add essential oils of your choice. Nothing like a personalized DIY soap, I swear by them!

  2. I don’t know about laundry detergents, but dish soap has a foaming agent to make it more foamy that it would be otherwise. The bubbles have nothing to do with cleaning, but people associate the bubbles with cleaning power, so the companies fake lots of bubbles.

    Perhaps they do something similar to laundry detergent?

  3. I am all for homemade (and cheaper!) alternatives! I love that I know exactly what’s going into them and I use a lot of homemade cleaners etc at home.
    As a former call center agent for a major appliance manufacturer, I bring a word of caution. For most manufacturer’s warranties, using homemade detergents is usually a violation of the warranty. Most warranties have a clause stating that the warranty does not cover damage that results from not following their provided instructions (which will tell you to use he detergent). While homemade detergents are probably safe to use, if your washer breaks down and the manufacturer finds out you’re using homemade detergent, they could deny warranty coverage.
    Like I said, I’m all for the homemade stuff and use it myself, but it’s something to keep in mind.

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