HE (High Efficiency) Washing Machines

High efficiency washing machines hit the market almost a decade ago. However, we are all still adjusting to the way that these machines wash. They save 20-66% water over standard top loaders and 20-50% of the energy because less water requires less heating. There are two HE options. You can either get a front loading washing machine or a top loading machine. Each of these machines work differently. A quick rule of thumb – most front loaders, regardless of whether they are labeled as, such are HE machines. There was a period of time when front loaders were first produced when they were not labeled HE. If you have a front loading machine that is NOT HE, you would know about it, as they were/are generally only manufactured for people with a disability and are higher in price.


Front loading HE washing machines work by tumbling the clothes back and forth through the water as the drum rotates clockwise and counterclockwise. A top loading HE machine will have a plate or a disc at the bottom that spins, rotates, or wobbles in order to wash the clothes. With less water, these machines work by using two types of agitation: there is the agitation from the machine and there is the agitation of the clothes against each other. This is one reason that these machines work better at at least 2/3 full to 3/4 full capacity. Please see ‘How to Properly Launder with Your HE Machine‘ for a more in-depth explanation.


There are many that will advise a new user of a HE machine to use non-HE detergent or to ‘just use less.’ This is incorrect information. First, without appropriate levels of detergent for the soil that is present in the clothes you are washing, the soil cannot be removed (please see our page “Surfactants – Soap vs. Detergent” for a detailed explanation of this process). Second, HE detergent is meant to be used with a HE machine because it produces fewer suds, which allows the machine to work more effectively. Third, using non-HE detergent could void your warranty or cause your machine to over-suds and either break your machine or cause the machine to take a very long time to remove the suds. Lastly, an increase in the suds can create a suds cushion between the surfactants and the soil, which will not allow the detergent to grab the soil and remove it.  A few things this can cause: the washer can add more water to try to remove the suds or the excess suds can cause the washer’s pump to overheat.


*Please note: A detergent is only HE safe if it says for a HE washer. A ‘HE compatible’ detergent that instructs you to ‘use less’ is not truly a HE safe detergent.






By Amanda Perez