Top 5 High-efficiency (HE) Detergents

By: Debra Ronca  | 

You must use HE detergent for an HE machine. See more green living pictures.

You've probably seen commercials or read about the next wave in laundry machines -- the high-efficiency washer (also called "HE"). You may even have one of your own. Here's why they're so special:

A typical washing machine accounts for more than 20 percent of your water bill. It uses 50 gallons of water or more per cycle, which really adds up, especially if you have a big family and run lots of cycles per week. On the other hand, high-efficiency washing machines use only 18 to 25 gallons of water per load. That's half the amount of the regular washer, which can mean considerable savings in your monthly family budget.


How do these washers do it? Most of them are front-loading machines, which require less water and detergent. And instead of using a big water-filled tub with an agitator like traditional machines, with an HE washer, the clothes go in a "tumbler" and gently tumble around in a shallow pool of water. HE washers also tend to spin faster, which means your clothes have less water in them when they go into the dryer, resulting in shorter dryer times. Bonus!

Because of the way the HE washer tumbling system works, though, you have to use a special HE-branded detergent when you wash your clothes. Otherwise you'll end up with way too many suds, which can make a mess and shorten the life of your HE washer.

Let's take a look at some of the top-ranked detergents available for high-efficiency washers, as well as some more information about HE machines.

5: Tide 2X Ultra with Color Clean Bleach Alternative HE

Tide brand detergent is the current market leader, with various types of HE and standard detergents, and Tide 2X Ultra for HE washers receives high marks from Consumer Reports. The "2X" refers to the fact that the detergent is concentrated, which means it can clean more loads with less detergent (and it's stored in a smaller, more compact bottle). It also includes a color-safe bleach alternative, so you don't have to use separate bleach. This detergent comes in a liquid form only and costs about $0.24 per load.

HE Fact:

Because an HE washing machine tumbles instead of agitates, it creates more suds than a traditional machine. Therefore, HE detergent must be low-sudsing.


4: All 2X with Oxy ActiveTM

If you don't use HE detergent, suds will overflow from your HE machine.
If you don't use HE detergent, suds will overflow from your HE machine.

All 2X with Oxy-Active is another concentrated liquid detergent (no powder version available). The "Oxy Active" is a bleach alternative and stain lifter, said to remove grass, blood, wine and chocolate. It costs approximately $0.15 per load.

HE Fact:

You might think you can use regular detergent in the HE washer -- just as long as you use less of it. After all, less soap means less suds, right? Unfortunately, testers have determined that simply using a smaller amount of the regular stuff won't do the trick. You must use HE detergents, which are designed to clean more effectively in low-water conditions.


3: Gain Original Fresh HE

Gain Original Fresh HE comes in powder form only. It's rated well in Consumer Reports for its cleaning efficiency, cost and scent. It costs about $0.15 per load.

HE Fact:

Some HE washing machine manufacturers will actually void your machine's warranty if you use non-HE detergent. Oversudsing can lead to a residue buildup in the machine -- specifically the rubber gasket in the interior door. This residue can eventually lead to mold growth and odor, so it's important to use the right detergent for your machine.


2: Up & Up Fresh Breeze HE

HE machines work use less water.
HE machines work use less water.

Up & Up Fresh Breeze detergent is carried exclusively at Target stores. It comes in liquid form and is popular for its scent. Up & Up costs about $0.13 per load.

HE Fact:

Here's another reason to use only HE detergent in your HE washer: Since the washer doesn't use as much water, regular soap may not properly rinse from your clothing, which may not seem like a big deal until you get caught in the rain and you have soap bubbles on your clothes.


1: Seventh Generation Natural Powdered HE

The final HE laundry detergent on our list is from Seventh Generation. It comes in a powder only and is made from plant-derived cleaning agents and enzymes. If you like to keep your household cleaners "green," Seventh Generation is a good choice. It's pricey, though, at approximately $0.36 per load.

HE Fact:

You can't use traditional detergent in an HE washing machine, but you can use HE detergent in a traditional washing machine. Most HE detergent is concentrated, so it might even save you some money. Just don't forget that it's low-sudsing. Your clothes will still get clean, but they may not have as much fragrance as you're used to.


For more on laundry and appliances, check out the links on the next page.

Originally Published: Oct 5, 2010

Best Laundry Detergent FAQ

Which laundry detergent is the best?
Wirecutter found that Tide Ultra Stain Release was more effective at lifting a wider variety of stains in cold water than the 16 other detergents they tested..
What is a high-efficiency laundry detergent?
High-efficiency laundry detergents are designed to wash clothes with low water quantities. Most washer manufacturers recommend only HE detergents for use with their washers. Don't use regular detergents in an HE washer as it could overflow the machine.
Is laundry powder better than liquid?
Powder and liquid detergents share many similarities. Powder detergents may be better at removing mud and while liquid detergents are more effective at getting greasy stains out. Powder may be slightly cheaper, but liquid allows you to pretreat stains easily. Powder eventually may pose a clogging problem. It really comes down to personal preference.
Do laundry pods really work?
Laundry pods can do the trick. They may be more expensive per load than liquid or powder, but consumers find them convenient.
Can I use normal detergent in a washing machine?
Only use detergents that your washing machine's manufacturer recommends. An incompatible detergent will prevent the washer from properly washing and rinsing the laundry. In some cases, it may even lead to overflowing. Don't chance it.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • "High-Efficiency Washers." Pacific Gas & Electric Co. 2008. (Sept. 27, 2010)
  • "Laundry Detergents." 2010. (Sept. 27, 2010)
  • "Washing Wisdom." LaundryHE. 2010. (Sept. 27, 2010)