Top 5 High-efficiency (HE) Detergents

By: Alia Hoyt & Debra Ronca  | 

laundry detergent in a machine
You must use HE detergent for an HE machine. SimonSkafar/Getty Images

High-efficiency (HE) washing machines were once a newfangled thing, but now they're pretty common in most homes. This is a good thing, as HE washers are pretty special.

For example, an HE machine uses as much as 80 percent less water than a traditional washing machine. This definitely affects the household water bill! Today's high-efficiency washing machines use between 13 and 17 gallons (49 and 64 liters) of water per load, compared with as much as 40 gallons (151 liters) in a 20-year-old washer. That's less than half the amount of water of the traditional washer, which can mean considerable savings in your monthly family budget.

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How do these washers do it? Instead of using a big water-filled tub with an agitator, with an HE washer, the clothes go in a "tumbler" and gently move 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, 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.

So, which detergent should you use? Let's take a look at some of the top-ranked detergents available for high-efficiency washers.

5: Tide Hygienic Clean Heavy Duty 10X Liquid Laundry Detergent

Tide brand detergent is the current market leader, with various types of HE and standard detergents to the brand's credit. This incarnation uses the power of 10 "concentrated actives" to achieve an extra-hygienic clean. Tide Hygienic Clean Heavy Duty even claims to get "between fibers to clean hidden dirt you didn't even know was there." This formula is ideal for clothing that needs a little extra elbow grease to get totally clean.

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.

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4: All 2X Ultra Oxi-Active

All 2X Ultra Oxi-Active is another concentrated liquid detergent. The oxi component is a bleach alternative and stain lifter, said to remove grass, blood, wine and chocolate. In fact, the product description says it fights "100 percent of stain types." So, no matter what the offending substance, All Oxi is likely to take care of business.

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.

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3: Gain Botanicals Laundry Detergent

Gain recently launched Gain Botanicals, its first entry in the "natural botanicals" laundry detergent market. It has no dyes, phosphates or brighteners and has a nice scent that's a mix of white tea and lavender. The detergent is made from 65 percent plant-based ingredients. This formula, created for people with sensitive skin, can be used in both HE and old-fashioned washers.

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.

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2: Arm & Hammer Clean & Simple Crisp Clean Liquid Laundry Detergent

This one's a good option for the budget-conscious shopper, who also wants to avoid unnecessary chemicals and dyes. Arm & Hammer's Clean & Simple Crisp Clean Liquid Laundry Detergent doesn't contain any dyes, GMOs, parabens, brighteners, phosphates or preservatives. In fact, it contains a mere six ingredients, which include an active stain fighter, baking soda, water softener, gentle fragrance and obviously a cleaning agent.

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.

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1: Seventh Generation Laundry Packs Free & Clear

The final HE laundry detergent on our list is from Seventh Generation. If you like to keep your household cleaners on the ethical end, the Seventh Generation's laundry packs are a good choice because the brand prides itself on being cruelty-free, plant-based, bio-based, hypoallergenic and dermatologist tested. In fact, it's made with 94 percent plant-based ingredients. However, there's a price for all that awesomeness, as Seventh Generation rings up at a higher price point than many other detergent brands.

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.

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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

  • Farrell, Mary HJ. "How to Cut Your Water Use in Half." Consumer Reports. April 21, 2019 (Jan. 28, 2022) https://www.consumerreports.org/washing-machines/yes-your-washing-machine-is-using-enough-water/
  • Tide. "What is a High Efficiency Washer?" 2022 (Jan. 28, 2022) https://tide.com/en-us/how-to-wash-clothes/washing-machine-101/how-to-use-an-he-washer/high-efficiency-washer

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