DIY Laundry Soap and HE Washers

23 Jun
red HE washer

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 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?

two bowls, one with suds

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.


3 Responses to “DIY Laundry Soap and HE Washers”

  1. Tynes 06/23/2011 at 10:02 am #

    Thanks for the research update. I will have to give this a try.

  2. Alex 01/20/2012 at 4:32 am #

    Thank you, after looking around, you’re the only person I’ve found evaluating DIY soap for HE who actually understands why HE soaps are special. Everyone else seems to write them off as a gimmick or marketing term. To some extent they may be, but you hit the nail on the head about the level of suds.

    Apparently the biggest reason is that the smaller, faster pumps in HE washers will clog because they generate a lather rather than pumping when the water is too sudsy.

  3. Dahlia Corella 03/18/2012 at 12:22 am #

    I have another question about DIY detergents and HE washers. A repairman who came to repair my new HE washer told me to never use regular laundry soaps without the HE on the label. He told me that HE detergent is chemically different than top loading washing powder or liquid. He said that if you use regular detergent in an HE washer that you will cause the seals around the door to dry out and turn black and eventually crumble. This would require replacement of the seals which is not cheap. Does anybody out there know if this is true?

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