I get asked questions often here at The Make Your Own Zone, but one of the more frequent questions I get is about the homemade powdered laundry soap, and more specifically, if it can be used in high efficiency washing machines (usually abbreviated as HE washing machines). Because this seems to be a topic that comes up often, I thought today we would take a closer look at the subject.
Let me begin by saying that I do not own an HE washing machine and therefore I can’t speak from day-to-day experience. Hopefully you won’t totally tune me out now! I have, however, used my homemade laundry soap in my daughter’s HE machine on occasion and it’s worked fine without any problems.
My research on this subject always turns up the fact that the detergents marketed for HE washing machines are different because they are low sudsing. The high efficiency washing machines use 20% to 60% less water than standard machines. They also don’t use agitators and instead use a “tumbling” or “spinning” effect to move the clothing around in the smaller amount of water. Too many suds in the water can prevent this tumbling action and therefore impact the ability to clean.
And how many suds do you get with your homemade laundry soap?
You get pretty much no suds at all.
For this reason, whenever someone asks me if the homemade laundry soaps are OK to use in HE machines I answer that my best understanding is that Yes, it’s OK, and the reason is that the homemade mixtures have virtually no suds when they are used.
I found this online brochure by the American Cleaning Institute to be helpful in understanding this subject. An excerpt from the Q & A section of this brochure answers the question of why you should use HE detergents by saying:
At lower water levels, cleaning problems can occur if detergents create too many suds or if soils from the laundry can’t be completely rinsed out of both the laundry and the washer. Thus, detergents for HE washers need to be lower sudsing than regular detergents to provide good cleaning and thorough rinsing.
And as to the question of what happens if you DON’T use an HE detergent, the answer again is focused on the amount of suds:
Using a regular detergent in an HE washer can create too many suds. These suds can interfere with the washer’s washing/tumbling action by “cushioning” the laundry, thus reducing soil and stain removal performance and rinsing efficiency. These suds can also cause water and/or suds to overflow from the machine. Excess suds can also cause the washer’s pump to overheat or to add more water — this in turn can lengthen the wash cycle, thus reducing water/energy savings. These excess suds can also lead to residue buildup since they are not as easily rinsed away — and over time, they could lead to unpleasant odors, potential machine malfunctions or damage.
After reading this brochure, I again came to the conclusion that the homemade stuff is OK to use in an HE machine. It certainly fits the “low sudsing” criteria. I’ve also come across several comments from others in my internet reading that say they use these mixtures in the HE machines with no problems.
So I would say let your rule of thumb be if you see little to no suds from your homemade laundry soap mixtures, then they should be OK in a high efficiency washing machine. Even my homemade laundry soap made with Dawn dish soap is very low sudsing.
You don’t really needs suds to get clothing clean anyway. The soap flakes, washing soda and borax, (and more recently the Oxi-Clean and Purex crystals that I sometimes add) all work to clean clothing without the need of lots of suds. Lots of bubbles and suds make us feel good because we get a visual that we associate with cleaning, but in fact the bubbles aren’t really needed to freshen and clean your clothes.
How about you? Do you have an HE washing machine that you use with homemade laundry soaps?
I’d love to hear your experiences and thoughts on this too!