Can You Use Homemade Laundry Soap In HE Washers?

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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.

HE washing machine

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.

homemade laundry soap

I found a 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.

homemade powdered laundry soap

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!

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19 Comments

  1. Instead of oxy clean I put a Reckitts Blue Laundry Bluing Tablet ( or two depending on the batch size). I put it in a plastic bag, hammer it gently and when it’s mostly powder, I mix it with my batch. My whites are bright and all is still natural.

    1. That’s an interesting idea Lara. I would guess that you only use this mixture then on whites, and not on colors.

  2. Thanks for the post (and to all the commenters as well)! I’m moving to a new home with an HE front loader and I was worried I’d have to start buying expensive soap again. My current batch has lasted me nearly 4 years so far and only cost me $60 to make! I would have been so upset to have to go back to store-bought!

  3. I’ve been using your powdered laundry soap recipe, Beverly, in my front loader for at least 18 months with perfect results. It doesn’t suds so isn’t a problem.

    1. Thanks for the feedback Gail and for letting us know how my powdered laundry soap works in a front loader. I’ve always used top loaders 🙂

    2. Can you please explain where you add the powdered detergent in your front loaders? Do you put it in directly with the clothes, or in the drawer dispenser?

  4. I second what Judith said above, except I’ve been using 1/2 cup of vinegar in all my loads for over 5 years without a problem with my machine, and my laundry is very soft. I don’t use commercial softeners as they coat your clothes and the dryer. I have been using the above-mentioned (Judith’s) soap in my HE machine for over five years, also without problem and my clothes get clean.

    Funny, when I bought the machine, the installer told me not to use liquid HE soap and another one told me not to use the powdered HE soap. You can’t get a straight answer from the “professionals”, but the powdered version has worked well for me. HTH.

    Rita

    1. Wow, I’m glad to know you have had no problems with vinegar, because I had been using it occasionally and then read some alarmist post saying vinegar was caustic to your machine, don’t use it etc. I mistakenly assumed this person was correct, but you are proof she was not!

      As to installers, mine told me I absolutely HAD to use the “washing machine cleaner,” which I have not. We are “cleaning” our machines each time we wash our clothes!

      Thanks so much for clearing this up, Rita.

    2. I use vinegar in my bleach drawer AND my softener drawer with my colors and then in my softener drawer with my whites for 3 yrs now and my HE washer has NEVER smelled and there’s not been the first problem.

  5. I use homemade laundry soap all the time in my HE washer all the time with no problems. I use both liquid and powder.

  6. Bev,

    Tell folks to use the homemade soap in an HE machine with confidence. I’ve been doing so for over one year with excellent results and no problems. Here is the recipe I use:

    1 4 lb. box Borax
    1 4 lb. box Washing Soda
    1 4 lb. box Baking Soda
    3 bars shredded Fels Naptha bar soap

    Mix well and store in an air tight container. Use 2 tbsp. per load, put in the detergent drawer.

    For white towels, I add bleach (this helps keep the machine clean and I never experience bad smells, as some folks with front loaders complain of. Leave the washing machine door open when not in use, at least until the seal and door are completely dry.) For soiled clothing and white sheets, I add Biz. I would not bother mixing “scent crystals” or oxy-type products into the big batch; if you want to use these, simply add to that particular load. Do NOT use vinegar in the washing machine, to avoid corrosion.

    Hope that helps!

    1. I use all natural no chemicals in my homemade laundry soap and put in bottom of drum then add clothes; also use peroxide instead of bleach, works great on whites and doesnt eat the clothesline!,