Regular detergent in a HE washing machine?

Susan Fernandez February 02 2022

Different types of detergents

You might know that there are different types of detergents for different clothing and fabric types. But did you know that there is a special kind of washing machine designed just to use with that type of laundry?

There are several types of detergents:

  1. Regular detergents, which are the most common. These are what you normally use to wash everything in your laundry machine. They work best on dirt and stains so they can be very effective for getting clothes clean again, even if they've become stained or dingy.
  2. The other ones are High-Efficiency detergents (HE) which are used specifically for HE machines because they're gentle enough not to damage sensitive fabrics commonly found in clothes made of natural fibers like cotton. On the other hand, fabrics that are synthetic-based like polyester don't need to use this type of detergent because it doesn't weigh them down or cause buildup, allowing clothing to maintain its shape and color much better than with regular laundry soap.

What is inside regular detergent?

Regular detergents consist of a mix of different kinds of chemicals which will help break down dirt and stains, helping them to dissolve in the water. There are many ingredients in regular detergents but the main ones are surfactants, builders, solvents, enzymes, bleaches, and brighteners.


These are what make up the actual cleaning part of your detergent. They basically work by lowering the surface tension of water so they allow it to enter into fabrics more easily and pull out any clumps or debris that's stuck in there.

Then they form a protective barrier over your clothes which traps any particles that came out when they're rinsed off so nothing else can stick on during drying. This helps you always have clean clothes since particles wouldn't be able to stick on anymore.


The builders are what help remove any dirt or stains that your detergent couldn't get out but they can sometimes leave behind a residue if there isn't enough of them, especially if the water is hard (which is very common in many parts of the world). Regular detergents use alkaline builders like soda ash, but the problem is that not all of it dissolves in the water so some residue can be left behind.


These are what help dissolve dirt and stains. They also help remove perfume smells by breaking down substances that contribute to them so you don't smell the scent anymore after washing your clothes with detergent.


This helps break up tough stains that regular detergents aren't strong enough to remove so they're especially good for pretreating spots or smaller items of clothing before you wash them. This helps save time too since this one step would ensure that all of your laundry get clean instead of just part of it if you have to do things separately.


These are other ingredients that help remove smells, but they work by oxidizing the particles which cause bad odors so they don't stay in your clothes after you wash them.


These also help break up compounds that contribute to stains and discoloration of fabrics, making your clothes look newer longer. They're especially effective on whites since they make use of hydrogen peroxide derivatives to brighten colors instead of chlorine.

This is why shampoos for blondes aren't as alkaline as regular shampoo because it has a higher amount of hydrogen peroxide instead of sodium hydroxide which is what makes hair darker with time. In this case, the bleach doesn't have any effect because it always stays locked inside the bottle until you mix it with some water to activate it.

What is inside a HE detergent?

So, what is the difference between the compound of regular detergents and HE detergents? Special detergents for HE machines are very different from regular detergents.

They have lower levels of alkaline builders so the residue problem is reduced even more, but at the same time, they lack certain components found in regular detergent which means you can't use them with HE machines since it may damage your clothes due to the fact that enzymes would be missing.

The main difference between them is their surfactants. They're much better at removing dirt and stains than regular ones because they have higher cleansing abilities yet are milder on fabrics so they don't cause any problems if used with an HE machine even though it doesn't have a water softening system.

Also, their solvents make them especially effective in getting rid of tough smells by breaking up molecules instead of just masking them with perfumes.

How does HE detergent work?

Regular detergents are not suitable for use in HE machines because they can cause malfunctioning which can be dangerous, especially since some of the chemicals used in them will damage the machine itself if too much builds upon it.

Their main problem is that they're simply too harsh so using more than the recommended amount isn't enough for them to be effective on clothes or get rid of all of the grime but also doesn't leave behind the right amount either so you still have residues leftover after washing your clothes which you don't want inside your machine once you're done washing.

This normally causes cloth diapers and other clothes made of fibers like polyester to wear out faster.

The surfactants used in HE detergents are specially made to be better at dissolving dirt and stains so they don't need to use as much or have the same level of alkaline concentration which can cause damage if excessive amounts are left behind on fabrics after washing, but it doesn't mean that they're not effective enough for regular clothes since most people would only use a small amount anyway even though more is needed for tough smells or stains.

Instead of using enzymes, HE detergents make use of different compounds which work equally well when it comes to breaking up bad odors, getting rid of tough stains, and brightening colors.  Another difference is that they completely lack any bleach components because this could cause damage to your clothes.

HE washing machines

HE washing machines work by using less water than regular ones which reduces your electricity bills and lowers your monthly water bill, plus it also uses less soap for each washload. This means that you can use HE detergents to get the same results as you would with regular ones but without worrying about damaging your clothes or machine and still having residue built upon both of them.

High-efficiency washing machines are made to clean clothes while using less water than regular ones which allows you to save on your monthly bills, but they're not magic machines that can get rid of dirt just by adding soap and switching it on. You still need to use some effort when loading your laundry so it doesn't get damaged or tangled up with other pieces which make more work for the machine itself.

What happens when you use a regular detergent in a HE washing machine?

Using regular detergent with a HE machine is not completely wrong, but it can cause damage to your clothes or the machine itself over time. Regular detergents are formulated to be harsher than those used for HE machines which means that if you use enough soap then they'll get rid of all of the grime on your clothes just as well as specialized ones but will also leave behind residue after washing.

This could cause damage to both your machine and its internal components if too much is left behind since it doesn't have any water softening systems so the minerals stay inside even after washing.

Also, using regular detergents in an HE machine could lead to malfunctioning because the enzymes are missing so they lack certain cleaning abilities which makes them less effective for tough stains and in turn makes your clothes look duller in color because they're not brightened up anymore.

The surfactants in the regular detergent don't dissolve dirt as well as those used for HE machines which is why you'll still have some leftovers on your clothes even after washing them once, plus they can cause damage to the machine if too much builds up inside it over time.

This will cause malfunctions like leaking water or overflowing but also reduces efficiency which means that you end up spending more money than you normally would because the machine takes longer to wash each load of laundry and uses more electricity to power it.

Vice Versa: what if you put a HE detergent in a regular washer?

Using HE detergent in a regular washing machine is less likely to cause any damage since they're both made from high-quality materials, but it could still happen if you add too much to the compartment.

Enzymes are used in place of chlorine bleach so they work just as well when it comes to cleaning clothes and brightening colors, plus HE detergents have different types of surfactants which can clean dirt off fabrics even when mixed with water instead of needing an alkaline concentration which means that the cost per wash will be lower than before.

Using a HE detergent in a regular washing machine shouldn't cause any issues because you'll only use small amounts each time instead of filling up the entire as you would for them since you'll be measuring it by the cap instead of pouring from a large container.

Regular detergents are less likely to cause damage to the machine because they don't contain bleach or any harsh ingredients like abrasives which can scratch surfaces and make them look dull after time, however using both types of soap together isn't recommended since it could leave behind a residue if you use too much at once.

The surfactants in regular detergent dissolve dirt just as well as those used for HE machines, but the enzymes that deactivate bacteria may not work as well with this type of washer so your clothes could suffer some damage over time if too many stains build up which is why you should switch back to specialized ones when they're available again.

Also, using a HE detergent in a regular washing machine will cause the same amount of damage as vice versa because you're still using too much soap for your new cleaner, just with different ingredients.

Most popular HE detergents

  1. Persil Proclean + Stain Fighter Liquid Laundry Detergent
  2. Tide PODS 3 In 1 HE Turbo Laundry Detergent Pacs
  3. Gain Flings Original Laundry Detergent Pacs (20 ct)
  4. Purex UltraPacks Laundry Sheets with Stain Release (80 ct)
  5. Sun  Ultra Clear Softener Liquid Fabric Conditioner
  6. Tide Purclean Plant-Based -Ultra Concentrated- Liquid Laundry Detergent, 100 fl oz, 2 Count
  7. Arm & Hammer Power Scour Action OxiClean Liquid Laundry Detergent (1 Gallon Bottle)
  8. Tide 3-in-1 Laundry Detergent Pods
  9. ALL Whites Detergent Powder
  10. Persil ProClean Power-Liquid Detergent, Original Scent, 100 Ounce Liquid Bottle
  11. Gain Flings Mountain Breeze Laundry Detergent Pacs (38 ct)   
  12. Tide Simply Clean & Fresh Non-Bio Enzyme HE Turbo Clean Liquid Laundry Detergent Pacs With Febreze Freshness 38 Count
  13. Ariel Ultra 3in1 Pods 42 Washloads  / 79 Oz Total
  14. Purex UltraPacks Plus a Touch of Downy April Fresh Laundry Sheets 80ct - Packaging May Vary
  15. Kirkland Signature Ultra Clean Liquid Laundry Detergent
  16. Dreft Newborn Liquid Detergent
  17. Clorox 2 Liquid Laundry Stain Remover and Color Booster, Fresh Scent (79 Fl Oz)
  18. Hampton Unstoppables Clean Breeze Scent Liquid Laundry Detergent 32 Loads (2X 16.9 fl oz Bottles)  
  19. Gain Flings Mountain Breeze Laundry Detergent Pacs (64 ct)      
  20. Dreft Newborn Hypoallergenic Infant Formula Powder Detergent 

Bottom line

When using a regular detergent in a HE machine, you'll need to use less of the product and still pre-treat stains because it won't contain any of the bleach or enzymes that come with specialized ingredients.

You'll also need to clean your washer more often since there's a higher risk of leaving behind residue especially when using too much at once which can dull colors and make them fade faster over time.

Using regular detergent in a HE washing machine is safe if you know how much soap to add and will save money because you're buying smaller amounts instead of full containers, but some residue could build up over time especially when combined with bleach so plan on cleaning your washer more often than usual if you switch back and forth between types.