Here's How Much Laundry Detergent You Actually Need To Use For Each Load

We're solving one of life's greatest mysteries.

<p>Cris Canton / Getty Images</p>

Cris Canton / Getty Images

To underfill or overfill, that is the laundry question. On one hand, you may think more detergent means cleaner, better-smelling clothes. Then on the other, too much detergent can be wasteful. So how much laundry detergent should you really use? We're tackling this common cleaning question so you can feel confident in every load you wash whenever you step into your laundry room.

Understanding Laundry Detergent Measurements

There are several units of measurement for laundry detergents since the amount you use relies on your type of detergent (liquid, powder, or packs), the load size, and the type of washing machine you have. In general, laundry detergent is measured in tablespoons, teaspoons, and ounces for each type.

Before knowing how much laundry detergent you need, it's important to know what type of washing machine you have as this also impacts the amount of detergent to use for each load. There are two types of washing machines: high-efficiency (HE) and standard. As the name suggests, high-efficiency washing machines aim to make every load efficient by reducing the amount of water and energy needed to complete a load by using their built-in sensors to detect load sizes and producing adequate water.

Every type of washer comes with a manual that discloses the recommended amount of detergent you use, which is vitally important for the longevity of your appliance. Using too much detergent can lead to issues with your washer, like residue and mold growth or malfunctions.

The Recommended Amount of Laundry Detergent

The amount of laundry detergent you need will vary each cycle since it's dependent on the load size and how dirty your clothes are. Here's how to determine what size load you're washing before calculating how much detergent to use for each size based on your detergent type:

  • Medium: Washer drum is half full.

  • Large: Washer drum is three-quarters full.

  • Extra Large: Washer drum is completely full but not packed tightly.

It's extremely important to make sure an extra large load is not packed all the way to the top of the drum. There should still be a small amount of room for your clothes to tumble and get properly cleaned. If the drum is too tight, consider washing two loads.

Recommended Liquid Detergent Amount

Liquid detergents often come with a cap that contains different fill lines to use when pouring your detergent. These lines represent fluid ounces, or you can follow the chart below for measuring the liquid in tablespoons.

  • Medium: Fill cap to bar 1 or 3 tablespoons.

  • Large: Fill cap to bar 3 or 4-5 tablespoons.

  • Extra Large: Fill cap to bar 5 or 8 tablespoons.

Recommended Powder Detergent Amount

Powder detergent products come with a similar cap with fill lines to reference for each load size. Here is the recommended amount of powder detergent to use for all load sizes:

  • Medium: Fill cap to bar 1 or 3 tablespoons.

  • Large: Fill cap to bar 3 or 4-5 tablespoons.

  • Extra Large: Fill cap to bar 5 or 8 tablespoons.

Recommended Pods or Packs Detergent Amount

Prefer the preloaded packs? These detergent pods come already measured and are easy to use by tossing the recommended amount for your load size in the washer. Instead of measuring a cap or cup, you just have to count how many pods you need based on the chart below as each pod is measured for medium load sizes:

  • Medium: 1 pack or pod.

  • Large & Extra Large: 2 packs or pods.

Washing Heavily Soiled Clothes

If you're load contains heavily soiled clothes, you will want to use slightly more detergent than normal, or treat before washing by spot treating with stain release formulas or soaking the clothes entirely before washing.

Factors Affecting Detergent Usage

There are a few other factors that determine how much laundry detergent you need per cycle other than washer type and load size. One of the most important is water hardness level. Since hard water can keep the detergent from foaming and doing its job, it's important to know the water hardness level in your area. Once you know how hard or soft your water is, you can follow the chart below to ensure your laundry gets an adequate wash:

  • Soft: Use 1/3 cup of detergent.

  • Medium: Use 2/3 cup of detergent.

  • Hard: Fill entire wash cup.

Another factor that will play into the type of detergent and amount you use is the types of fabric you're washing. There are different detergent available for a range of fabrics like denim and dark colored clothes. The amount you use varies on how many garments of each fabric you're washing and what their specific instructions are. When washing certain fabrics, make sure you read the tags carefully before reading the detergent's instructions to note how much to pour in each load.

Lastly, the detergent's concentration is another important factor to consider. Concentrated detergents are made with more cleaning ingredients than water, which means pouring too much of these formulas can stain your clothes. If you're using a concentrated product, remember to read the label carefully for the recommended amount so you're clothes aren't ruined in the next wash.

Tips for Measuring Detergent Accurately

Knowing all of the factors that determine how much detergent to use can feel overwhelming, but luckily, measuring detergent is easy! Since measuring cups, spoons, and caps come with lines or visual references, all you need to do is pour the required amount of detergent in each cup or to the preferred line before pouring it into the washer with your clothes. Pods are also easy to measure for each load as all you need to do is count how many tablets you need per cycle.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

With the biggest common laundry mistakes homeowners make being pouring too little or too much, the good news is that these mistakes are easy to spot so you can avoid them in the future.

There will be signs after each cycle that you've used too little or too much detergent, such as:

  • Stinky or dirty clothes: If your clothes come out of the wash still smelly or stained, that means you didn't put in enough detergent.

  • Stiff or stick clothes: If the opposite happens, your clothes come out feeling stiff or stick, this means you poured too much detergent.

Though it can seems tempting to pour more detergent in your load for a better clean, it's highly recommended to do your best to not over-pour your detergent. Too much detergent can leave behind residue in your washer that leads to build up and machine malfunctions as well as damaged clothes and allergen irritants.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I use the same amount of detergent for both high efficiency and standard washing machines?

HE washers require more detergent than standard washers since HE appliances use less water. HE washers need 2 tablespoons while standard washers need 1.

Does water hardness affect the amount of detergent needed?

Yes, water hardness levels affect the amount of detergent needed since hard water prevents the detergent from foaming and cleaning. You will need to determine the levels of your water before pouring the necessary amount of detergent to clean your clothes.

What happens if I use too much detergent?

Using too much detergent can lead to issues in your washer that causes it to malfunction and it can also damage your clothes by causing them to fade or stain. There are also health hazards to using too much detergent such as rashes and respiratory irritants.

Can using too little detergent affect cleaning results?

Not using enough laundry detergent can lead to clothes not being cleaned properly and coming out stained and smelly. If your clothes come out of the wash still dirty, you will need to wash again with more detergent.

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