You Might Be Using the Wrong Amount of Laundry Detergent—Here’s How to Know

Experts share how you can measure for the best results.

If you're trying to get rid of smells, stains, or stiffness, you might think that the more laundry detergent you use, the cleaner your clothes will be. However, experts say that too much detergent can actually harm clothes and be not-so-friendly to your budget. It's important to use the correct amount of detergent for each load to ensure clothes are clean and fresh, without causing unnecessary wear and tear.

But how do you know if you're using too much or too little detergent? Whether you're a seasoned laundry pro or a newbie, laundry experts say anyone can spot common signs of detergent overuse. Keep reading for tips on exactly how much laundry detergent to use for different types of loads so that you can achieve cleaner results and save money in the long run.


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How Much Laundry Detergent Should You Use?

The amount of detergent needed when doing laundry depends on various factors, such as the size of the load, how dirty the clothing is, and the type of detergent you're using. Generally, it's easy enough to follow the instructions on the detergent label for the recommended amount, but many of us just eyeball it instead. Mary Gagliardi, Clorox's in-house scientist and cleaning expert, says you should adjust the amount of detergent and laundry additives based on load size and soil level. “Large loads of heavily soiled laundry will need more detergent, a small load of lightly soiled items will need the minimum recommended amount on the product label,” she says.

Water quality and hardness are other factors to consider when determining how much detergent to use in the laundry. “High water hardness lowers cleaning performance,” Gagliardi says, “so people with hard water will need to increase the amount of detergent they use to compensate.” But if your water is soft, don’t assume you should use less than the recommended amount of detergent—because most laundry products are created with soft water in mind.

Gagliardi notes that, in practice, people generally don’t overuse laundry detergent. “If anything, they are using too little,” she says. This is especially true in low volume high-efficiency washers, because of concerns with foaming. High-efficiency (HE) washers use less water, meaning laundry detergent might not get fully distributed or rinsed away if you use too much, but you still want to use enough to get your clothes thoroughly cleaned.

Ryan Lupberger, CEO and co-founder of Cleancult, says that, for an average-sized and soiled load, a good rule of thumb is to use .5 ounces of laundry detergent for high-efficiency machines and 1 ounce for traditional machines. If you're using a pre-measured detergent pod or pack, these are already optimized to standard laundry loads, so just use one per load and follow the instructions on the product label.

Lupberger says that people often reference the cap on their liquid detergent to measure the product for their load. However not all liquid detergent products have a cap with measurements, and some that do can be misleading, so it's best to use a measuring cup to properly determine the right amount of detergent for each load.

It's important to note that standard top-load washing machines tend to use more water than front-load washers, so these machines may require a bit more laundry detergent. It's still recommended to follow the instructions on the laundry detergent and the machine’s manufacturer’s guide.

Signs You're Using Too Much or Not Enough Detergent

If your clothes aren’t coming out of the laundry clean, they'll still have signs of feeling dirty, greasy, or stinky. These are telltales signs to increase the detergent in your next similarly sized load. Alternatively, using too much detergent could leave your clothes feeling stiff, scratchy, or sticky, especially if the detergent became clumpy and wasn’t rinsed out properly. Leftover traces of detergent on your items can also signal that you're using too much, and faded colors and fraying fabrics are signs of overwashing.

By using the correct amount of detergent, you can achieve optimal cleaning results and prolong the life of your clothes, your linens, and your washing machine. It can also be good for your wallet. Overusing detergent can be wasteful and expensive, causing you to head to the store for replacement detergent far too often. Lupberger adds that using too much detergent can lead to washing machine damage, as well. Detergent build-up can clog hoses, valves, and other components in your machine, making it harder for water to properly drain, and potentially damaging the unit. (And having to repair or replace a washing machine is another expense no one wants to deal with unexpectedly.)

“It’s always good to not be wasteful—and this applies to laundry products, too,” Gagliardi says. Using the wrong amount of laundry detergent can have a domino effect on your budget. So, be mindful when measuring out your detergent to ensure that you're getting the best results and aren't letting any product go to waste.

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