Things people say: “My washing machine doesn’t use enough water!”

Today’s washing machines are water- and energy-efficient, quiet, with greater capacities and better cleaning power than ever before. In this context, you can take the example of Bosch, Kenmore, and Samsung. Yet, there’s a common, though not prevalent, refrain: “they don’t use enough water!” Well, before I get into why they do, I’ll get into why the old machines used so much.

To make sense of this, let’s go back in time about a century. The earliest washing machines would beat up laundry swimming in soapy water. More vigorous and damaging wash motions yielded more cleaning, but it wasn’t a very good long-term solution for keeping clothes for a long time (sock darning and sewing were far more widespread skills back then). How did you know your clothes were getting clean? Mostly by how violently the machine battered your laundry. And, for the next 90+ years, this would remain the primary method of cleaning. Soap flakes were used back then, containing ingredients like lye and naphtha.

Now, let’s go back about half a century. Imagine you’re a laundry soap manufacturer. You’ve been selling soap flakes for years, and they leave behind a greasy film on top of the water. You develop a better-cleaning detergent using surfactants and enzymes. It sells well, but you want to sell more. If people thought your detergent was working extra hard to clean, they’d buy more, right? Of course! Now, how can we create that impression? Well, when we wash our hands, we get suds. So, let’s add a sudsing agent to the detergent. That way, when people look in on their laundry, they’ll see lots of suds, and that will show them just what a good job the detergent is doing on their dirty clothes!

Washing mechanism in old machines

So, between the old machines with their “beat ’em up” method of cleaning clothes in a tub full of water, and newer detergents that created lots of suds that would need diluting and lots of rinsing, water requirements became enormous. At the height of their consumption, recent conventional top-load automatic washing machines could use as much as 60 gallons of water. The detergents were better at cleaning, but they still needed lots of water to prevent excessive suds, and they needed lots of water to rinse those suds out.

Now, let’s look at today’s high-efficiency washing machines. With greatly reduced water usage during the wash cycle, a high-efficiency detergent becomes necessary. Why? Air. There’s much more air available in the tub that can result in soap bubbles. That means that a sudsy soap will result in lots of suds. So much, in fact, that the suds can overflow the washbasket and cause damage to the motor, bearings, and/or electronic controls. So, HE detergent is nothing more than a non-sudsing version of the detergents we’re used to.

But, efficiency aside, doesn’t a washing machine need lots of water to clean effectively? Nope! A washing machine needs only a few things: enough water to soak the laundry, enough detergent to work on the dirt and take it away (but not too much), and mechanical action to create scrubbing action among the articles of laundry. Just like you wouldn’t get a bucket of soapy water and slosh it around with a stick to wash a single item, your HE washer doesn’t need tons of water to get the job done, either. The clothes will scrub each other clean in a concentrated mix of detergent and water, just like you would do if you were hand-washing a single item. That scrubbing action, not gallons and gallons of water, is what gets your laundry clean.

latest washers

But, you don’t have to believe me. Check out Consumer Reports. Look at the top three dozen machines. How many of them are HE, and how many are not? Today’s HE washing machines, whether front-load or top-load, are going to be much gentler while using far less water and energy and clean even better than the old-fashioned machines. Heck, they even go so far as to say that front-loaders are the best cleaning washers on the market. They’ve got nothing to gain by saying they work better.

Why do people say they need more water, then? Sometimes, it’s because it’s unfamiliar, and that creates confusion and disappointment. Other times, it’s misuse, leading to poor results. And, sometimes it’s just good ol’ “I know what I’m doing!” but ignoring the instructions. Now, on rare occasions, it’s actually the machine, but the user causes the vast majority of cases. Use the proper amount of detergent, follow the instructions, and your laundry will be cleaned properly. I promise!


Does the HE washer use less energy?

Yes, the high-efficiency washers use 3 times less water to clean clothes than the traditional washers. Low water usage helps the machine to heat less water that saves 50% energy.

Because it uses less water and energy in a single load, its wash cycle is longer.

What are the other differences between an HE washer and a traditional washer?

  • HE washers don’t have an agitator that provides more space for your clothes. Also, no agitator means no rough washing of clothes. Top loading HE washers have plates or disks that protect your clothes from wear and tear during washing. On the other hand, front-loading washers have a tumbling action that cleans your clothes gently.
  • Due to 40% more space, HE washers can wash more clothes at a time.
  • HE washers spin faster, which results in less water in the clothes. This shortens the drying time.
  • They need more maintenance and care as compared to the traditional machines.

Do HE washers have a rinse cycle?

Yes, despite HE washers use less water, they feature2 to 4 rinse cycles to provide excellent rinsing performance.

Is it necessary to use the HE detergent in the HE washer?

Yes, it is quite necessary. Without the HE detergent, you won’t get the most out of your HE washer. Traditional detergents are not made to use in high-efficiency washers. They need more water.

They can cause mold build-up and affect the performance of the washer because of the formation of excessive suds.

What is the difference in the price of a high-efficiency washer and a traditional washer?

The HE washers are still expensive compared to the traditional washers, but they help you save money in the long run.


  • Stephen Powers

    Appliance repair guy from Washington. I am majorly experienced in dishwashers, water filters and refrigerators, AMA on my twitter account.

4 thoughts on “Things people say: “My washing machine doesn’t use enough water!””

  1. They may clean ok, but they certainly don’t rinse properly. A little less scientific input and a lot more common sense needed.

  2. high efficiency is a verb that should not be used for describing these expensive pieces of metal. I am sick to death of having to soak EVERYTHING in my bathtub first to get sweat stains and oil stains out. clothes do not get clean by mixing sticky soap and not enough water. all that does it spread the smell to all the laundry. i have a 1200$ LG set that i wish i could return. i hate this high maintenence machine that is not even good at doing the intended function. all these machines are a scam and in no case do these machines work like the false science claims. the author of this article obviously has a bias and was paid by these companies. there is already a class action lawsuit agains LG. this is BS

    • Yep. The only way I can get my machine to actually clean stuff is by adding the “max load” option to a normal load (thankfully mine doesn’t have scales in it to automatically calculate the load like some new ones do) and adding an extra rinse. And never, ever, ever using the “eco” or “fast wash” cycles. The “cotton” option at the right temperature is a lot longer, but much more effective.

      I have a scoop to pre-measure the right quantity of detergent for my local water hardness, so it’s not excessive detergent. I clean the machine regularly so it’s not blocked filters etc. I literally weighed my normal load before going in the machine, soaked through and un-wrung to see if it was just too big a load. It’s not – normal load for my machine is apparently 6kg, and it was under.

      Honestly, it gets tiring people saying “Of course they clean! That’s how they’re designed! You’re mistaken/old fashioned/not using it properly.” when clearly for a lot of people, washing is not coming out smelling clean.

  3. I agree. All I wanted, is high med , low water-fill, gentle to tough cycles, cold warm or hot. What I got: was just enough water to leave the top of the clothes dry, and by the end of the cycle the dirty little puddle provided, was spun back into the clothes. If you think HE soaps make a difference you’re dreaming. What a waste of money. This same machine boasts an extra rinse option. Now why would you need to use more water, to do what it should have done in the first place.? These ARE scams, and no one who does laundry on a regal basis, no matter what the brand,( if it’s a relatively new machine) that I know of, is happy. Gee, I now can put my clothes through two cycles, wasting everything imaginable, to get what I once got with my old machine. And PS, most people know full well how much water they need, or what’s a waste of soap. Well, not the designers… USE THE EXTRA RINSE CYCLE!!!!


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