shocked woman looking at soap coming out of clothes washer

If you have a really dirty load of laundry, you should use extra detergent, right? Well, no. Using too much detergent is the most common mistake that people make when doing laundry. Unfortunately, it wastes money, harms the environment, and can cause problems with your machine.

With over 30 years of appliance repair experience, I’ve seen a lot of things go wrong with washers. Luckily, most of the common laundry mistakes are completely preventable and by avoiding them, you can save money, help your washer last longer, and reduce pollution.

This article contains affiliate links. If you purchase an item through one of these links, we receive a small commission that helps fund our Recycling Directory.

Here is the most common laundry mistake, but also the easiest to correct:

Using Too Much Detergent

Of all the laundry mistakes I see, using too much detergent is the most common. Very often, people will fill the soap tray of their front-loading machine all the way up to the very top of the “Full” mark. Or if they have a top-load washer, they often put in an extra capful or scoop of detergent if they have an extra dirty load.

Using that much soap causes a few different problems.

1. Suds Problem

Not surprisingly, too much soap can create too many soap bubbles, which don’t drain out easily as water does. When the drain pump can’t move all those air bubbles, the motor will spin too quickly and overheat, causing a SUDS or SD error.

On the Whirlpool front-loading washer, this can cause a problem where the door will not unlock and the washer continues to drain until you unplug it. This wastes energy and puts undue stress on your machine.

Luckily, this problem usually goes away on its own because over time, the soap bubbles pop, and then the pump can drain out the extra soap.

2. Soapy Laundry

Your washing machine will be unable to rinse away the extra detergent and you will end up with residue on your clothing, your sheets, and your towels. It can leave marks on your laundry and your clothes may feel dirty and irritate your skin.

3. Wasted Money

If you use too much detergent, you’ll run out more frequently and need to purchase more detergent than you really need.

4. Mold

If you use too much detergent, it leaves a residue in your washer that can lead to a mold problem. If your washing machine cannot rinse away all of the soap each cycle, the extra soap ends up as a food source for black mold.

Check out my video on how to replace a moldy washer door gasket:

Mold isn’t just unsightly, it also makes your clothing smell unpleasant. And it’s not uncommon for many people to experience health problems due to mold.

Here are some simple steps to remove mold from your washer:

5. Bad for the Environment

Using too much soap is also bad for the environment. While wastewater treatment plants and septic systems strive to remove all contaminants, the more detergent we use, the more needs to be removed. So using more detergent than you need raises water treatment costs for the community and increases the chance that harmful substances get released into the environment.

For example, nitrogen in detergent can stimulate algae growth when it reaches freshwater sources, depleting oxygen levels and harming marine life. Other agents, such as surfactants, which break up stains, and optical brighteners, which make whites appear whiter and light colors appear brighter, are toxic to water supplies and marine life.

Detergent Strips for Less Waste

Detergent strips are a fairly new way to dispense laundry detergent. They are pre-measured to give you a clean wash. Just follow the manufacturer’s instructions (generally, one strip per load) and you won’t have to worry about soapy residue in your machine or on your clothes.

Because detergent strips are solid detergent with no water, a package of strips is much lighter than liquid detergent. That means much less fuel is needed to transport them from the manufacturer to the store, resulting in a lower shipping carbon footprint than liquid detergent.

Liquid detergent is over 70% water, requiring strong plastic packaging that often isn’t recycled. When improperly disposed of it breaks down into microplastics and can leach PFAS into the environment where they work their way into our water supply and food systems. Detergent strips require much less packaging than liquid detergent. They are easy to find in recyclable paper or cardboard packaging.

While many detergents claim to be “eco-friendly,” beware of greenwashing, as they may contain ingredients that can harm the environment. We checked with the Environmental Working Group, which rates products for health and environmental hazards, and they give Lazy Coconuts detergent strips an A rating, with low environmental concerns and some health concerns.

Watch my video about detergent strips:

Clean Wash With Less Waste

It’s important to read the instructions on your detergent bottle or box for the proper amount of detergent for your load size. Front-load washing machines use HE (high-efficiency) detergent and require much less soap than top-loading machines use.

When customers have problems that indicate they’re using too much detergent, I usually tell them to use about half as much soap as they have been using. After they try this, they tell me that their clothes actually come out cleaner with less detergent.

If you’re still tempted to put in extra detergent, consider trying pre-measured laundry strips. You’ll help prevent these laundry mishaps, create a lot less packaging waste, and probably find that you save some money.

And for a nontoxic laundry detergent with only four safe ingredients, consider making your own with this simple recipe.

This article was originally published on October 6, 2022.


By Scott Flint

Scott Flint, known on YouTube as Scott the Fix-It Guy, is a licensed California appliance tech who believes we can save the Earth one appliance at a time. He has 30 years of experience repairing home appliances and has taught self-defense and biology for decades. Please consider donating to support his ongoing project to create video guides that help people do their own appliance repairs.