How Much Laundry Detergent Should You Really Be Using?

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How much detergent do you use? It's probably too much. We talked with a laundry pro about this and other tips for getting your clothes clean.

The biggest mistake people make when doing laundry? Using too much detergent. It doesn’t get our clothes cleaner, and we flush money down the drain with every wasteful pour. (It doesn’t help that the bottle’s handy measuring cap holds 10 times the amount needed!)

“Oh my gosh, it’s crazy,” says Patric Richardson, the Laundry Evangelist and author of Laundry Love: Finding Joy in a Common Chore. “People use way too much.”

Do you measure or just pour in a few glugs? Richardson gave us the scoop on how much to use and the best way to ensure the brightest, whitest laundry.

How Much Laundry Detergent Should You Use?

“You don’t ever need more than two tablespoons,” Richardson says. And that’s for a full load of sheets and towels.

Detergents are extremely concentrated. If you add more detergent than can be rinsed away, it’ll stick to your clothes and make them crusty and dingy.

Two tablespoons is often less than the “1” line on the detergent bottle cap. Just ignore all those extra numbered lines — you’re wasting money and making your clothes dirty. If you’re not measuring or don’t know how much you’re using, you’re probably using too much.

The two-tablespoons rule applies to high-efficiency and standard top-loading washers. It’s the same for powdered detergent as well.

What To Consider When Doing Laundry

If laundry seems like a chore, you may be doing too much. Don’t stress about adding a bunch of fancy products or rushing home to pretreat a stain. Most people want to do the right thing with all these extra steps.

“We just make the process really hard,” says Richardson. “But the truth is, the less you do, the cleaner your clothes.”

Here are the things to watch for when doing laundry, according to the Laundry Evangelist.

Water temperature

“Always use warm. Always,” Richardson says. Hot water is safe for cotton — whites and colors — so why warm? Well, your clothes, sheets and towels may be cotton, but the thread that holds everything together? It’s polyester.

That’s why your towels can look “bacon-edged” after a lifetime of hot-water washing, Richardson says. You’ve seen them: Towels with wavy edges that weren’t like that when you bought them. A too-hot dryer or too-hot water in the washer shrunk the polyester thread and cinched up the hem.

Length of cycle

Use the express cycle, says Richardson. Washing machine cycles that run for hours fade your clothes and don’t get them any cleaner. “If you bring the temperature up to warm and you don’t use too much detergent, the 30-minute cycle is fine, no matter how dirty your clothes are,” Richardson says.

Load size

Add detergent based on the size of the load, but don’t use more than two tablespoons or the excess won’t rinse out. If your load is small, ratchet back the detergent. A half-load gets one tablespoon instead of two.

Soil level

If your laundry’s really dirty, don’t add more detergent! “You need to add a booster,” says Richardson. Add a quarter-cup of washing soda or baking soda to heavily-soiled loads for extra cleaning power. Washing and baking sodas remove minerals from hard water and raise the pH of the wash water so it cleans better.

Whites and colors

Sorting laundry by color family (whites, darks, warm and cool) keeps clothes looking great longer than just throwing them all in to the wash together. Dye transfer can occur when washing mixed-color loads. And dyes are abrasive, so they can wear down less-colorful fabrics mixed in.

Oxygen bleach

For whites, Richardson says don’t reach for the chlorine bleach. The bright, vivid white we love in our sheets and towels is actually a blue dye. (Natural white is closer to beige.) “When you start bleaching your sheets, and they get yellow, it’s not because they’re dirty, it’s because you’ve bleached the color out of them,” says Richardson.

Instead of chlorine, use oxygen bleach, which removes oil, sweat, blood and that grimy spot on your bed where the dog sleeps. It’s color-safe, too.

Pretreating

“I don’t pretreat anything until I’m ready to wash it,” Richardson says. That way, the stain-fighting solution you’re adding — Richardson prefers a 50/50 mixture of vinegar and water — is active and working as soon as the wash starts.

If you treat a stain and then throw it in the hamper, the efficacy of the stain fighter goes way down, Richardson says. Wait until you’re about to start the load, then blast the stain with your treatment solution.

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Ally Childress
Ally Childress is a licensed electrician and freelance writer living in Dallas, Texas.