If you've bought a bottle of laundry detergent in the past decade, you've probably noticed that it featured a small logo with the letters "HE" in lowercase. That logo means detergent is safe for use in high efficiency washing machines, which use less water than traditional machines.
What you probably didn't realize is that an HE logo doesn't necessarily mean much. In fact, some detergents bearing the HE logo are simply traditional detergents that the manufacturer has determined won't harm a high efficiency washer.That's why Procter and Gamble—the consumer product giant behind Tide and Gain—has a new detergent formula that the company claims is even better for high efficiency washing machines, which are increasingly gaining market share. In 2014, 70 percent of washers sold were high efficiency models. Called HE Turbo, the new detergents are designed specifically to prevent oversudsing. In a traditional washer, a flood of water would dilute soap and wash away suds. In a high efficiency washer, however, those suds remain behind. If your washer has sophisticated sensors, it might run additional rinse cycles to try and get rid of suds, wasting both water and time. If your washer isn't that advanced, your clothes will end up with a film of soap residue, which might irritate your skin. We've seen both happen in our labs when we do usability testing with consumer detergents. It's not uncommon for us to witness cycles that last 20 minutes longer than claimed. In addition, HE Turbo has clear dosing instructions and an easier-to-read cap that we found reduced some guesswork. We put HE turbo to the test with two identical high efficiency top-load washing machines. While we couldn't get either machine to force itself into an oversudsing condition, we did find that the HE Turbo detergent did do a better job at stain removal.
We measured stain removal with a photo spectrometer and found that clothes got nearly 4 percent closer to pure white thanks to HE Turbo when compared to a leading brand of HE-compatible detergent. When it comes to stain removal, that's a significant amount. The difference was even visible to the naked eye.
Should you buy HE Turbo detergent? It depends. If your high efficiency washer isn't living up to expectations, by all means try HE Turbo. That's especially true if your washer says a cycle should take 45 minutes and leaves you waiting for over an hour.
But if you're still washing with a traditional top-loader, save your money—and save it for a more efficient machine. Not only will it cut your utility bills, our tests show that a more efficient machine will likely do a better job cleaning clothes.