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How Much Laundry Detergent Do You Actually Need?

The more laundry detergent you use, the cleaner your clothes... right? Here's the dirty truth about using too much. Plus, the right amount!

Written by
Kristine Nguyen

You're about to do a load of laundry when you catch a whiff of your dirty clothes. Phew—better throw some extra detergent in this time, you think to yourself.

But according to a recent article from the New York Times, using too much detergent could actually cause your clothes to be dirtier. Ironic, isn't it? But, it makes more sense than you may think.

How More Laundry Detergent = Dirtier Clothes

We all know laundry detergent is supposed to get rid of all the filth and grime that collects on clothes, which is probably why many of us are guilty of going a little overboard with how much we use. Unfortunately, when we use too much, not all the soap is rinsed out by the end of the wash, leaving us with residue-ridden, uncomfortable clothes.

An excess of detergent can also lead to too many suds, which prevent the friction that allows your clothes to rub against each other and actually clean themselves. Now, you're left with a basket of scratchy clothes that might even be dirtier than when you first put them in the washing machine.

How Much Laundry Detergent You Need

So, how much detergent are you actually supposed to be using? This may come as a shock, but just 1 to 2 tablespoons is more than enough for your entire load.

"When I've talked to washing machine manufacturers, the biggest dose a lot of them recommend is two tablespoons of high-efficiency detergent," says Liam McCabe, senior staff writer with Wirecutter, in a video about laundry stripping. "If it feels kind of crunchy or if it makes you kind of itchy or if it's generally stiff and doesn't feel good to wear, it's dirty because you're using too much detergent."

Some laundry detergent bottles will recommend more than two tablespoons, but don't be fooled—there's no reason to use extra. Two tablespoons of detergent is more than enough for an effective clean on bigger loads that weigh 12 pounds or more. For average loads around eight pounds, you need even less. A single tablespoon should do the trick.

How Cutting Back Helps the Planet

It's not just how much detergent you're using that matters—it's also the type. The United States produces more than one billion jugs of laundry detergent a year, and the plastic it typically comes in rarely gets recycled. Considering the average American family does around 400 loads per year, that's a lot of waste going into landfills.

While eco-friendly options with safer ingredients and less wasteful packaging may seem more expensive, you might be surprised to learn they're not. When you look at the price per load, it's merely cents! You can make the rest of your laundry routine more sustainable, too, by using things like wool dryer balls that replace dryer sheets.

No matter which products your laundry room is stocked with, utilizing the "less is more" approach will help you reduce the amount of detergent you're buying—a benefit that's great for your clothes (no smells here!) and the environment.

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