"HE" stands for "High Efficiency".
This is a formulation designed specifically for "High Efficiency" clothes washers, such as frontloaders and the Calypso. The tumbling/showering actions of these machines tend to generate a lot of suds, and excessive amounts of suds in the drum can hamper the wash action (by cushioning the clothes). In extreme cases, the suds can build up to such a degree that they overflow the drum, and wind up oozing out the dispenser drawer or top or back of the machine (not unlike the situation resulting from putting hand dishwashing detergent in an automatic dishwasher)!
Thus, the most important characteristic of an HE laundry detergent is a low level of sudsing. High-quality HE detergents may also have additional properties beneficial to HE washers, such as dye-transfer inhibitors.
Although use of HE detergents is highly recommended in frontloaders, it's not strictly necessary to use brands that carry the HE label. A low-sudsing "conventional" formula can also give good results, depending on the hardness of the local water supply and the level of soiling in the washload. The chief advantage of very low-sudsing detergents is that one can add greater amounts for improved cleaning of tough loads, without fear of oversudsing. While it is of course possible to use reduced amounts of ANY detergent in a frontloader (to limit the amount of suds buildup), the resultant cleaning performance may be less than optimal.
[first added to Appliances FAQ: 4 October 2002]
[moved to Laundry Room FAQ: 28 December 2004]
[last edited: 28 December 2004]
Entered by hardwarehack
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