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The Green Life: High-Efficiency Suds

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February 07, 2012

High-Efficiency Suds

Bob Schildgen is Mr Green

Hey Mr. Green,

We just bought a high-efficiency washer.  The instructions say to use a "HE" detergent. What should I look for in these detergents and what brands do you recommend?

—Michael, in Nevada City, California

First, read the label carefully to make darn sure you’re getting an authentic HE detergent. Some companies claim that their product is “HE Compatible,” when it’s just an ordinary detergent, warns the American Cleaning Institute. HE detergent is a must for an HE machine because regular detergents are so sudsy that they interfere with the machine’s agitating action, resulting in substandard cleaning that threatens its environmental virtue. This excess sudsification may result in deposits of gunk inside your high-tech machine, making it host to infestations of malodorous mold and bacteria. Cleanliness being next to Godliness, your machine is thus a sanctuary, not be defiled by such intruders.

Suds get in the way simply because high-efficiency washers use only about a half to two-thirds as much water as ordinary machines, according to the EPA. (Readers can learn more about these water- and energy-saving washers, at the EPA’s Energy Star site. Your tax dollars at work.)

As to brands of HE detergents, I defer to Consumer Reports latest ratings. (You can access all of their ratings — and support the venerable and righteously combative Consumer Federation of America — simply by subscribing online.) CR’s recommended HE detergents are: Tide HE Plus bleach Alternative 1; Tide Ultra HE; Wisk New Stain Spectrum Technology Deep Clean HE; Tide Plus Febreze HE; All with Oxi Active HE; Tide HE; Up&Up HE Fresh Breeze; Kirkland Signature Ultra HE; Seventh Generation Natural Superconcentrated.

Out of this list, Seventh Generation would be the environmentalist’s favorite because this company has led the way in developing green home products — and in putting them in containers made out of recycled material. Finally, although she has long been my indispensable guide to creating an elegant domestic environment, I’m sad to report that Martha Stewart Clean Laundry Detergent HE is at the bottom of the list.

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