What Is a High-Efficiency Washer? An Appliance Specialist Explains

published Oct 31, 2023
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If you’re in the market for a new washing machine, you may notice that most models are touted as high-efficiency, or HE. As the name suggests, these washers do indeed run more efficiently than traditional models, but there’s more to it than simply being “better.” Let’s take a look at what HE washers mean for your laundry.

Quick Overview

What Is a High-Efficiency Washer?

High-efficiency, or HE, washers use less water, energy, and detergent than the traditional washer. Most are front-loading, but there are some top-loading models. You can tell if a washer is a high-efficiency one by the label placed right on top of it.

What Is a High-Efficiency Washer?

High-efficiency washers use less water, energy, and even less detergent with every load. “At the end of the day, they lead to cost savings and environmental benefits,” says Alvin C. Pullins, founder and appliance specialist at Nerd In The House.

High-Efficiency Washers vs. Traditional Washers

Most HE washers are front-loading. Still, there are some top-loading HE machines, too. You can spot them all, thanks to the HE label not-so-subtly emblazoned on them. But there’s another thing about a top-loading machine that shouts out its high efficiency — there’s no agitator (as there is in a traditional washer). 

As it turns out, aggressively pushing your clothes around the tub isn’t the only way for a washer to do its job. HE washers operate quite differently than traditional washers. You can’t simply use less detergent, choose a shorter cycle, and suddenly transform a traditional washer into an HE one — it’s the U.S. Department of Energy that has the final say in that.

With the agitator gone, the empty tub in an HE washer spins, rotates, and rocks its way through a wash cycle. HE front-loading washers tumble the clothes repeatedly each time you run a load. 

Pros and Cons of High-Efficiency Washers

Saving energy, water, and detergent might be enough of a mic drop for you with HE washers, but let’s take a deeper look at their pros and cons. 


  • They save money over time. Per the ENERGY STAR website — the certification you’ll find on most HE washers — HE washers use about 33% less water than regular washers and about 25% less energy. That’s good for your utility bills and great for the environment.
  • They clean more thoroughly. Even with less water, detergent, and energy, Pullins says an HE washer provides a more thorough cleaning. “It also comes with higher spin speeds and a larger capacity to accommodate more laundry when compared to a regular washer,” says Pullins. Indeed, top-loading washers especially seem cavernous without an agitator, which means there’s room for more laundry. HE washers also have sensors that adjust the wash loads to take on larger loads more efficiently.


  • Wash cycles are longer. HE washers save water and energy, although not time. That’s because the wash cycles are longer due to their agitator-less cleaning method. Remember that while you might save time with a traditional washer, it’s only during the actual cycle — you’ll have to do more laundry because there’s less capacity.
  • HE appliances and detergent are more expensive. Like many other energy-efficient appliances, HE washers are pricier than their less-efficient counterparts. The idea is that you will recoup the money over time with water and energy savings — and you will — but it’s hard to turn down a more inexpensive appliance option. Detergent is more expensive, too. Even if you use far less of it each load, you spend much more money per bottle.  
  • They require more maintenance. There’s a clean cycle on your front-loading HE washer for good reason: It needs TLC at least once a month. Because less water is used during a wash cycle, soap residue can stick around — another reason it’s so important to not only use HE detergent but also measure it out properly so that you’re not using too much of it. Also, you must remember to leave the door open to let it air dry to stunt the growth of mildew, particularly around the gasket in the door. 

Is an HE Washer Right for Your Laundry Needs?

Even with all of the great advantages and workable disadvantages, you might still need to mull over the decision of whether to purchase a traditional washer vs. an HE washer. Pullins suggests considering your household’s budget and laundry needs, including how much space you have for your new washer. “You need to choose features that align with your laundry preferences and research the maintenance requirements,” he says.