Mary Hunt

As you know, and only because I do mention it from time to time, I get a lot of emails. If I were to respond to each and every message, that would be all I’d ever do, and I still wouldn’t get through the piles that replenish daily.

So, I use the subject line method of quick elimination to winnow the pile to something I can deal with. Negative subject lines are the first to go — instant delete. Subsequent passes from there get my messages down to something manageable, with the most interesting and useful rising to the top of the pile.

Dear Mary: I love all of your washing machine tips, but can you guide us on using the correct amount of detergent? I know you say small amounts, but I hate to do a load with too little or too much. It feels like a guessing game.

You are such an expert on these things that I thought you might have some additional tips — if you can bear the thought of another post about laundry, that is! Hugs to you for such fantastic work.

— Your Anonymous Fan

Dear A.F.: Great question. And yes, flattery did get your letter to the top of the pile, so good job on that!

Most of us use way too much laundry detergent, which can present all kinds of problems such as skin irritation, grayish-looking whites and stiff scratchy clothes and linens.

Whatever amount of detergent you use, it must be completely rinsed away for the results to be beautifully clean, whiter-than-white, brighter-than-bright colors, soft clothes and linens.

Variables. Generally, if you have soft water, use 1 tablespoon (1/16 cup) of high-efficiency (HE) detergent per wash load in a front-loading machine; for top-loading, refer to your owner’s manual, or use about 1/4 cup if you can’t find it. If you have hard water, use 2 tablespoons (1/8 cup). This begs the question, “How do I know if my water is hard or soft?”

Know your gpg. Call your water company or go to its website to learn the grains of hardness per gallon — expressed as “gpg” — in your local water supply. According to the Water Quality Association:

— Soft/slightly hard: 0-3.5 gpg

— Moderately hard: 3.5-7.0 gpg

— Hard: 7.0-10.5 gpg

— Very hard: over 10.5 gpg

If your water is moderately hard and you want to be very precise, use 1.5 tablespoons of HE detergent per load.

Weigh variables. Another variable to consider will be washing machine capacity. If it’s a super-duper jumbo-size machine, you need to adjust the amount of detergent accordingly. Check the owner manual.

Also, you may need to use more detergent when you’re running a heavily soiled load or less if it is a very small load.

Get it out! Above all, the most important thing to consider when it comes to laundry detergent is whether or not the detergent gets completely rinsed away before that load of laundry is finished.

I always add 1/2 cup of white vinegar to the last rinse (I pour it into the liquid softener compartment, so it gets released at the proper time). Vinegar helps to get rid of all of the detergent, leaving items soft and fluffy without the need for softening products, which can present allergic-like rashes, skin irritations and even respiratory reactions in some people.

Conduct a test. The next time that you do a load of wash, take a washcloth out of the dryer when finished and put it in a warm dish of water. If the water remains clean, you have not used too much detergent. If the water turns even slightly cloudy, it means that all of the detergent has not been removed: You’re using too much.

Experiment. Finding the exact amount of laundry detergent you need given the hardness of your water, the style of your washer (front-loading vs. top-loading), the size of your washing machine and the size of the laundry load, may take experimentation. But once you discover what’s right for you, and you are getting all of that detergent out of the clothes, too, I think you’re going to be pleasantly surprised by the fantastic results.

Mary Hunt writes this column for Creators Syndicate. She is the founder of, a lifestyle blog, and the author of “Debt-Proof Living. Submit comments or tips or address questions on her website. She will answer questions of general interest via this column, but letters cannot be answered individually.

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