What happens when you use too much soap in your washing machine?

What happens when you use too much soap in your washing machine?


Many of our customers are surprised (and sometimes doubtful) when we explain that the problem with their washing machine was caused by using too much laundry detergent—not a manufacturer defect. Most customers don’t want to hear this, but the reality is that a large number of the washer repair problems we encounter are caused by improper use of laundry soap. To fully understand this concept, you first have to understand why too much soap leads to washer problems.

Warning Signs You’re Using Too Much Laundry Soap

Over the last decade or so, federal regulations have required washing machine manufacturers to reduce the amount of water that is used per load. If you’re still using as much soap as you did with your older machine, the new machine won’t use enough water per load to break down the soap. The residual soap is causing some huge problems for owners of newer, “efficient” washing machines.

You can attempt to bypass the low water level by selecting an extra rinse and pre-wash cycle—this will help ensure that the soap if fully rinsed from the load. However, it is best to simply cut the soap down to a tablespoon per load. Here are the top signs that you’re using too much laundry soap:

  • Your washer boot feels slimy.
  • Your washer has a strong odor.
  • You notice dark spots on the door boot.

Common Repair Complaints and Causes.

Complaint # 1: “My washer won’t drain, stops mid-cycle, and/or has an error code.”

If you’re getting the SUD or ND error code, the problem may be the result of too much soap. On the Whirlpool Duet, the SUDS LOCK  means that there is an overdose of detergent detected during the Wash Cycle. The motor control unit senses a suds lock condition by analyzing the current draw on the drive motor. If “Sud” is displayed, a potential suds lock is detected. This may signify a bad pump, an extra heavy load, excessive detergent, or excessive suds. If your machine is too old to detect an error code, it will likely just turn off.

Clearing the SUD error can be as simple as running an extra load without soap to clean the machine, but this is not always the case. Too much suds may damage the machine. Your machine has a water level pressure switch attached to a hose near the bottom of the tub. When you use too much laundry soap, the foam travels up the hose and may eventually come in contact with the switch. When this happens, the wet, foamy soap destroys the switch, forcing you to call for repair. As a rule of thumb, you should never use more than a tablespoon of soap to avoid this problem.

Complaint #2: “My washing machine has a foul odor and/or causes a pungent odor in my clothing”

The nasty odor coming from your washing machine is very likely the result of using too much liquid fabric softener and soap over an extended period of time. Some laundry detergents and nearly all fabric softeners contain a small amount of animal fat. When you use too much of these products, the fat will congeal and gum up on the lower part of the machine under the tub. In most cases, this area of the machine is not accessible to consumers, so it is very difficult to clean. Using too much soap over a period of 6 months to 1 year will cause this goo to grow.

As the congealed soap scum forms, mold, dirt, and bacteria stick to the goo, which in turn creates a very nasty odor. You may start to notice the odor when you open the washer door, but over time the odor can affect your clothing if you don’t remove them as soon as the cycle ends. Once you’ve reached this level of stink, it can be very difficult to eliminate the odor without the help of a skilled repair professional.

Mold & Soap Scum

washer moldy smell

Complaint #3: “My washing machine leaves dark spots / rust on my clothing”

If your front loading washing machine seems to be leaving dark spots or rust on your clothing, the problem is likely the result of using too much laundry soap. In most cases, the dark spots are caused by the mold growing on your washer’s door boot. As the soap scum collects on the door boot (and possibly other areas of the machine), humidity allows the mold to grow. As soon as you notice the mold growing, you’ll want to have the boot cleaned or replaced ASAP.

Start by inspecting your door boot. You’ll want to lift up the boot to inspect the areas you can’t see. If you notice mold, call our office with your washing machine’s model number in hand to request an estimate to have the door boot replaced. This will make the machine smell nice and fresh, and stop the machine from leaving spots on your clothing.

Request Estimate to Replace Door Boot

Moldy Boot

too much laundry soap

How Much Soap Should You Use?

Tip #1: First things first: Never, ever overload your washing machine. It’s ok to fill the machine about ¾ full of clothing, but never pack it tight.

Tip #2: Read the manufacturer’s Detergent Use recommendations printed in your Owner’s Use and Care Manual. Your product’s manufacturer suggestions will include advice on which types of soap are best for your particular machine.

Tip #3: When it comes to how much laundry soap you should use, we suggest using about a tablespoon of laundry detergent per regular load size. The only exception may be if you have a very dirty load of laundry, but in most cases, a tablespoon of detergent will be plenty for washing your clothes.

This 2 tablespoon coffee measuring spoon is perfect size and will help you STOP overdoing the soap pour. You can buy one on Amazon for only $9.99.

Tip #4: Always, always measure the detergent amount. Don’t just pour soap into the machine, and never fill the measurement cup to the top! Be sure to accurately measure how much you’re pouring. Don’t let the soap dish trick you. At the very most, you only need 1/2 inch of soap in the provided cup. The measuring cup that comes with your soap is 10 times the size of the actual amount needed.

Get the Tide Dash Button to restock on high efficiency laundry soap instantly from your laundry room. You have to be an Amazon Prime member, which is worth it (if you shop online) because of the free shipping. Here’s a link to a 30-Day Amazon Prime Free Trial.

Tip #5: Most of the newer washing machines require high efficiency soaps (HE). HE soaps are specially formulated with sud suppressors, which prevent the machine from over-sudsing. It is extremely important to remember that over-sudsing is one of the leading causes for washer repair needs. If you insist on using a soap that is not HE in your front load washer, always reduce the amount you use by at least 1/3 of the detergent recommendation. You may need to pretreat stains to maintain the same washing power.

Tip #6: Clean your washer monthly. Washing machine cleaner tablets are designed to penetrate, dissolve and remove odor-causing residue throughout the entire wash cycle. Using washer tabs monthly will help breakdown the soap residue left behind. We recommend using Affresh or Lemi Shine to clean your washer.

lemishine washer tabletsv
Photo Credit: Lemi Shine

The most important thing to remember is that over-sudsing leads to repair!