Problem Solved! How To Wash Small Loads In HE Washers

HE Washer Small Load Trick - collage: woman holding a small rug over an open washing machine looking slightly puzzled; open washing machine looking unbalanced with just a small rug in it.

How To Do A Small Load Of Laundry Without Issues

I’m a big fan of simple solutions, because life is complicated enough as it is! But what I like even more are the rare occasions when you uncover a simple solution that solves multiple problems.

And that’s exactly what I have to share with you in today’s post! I was experiencing two different problems when washing small loads of laundry in my HE washing machine. Then recently, I found a simple solution that fixed both at once!

And for more useful laundry solutions, be sure to check out my e-book How To Wash Everything! You can find it in my shop, or download it for free if you’re an OGT Plus member!

HE Washer Small Load Trick - woman holding small rug over open washing machine, looking quizzical

2 Common Problems With Washing Small Loads Of Laundry

Like I said, I was frequently encountering two different problems when attempting to wash small loads of laundry in my HE washing machine.

The first issue was that my small loads weren’t getting rinsed well enough, usually when the items were particularly dirty. Which rather defeats the purpose of washing dirty items separately, don’t you think? ;-)

Related: 10 Universal Laundry Problems And How To Overcome Them

HE Washer Small Load Trick - washer looking unbalanced with just a rug in it.

The second issue was that my clothes would come out soaking wet, because the washer would sense an uneven load and stop the spin cycle before it had been completed. Ultimately, both of these issues made it plain to me that HE washers (or at least my own) just don’t handle small loads of laundry very effectively!

But luckily, I recently came across a simple solution to both of these problems! It’s a simple way to “trick” your HE washer into washing and spinning small loads much more effectively.

Related: How To Clean A Washing Machine The Right Way

HE Washer Small Load Trick - woman putting a white towel in a washing machine

How Adding Old Towels To Small Loads Solves Both Problems

The solution is to add one or two old towels to your washer whenever you’re doing a small load. The added bulk and weight from the towels will tell your washer to use more water, ensuring that they come out properly rinsed.

HE Washer Small Load Trick - washing machine with a rug and a towel in it

The additional bulk from the towels also helps distribute the weight more evenly across the drum. A balanced drum spins more easily, which corrects the spin cycle issue.

HE Washer Small Load Trick - woman holding a stack of white towels

Why Old Towels?

Using old bath towels is an ideal way to add bulk to small loads for a few different reasons. Having already been through the wash dozens of times, old towels won’t bleed color or produce lint like newer fabrics can.

Related: 7 Easy Ways To Ruin Your Good Towels

And since bath towels don’t last forever, old towels are usually easy to come by! Your current bath towels will eventually wear out, and once you replace them, you can retire the old ones to the laundry room to serve another useful purpose.

HE Washer Small Load Trick - collage: HE washer with rug in it, HE washer with rug and towel in it

If you’ve been frustrated with the way your HE washer handles small loads, I hope you’ll give this simple fix a try! :-)

The “Problem Solved!” Series

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Jill Nystul (aka Jillee)

Jill Nystul is an accomplished writer and author who founded the blog One Good Thing by Jillee in 2011. With over 30 years of experience in homemaking, she has become a trusted resource for contemporary homemakers by offering practical solutions to everyday household challenges.I share creative homemaking and lifestyle solutions that make your life easier and more enjoyable!

About Jillee

Jill Nystul

Jill’s 30 years of homemaking experience, make her the trusted source for practical household solutions.

About Jillee

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Homekeeping Tips

  • The newer HE washers automatically sense the load weight and thereby it adjusts the amount of water entering in at both the wash cycle and the rinse cycle. Some models of HE washers have a small load setting, making it easier to accomplish this without having to add more items, which increases the wash time and water level, plus additional drying time, thereby using more utilities, which equals more money spent on washing and drying–and less money in your pocket.

  • Good advice if you’re stuck with it
    So what it boils down to , is, Don’t buy it. Highly NOT recommended Cause there is no such thing as a small load. HE – High Efficiency it isn’t
    I’m having probs with my new Kitchen Aid DW. 2’40” and it uses less than 3 gal H2O, So I end up running a pre-wash rinse, after to rinse.

  • Thank you for this tip! I just destroyed a brand new chenille sweater by trying to spin it out over snd over again to no avail. Will add extra towels next time !

  • I have a brand-new (July 2019) Samsung HE. I also had issues with balance – with sheets and towels washed together (which it says will work), small loads, etc. I have a “DEEP FILL” option and that has solved ALL my balance issues. Before I realized this, I had to babysit my uneven loads, as the washer doesn’t maker a loud enough noise to be heard throughout the house.

    • Laura, I am going through the same thing, but my LG HE top load washer still gets unbalanced very often. If I was to add 2 towels to the load, those two towels would end up on the same side of the washtub and I’d have to rectify it. I also found the DEEP RINSE/FILL option after 2 years or so. That has helped some. Now I just wait until I have large loads before doing a wash. I miss my old agitator machine! (PS – I also had an HE front loader – that didn’t get the clothes clean AT ALL! Thanks for sharing.

  • I just got a Maytag HE top load agitator washer and I love it. I add the Extra Rinse option just about every time, mostly to be sure to get rid of pet fur! No problem with detergent residue. My friends with impeller HE washers suffer – agitators are the way to go!

  • Wow, this conversation is so on target for me. My 15+ year old Whirlpool, knob and dial control, agitator washer has recently started to show wearing out of the motor. I have the services of a old school neighborhood single mom/pop home appliance repair guy (in business 40+ years as a family business) who replaced a switch inside the machine 2 years ago. Been running fine til recently when the new issue became the stalling of the rinse cycle – which eventually kicks back on. Repair guy evaluated, said motor is wearing out, no other issues, but still have some time before kaput. New part $360. Labor – haven’t asked yet because I had been so keen to get the newest, shiny, top loader and wash my comforters. Well, my HOURS of online research, including this thread makes me want to cling onto every dial and wire of my elderly washer. I’m now so turned off from everything I’ve read about these HE, high tech, water saving, touch screen nightmares, that if my geriatric machine can’t be revived for another go round, I’m giving thought to looking for the nearest creek with a rock! And yes, controlling the water level and soak time is EVERYTHING. (Available at your local creek).
    Maybe the Mr. Engineer who builds these things (but perhaps isn’t the homemaker saddled with these necessary chores) could catch a clue of disatisfaction from those of us who actually use these things.

    • check out Speed Queen washers. We recently replace 30 year old washer and dryer. We chose the TR7 because I am able to add an extra rinse cycle and I can manually choose load size, instead of it deciding how much water to use. It is a top loader with an exciting 7 year warranty that covers parts AND labor! I love my new washer and dryer!!!

  • I have a different problem. I use pods detergent and they do not dissolve completely. If they get on your clothing and you are unaware and then into the dryer the residue turns into a glue like mess and bind the clothes together. I have written the manufacturer of the d err detergent but they do not have an answer. They sent me a coupon. It is a top brand that I love but I had to go back to powder so my clothes, sheets, towels etc aren’t ruined. Any suggestions. I’ve tried cold. Warm, hot water, full loads and half loads to no avail. I end up having to soak the clothes till the goo is gone and then prewash. Not very efficient. Can anyone help. I have a front load HE washer

    • My suggestion would be to stop using the pods. Why keep using something that you know causes problems, go to liquid. I stopped using powder because it would not dissolve and I would have to rewash which was not efficient. Just my opinion. Good luck…

  • I’ve had my HE front load washer 7 years and have never had a problem. I wash huge loads, teeny tiny loads, and all loads in between all with same results. I saved so much in electric bills in the first two years to pay for the set.

  • I have never had either of the problems stated. Could it be the brand of washer? I have an LG washer and dryer. I also use the “extra high” spin speed so perhaps that’s the reason.

  • I also have problems with my HE side loader not getting the wash clean! Lucky for me the previous owners of this house built a shower in the basement. I took off the shower head, and I run the hose directly into the fill tray of my machine for every single load. I get exactly the amount of water I need to wash the laundry now!

  • I have a simple solution to that. I change my setting to “bulky” because that adds the extra water to your rinse automatically. I never have clothes that come out with dry spots on them. I wash all my clothes on the bulky setting.

    • I do the same no matter what I’m washing, but I still have deodorant stains on my black workout tops…very frustrating, plus I wonder how clean my clothes are really getting!

    • Mary, I use “Bulky” for everything also! It fills the washer 3/4 full. Combined with that setting, I also set my “Soak” cycle to the lowest setting, so the washer fills, the clothes rest in the detergent water with occasional “agitating” for 10 minutes maybe, and my clothes always come out clean. If I put it on “Speed Wash” it goes faster, but without the wonderful full water level. (I have a 6 yr old GE cheaper model washer.)

  • I’ve been doing that for as long as I can remember with the pre HE washers and dryers.

    I now have a top load HE for a couple years or so and don’t much like it at all. Can’t get enough water in it, even with ‘extra’ water pushed for any load. BUT….with any size load you can add some already fairly damp, but you can’t wring water out of them, bath towels to your dry items in the tub. That adds weight to the load, thus more water in the wash part of the load when it is sensing the weight.

    I haven’t done it but you probably could add a couple more damp towels to the rinse load before it starts sensing/filling the rinse water load to get more water.

    I also add a couple of dry bath towels to the dryer to help dry the load quicker.

  • I have had both the front load and now another top load and I’ve hated both. I wish I could have back my 30 year old Maytag, which washed more efficiently and cleaner than either of these two new washers. I hate that there is such a small agitator or impeller as they are now called and I realize it’s to not damage clothes, but come on it should do better than it does. So much for energy efficient when it doesn’t work that well. The husband bought this last one as a surprise because I had been out looking and my son said I like the grey color. So I got this one when in fact I was trying to fine the best one to avoid problems like this. Men can’t live with them and can’t shoot them and even he is complaining I picked out a dud when he does his laundry. And just to clear up that last statement, I washed, dried and ironed military uniforms for 26 years, sometimes up to 3 uniforms a week depending on how dirty he got. He never like the way they starched them on the base, so I got the privilege, so now he does all his own laundry. So now the only thing it does is dye things easier than the front load.

    • I constantly hear of problems with HE washers; therefore, I’m keeping my 15 years old “Kenmore” equipment & my son’s wife is still using the cheapest set I could at Best Buy when my son went away to grad school. I think they are “Roper” brand. I can’t remember how old they, but older than my set. LOL

  • Maybe I’m wrong, but it looks like the HE machines that people are complaining about most are the top loaders. I have had a front loader HE machine for about 6 or 7 years and never had any of the problems mentioned. I am glad I read this, because I was considering getting a top loader when mine breaks down just because I thought it would be easier to soak things.

  • Amen to all the community who hate their HE washers! I too will never buy another HE front loading washer again! I hope it dies soon so I can replace it with a top-loading agitator. I’m so tired of “tricking” my machine to do the job it’s supposed to do….and then there’s the occasional awful odor…yuk

  • I pray every single day that this HE front loader will just die – I will NEVER buy another HE nor a frontloader. I shouldn’t have to “hack” to get clothes clean. I bought a cheap regular washer and dryer to put in our weekend home…best washer ever. Water, soap and it washes clothes.

  • I to, despise my HE washer. Do not plan to ever have another. I have had dry places on my clothes when I take them out, have noticed white residue on my husbands jeans, so I changed to liquid detergent. Had to wash loads twice sometimes to get them clean. I have more issues with this washer, it’s unreal, why bother, it’s ‘supposed’ to save water but… I appreciate all the hints today, will try them. I had hoped this washer would last me the rest of my days… I’m sick of it.

  • I despise my HE washer. My next one will be a manual agitator that I can tell what to do instead of it telling me what to do–water level, water temperature, time, etc. The towel trick works but it is just added work so I figured out a way to trick my washer into filling more. I bought 2 bags of those clear marbles they use to fill vases–I suppose any marbles would do but I didn’t want to take a chance if the color in them would run. I filled 2 old knee socks with these marbles and knotted them at the end, turned them inside out and knotted again, then repeated this one more time. With every wash I put them both in the washer, one on each side. They add 2 more pounds of weight to the washer and now my clothes are actually clean when they come out! It got rid of the white residue as well from not rinsing all the soap out due to the low water level. Works like a charm!

    • I love this idea which I think I will try. I take two water jugs, the gallon size and put them in the top loader and trick it into thinking it weights more so I get more water. I’m also tired of the dry spots, and also went to liquid which I mix with water before putting in the machine. My only problem is I have to stand there to take them out when it starts to wash. What a pain when you can’t even wash unmentionable without it taking hours.

    • What a wonderful idea. I too despise my top-of-the-line, very expensive top loading HE washer. My clothes do not come out very soon, and I experience the same kind of problems some of you have already mentioned. Additionally, no matter what solution I use, I never get bright white. I will definitely try adding something like your marbles bottles of water and Zhang‘s into my watch to see if it helps. I agree, but we should not have to try to find hacks to get clean clothes. I wish I could get my mom‘s old agitator machine back.

  • I will never buy another HE machine. The whole point was to use less water and save our septic. It does neither. By the time you add an extra rinse or speed wash to a normal cycle to get your laundry clean, you’ve doubled your water usage. Next machine, as HE’s have a short life span, will be the same as the first machine I got 20 years ago. Oh ya, and no more mold smells. Thanks Jillie, I love your hacks and attacks, but maybe a better recommendation is to not buy a HE washer. Keep on keeping it simple because I enjoy your articles. Happy Family Day from Canada ;)

  • I’ve had a Kenmore HE washer (one of their cheapest models) for 12+ years and have never ever had any of the problems that are described in this article or in the comments below. But I also never ever use my washer unless I have a full load. Why waste water and electricity on one item when the same amount of water and electricity can wash a whole load?!?

    • If you have children or others in your home large loads are easy to do. With me it’s just my husband and I now so if I waited to have large loads we would run out of clothes. :)

    • Even a full load of lightweight synthetics (think the new “plush” or fuzzy fabrics that don’t wick up water, lingerie– in mesh bags of course–light blouses, etc) will make the machine’s sensors think it’s a smaller load, and it will fill with less water. And a full load of denims just needs more what than what seems to be programmed into most “high efficiency” washers

  • Actually I find the issues are more with larger loads. I wash my sheets separate and often it appears that half my king size sheet is still dry at the end of a wash cycle.

    This is frustrating because I feel like I am doing a lot of laundry because I break up my loads

    I have trouble trusting that my laundry is getting properly cleaned

  • When setting up my like new, but second hand HE washer, my son told me that the machine would fill based on the weight of the items I had put into it, weighing the load before starting to fill with water. I loved my new to me washer, but from time to time, experienced all of the problems everyone listed, including sometimes finding little undissolved scent beads in the folds of clothing. Ick!! On one occasion, I opened the lid most of the way through a wash cycle, only to find that a couple of pieces of clothing were still sticking up, completely out of the water, and completely dry. I pushed them back down under the water, but wondered how often that was happening, and if some pieces, or parts of items simply never got wet, and thereby never cleansed. Inevitably, these would be synthetic fabrics, lighter-weight ones, that don’t wick up water, though I have had this happen with bulkier items like jeans. Your towel solution is excellent, though I would make two further suggestions. First, since my older towels still seem to release a good bit of lint, I’ll get a couple of black or darker colored ones for my darker colored clothes. Second, wet the towels before laying them on top of these lighter loads to give more weight to the wash load, thereby tricking the washer into putting in more water than it would have with just the lighter-weight clothing. Another option would be to run a pre wash cycle if your machine has one, or a rinse and spin cycle first if, like mine, yours does not. Frustrating, because it somewhat defeats the high-efficiency aspect, but so does having to rewash loads of clothing in order to get them clean!

  • I struggled with this issue too! It took me two years to figure out that my HE washer preferred a FULL load rather than a partial or small load. I also figured out that my washer has a setting for “deep rinse” which means that the tub fills with enough water to cover the clothes instead of just getting by with a water-saving rinse. So, I do fewer loads and the clothes come out cleaner. I also don’t use as much laundry detergent with my towels and I run the washer’s “clean” cycle whenever I remember. Seems to have helped. I do miss the old machines that filled up with water though!

  • We don’t have an HE washer at our house. When my darks start having the white residue is when it’s time to do a deep cleaning of the washer. If you live in area with hard water – like where I live in the Midwest I usually wind up doing this about every 3 months. It really helps. Jillee has posted about this before.

    • Our washing machine we use is a Kenmore top loader. It’s definitely not a HE one. We like it because you can adjust the water level for the size of the load.My dad several years ago started subscribing to Consumer Reports. They rate different brands which has been very helpful when shopping for major appliances.

    • I had the same problem. Still do on one type of black pant fabric but I found that putting the washer on the add fabric softener setting adds more water to rinse cycle. I found out this info on the GE website for my model of washer. Found out it’s a common problem. Have to love progress. Next washer will have a manual water control feature.

  • When I want to do a smaller size load, invariably when I take them out of the washer, it appears that some garments never fully get wet. There appear to be dry spots on the garments. Ugh! Will the old towel suggestion resolve this issue? Right now I select the bedding cycle, because it always fills the tub with water, and then I soak the load before beginning the wash cycle. This seems like such a waste, and it takes a full two hours to get one load of laundry completed.

  • I use these suggestions often and they are helpful, however I have another HE issue that I could really use some help with: many of my darkest items come out of the wash with a white residue, I suspect it is detergent that has not completely rinsed out. I have tried so many things with limited success – vinegar, very little detergent…my washer does not have an option to add more water, just an added rinse. Does anyone have the same issue? How have you handled this? Mine is a top load HE model. Thanks for any help you can provide.

    • I have had the same issue. I always select deep wash and deep rinse for all my loads. It seems to help. Also don’t put dark items deeper than ⅓ of the tub when washing. Sure miss my front load washer, never had these issues with it.

      • Thank you – I have not tried that yet, but will. I am so discouraged with these new models, they are designed to save water, but the way we are going to need to use them to get the results we need will use as much water as older units. And they take so much longer to run through a cycle! At least mine does.

    • I hate my HE upright washer, can’t wait till it has a problem that requires repairs. It will be replaced with the old agitator type machine. Don’t we love what manufacturers do to us? More costly item with less desirable outcome. I wash all my clothes on the cycle that puts in the most water. I think it is heavy duty on my machine. This has resolved my white streak problem, which is essentially just not enough water to rinse the soap out of the items in the washer. You know that residue is still on all your lighter colored clothing. Join the discussion…

      • It’s not just manufacturers. It’s new government regulations that just want everyone to use low-flow appliances and toilets. The low-flow toilets don’t always flush everything, and you have to flush twice. It defeats the purpose.

      • These HE washers are just pulsators trying to move water gently through clothing. I want a more aggressive cleaning where the clothes are being rubbed together releasing dirt particles from the fabric. I also was disappointed that I couldn’t fill my tub with water adding the soap, softeners and what not then placing in my clothes. The pods never seemed to dissolve I only use scent pods. I use liquid laundry detergent another thing was according to manufacturer I was to use Downey ball for fabric softener. I’ve never been a fan of the Downey ball.
        What I finally did was take the dumb lock off my washer so I could monitor what was taking place inside the washer. NOTHING. that’s what was going on. NOTHING!!! It vibrates your clothes clean, which is I guess ok, if you literally did nothing in your clothes , went nowhere and the clothes had no environmental smells, dust etc Now if there isn’t enough water I lift up the clothes and the machine will add more water. The pulsating nonsense that is better for the fabric, won’t wear out clothing is most ridiculous. I’ve never had my clothes wear out too quickly due to the agitator in washing machines or from over washing. Really!!!! Clothes go out of style before they wear out from washing. SO, for now, I take the time to go stir up the laundry during wash cycle & longer time for clothes that are truly dirty. Feel like I’m back to using a washboard.
        I worked at Lowe’s and knew by talking with customers that I didn’t want a machine without an agitator. Many reason why… don’t clean clothes well, spin cycle can knit up items, too many mechanical parts so break down sooner than later, wash times are extended. So use less water, but increase energy bill.
        When my old washer finally died I searched for a new machine with agitator with large size tub. There weren’t any! Agitators only came in washers with smaller tubs. When you think about it is even more stupid. People with smaller tubs means less people in family which probably means no children which means less dirty clothes …. so why have agitator. Since that time some companies have started bringing back the agitator, thank goodness.
        I should’ve never purchased a new washer with the information I already had been given by people who owned them; however, I wanted something new. Huge mistake!!! I’ve been miserable when it comes to being satisfied with my HE washer. My washer is a few years old and needs parts replaced due to the way the new machines work. My last washer lasted 20 years. If nothing else companies should offer the option of having a pulse plate or agitator.

    • I also had the same problem with the white residue. What I did was let the washer fill how ever much it wanted to, but as it was filling up, I also had a plastic tub on the side which I filled with water and detergent (man at store said residue was because my detergent was not getting dissolved all the way), and swooshed it around to dissolve the detergent. Then when the washer was done filling up and starting to “work,” I would stop the washer (top loader,BTW), and poured the extra water+ detergent in (probably 1 gallon or more water), closed the lid and let it do it’s thing. So far, haven’t had a problem again with residue and clothes seem to washed more thoroughly. Good luck! Never buying an HE washer again!

  • I had this problem constantly when pre-washing fabric for quilting. I now have an old pillow that stays by the washer, and it goes through the washer and dryer with the fabric. Makes the spin cycle work every time.

  • Same for a dryer. If you only have one or two items to dry they will stay against the wall of dryer and not fall around and fluff and dry completely. By adding a towel or two this give enough wait to keep the items from sticking to the wall of the dryer while turning.

    • These HE washers are just pulsators trying to move water gently through clothing. I want a more aggressive cleaning where the clothes are being rubbed together releasing dirt particles from the fabric. I also was disappointed that I couldn’t fill my tub with water adding the soap, softeners and what not then placing in my clothes. The pods never seemed to dissolve I only use scent pods. I use liquid laundry detergent another thing was according to manufacturer I was to use Downey ball for fabric softener. I’ve never been a fan of the Downey ball.
      What I finally did was take the dumb lock off my washer so I could monitor what was taking place inside the washer. NOTHING. that’s what was going on. NOTHING!!! It vibrates your clothes clean, which is I guess ok, if you literally did nothing in your clothes , went nowhere and the clothes had no environmental smells, dust etc Now if there isn’t enough water I lift up the clothes and the machine will add more water. The pulsating nonsense that is better for the fabric, won’t wear out clothing is most ridiculous. I’ve never had my clothes wear out too quickly due to the agitator in washing machines or from over washing. Really!!!! Clothes go out of style before they wear out from washing. SO, for now, I take the time to go stir up the laundry during wash cycle & longer time for clothes that are truly dirty. Feel like I’m back to using a washboard.
      I worked at Lowe’s and knew by talking with customers that I didn’t want a machine without an agitator. Many reason why… don’t clean clothes well, spin cycle can knit up items, too many mechanical parts so break down sooner than later, wash times are extended. So use less water, but increase energy bill.
      When my old washer finally died I searched for a new machine with agitator with large size tub. There weren’t any! Agitators only came in washers with smaller tubs. When you think about it is even more stupid. People with smaller tubs means less people in family which probably means no children which means less dirty clothes …. so why have agitator. Since that time some companies have started bringing back the agitator, thank goodness.
      I should’ve never purchased a new washer with the information I already had been given by people who owned them; however, I wanted something new. Huge mistake!!! I’ve been miserable when it comes to being satisfied with my HE washer. My washer is a few years old and needs parts replaced due to the way the new machines work. My last washer lasted 20 years. If nothing else companies should offer the option of having a pulse plate or agitator.

  • Ha, this is a great idea, especially for me! I bought a bunch of old white towels of various sizes just for cleaning up messes on the floor and for baths for our dogs. They are about $1.00 each at a thrift store. Everyone here knows if they need a big towel in a hurry, they grab the “white” towels in the closet. Saves the pretty towels for the family. So now I will add them as needed to a small laundry load.

    • I have the same problem with my top load 6 year old GE washer, the clothes come out wet no matter the size of the load. So that means I have to “adjust the dial and the size of the load to trick the washer into thinking it has to drain more but at the same time it does waste electricity. Never had this problem with my 18 year old Whirlpool washer.

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