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Ask Dr. Laundry

Ask Dr. Laundry

How much laundry (pants, shirts) per load?

By Dr. Laundry March 12, 2015

Q:  I have seen your video on bleach for beginners on Youtube. I need some advice on how to wash clothes in a Kenmore 500 top loader.How many pants and/or shirts can go in, but most of all how much detergent to    use for each load, also how much fabric softener to use?I am skeptical to use bleach as my white clothes sometimes smell like bleach. Please let me know!


A: You’ve asked a lot of great questions!  Having the model number of your clothes washer was very helpful—thanks for including it!  I’ve found some information about the washer on the internet here:  It looks like a traditional deep-fill clothes washer with a center agitator.  If it came with a Use and Care Guide be sure to hang on to it—the guide has lots of useful information on operating the washer.  I do realize you may not have the guide at this point, especially if this is the washer that came with your new house or apartment, and that’s OK. Here are some tips to help you specifically with your washer.


How much laundry (pants, shirts) per load?  It’s really hard to say a specific number of pants and shirts per load since the sizes of items effects how much volume they take up.  It’s easier to think about the weight of the load—on average a “large” load weighs between 6-8 pounds.  For proper cleaning in a top loading washer with a central agitator, the clothing needs to move from the top of the basket (what we call the inside of the washer where the clothes go) to the bottom over and over again during the cycle.  What you want to avoid is cramming the washer so full that the clothing doesn’t circulate.  You can check this by lifting the lid of the washer during the wash cycle (it should stop agitating) to see what’s on top.  Close the lid (the washer should restart) and then after 10 seconds, open the washer again.  If the laundry is properly agitating, you will see different items.  If you see the same items, then there may be too much laundry packed in, preventing the laundry from circulating through the wash water. This is where you experiment a little with your washer.  Say you have selected a “medium” load and you see that the laundry isn’t circulating very well.  Stop the washer and select a “large” load, then restart the washer.  The washer will add more water, and agitation should improve.


How much detergent?  Detergent usage should be adjusted based on both the soil level and the load size.  For larger loads, or for heavy soil, you use more.  For smaller, lightly soiled loads you can use the lowest recommended amount (line 1 on the cap or scoop).  Because you have a top loader with a central agitator, you can expect to see a small amount of suds on the top of the load.  Large mounds of foam, however, mean you are probably using too much detergent.


How much softener?  It looks like your washer has a liquid softener dispenser, so you should use that to add softener.  It should have a line to indicate the maximum amount you should use.  The cap for the softener product should also have lines to help you measure the correct amount.  The amount of softener used should be adjusted based on the load size selected; not knowing which product you are using and what your load sizes are makes it difficult to be more specific.  I do want to point out that there are some fabrics/items that you don’t want to use fabric softener with, like towels.  They actually become less absorbent when they are washed with softener, and often there are warnings on the care label against using softener.


How much bleach?  For a large load with an average soil level, add ½ cup Concentrated Clorox® Bleach Pen Gel.  The video you watched was based on our old product—we’ve reformulated it to reduce the amount of plastic used in the package.  Note that if you are washing extra-large or heavily soiled loads, then you can increase the amount of bleach to ¾ cup.  It looks like your washer has a bleach dispenser, so use that to add the bleach.  If you prefer to do it yourself, then for best results add the bleach by first diluting it with a quart of water and then adding it to the load 5 minutes after it has begun agitating.  I also noticed that your washer has a “second rinse” option.  Selecting this option for any loads you wash with bleach will help make sure the detergent and bleach is completely rinsed from the load, and should reduce the residual bleach smell.


I hope this information is useful.  It’s difficult to get too specific since laundry varies from person to person as to how much there is, how dirty it is, and I didn’t even get into other issues like water quality!  If you have any other questions, please let me know, and thanks for writing!


–Dr. Laundry