Where does liquid detergent go in a washing machine?

Person pouring liquid detergent into designated washing machine dispenser drawer
  Reading time 9 minutes

When it comes to operating washing machines, understanding where to put liquid detergent is crucial for both the longevity of your clothing and the effectiveness of washing cycles. Unlike powdered detergents, liquid detergents are designed to dissolve rapidly, providing immediate cleaning action. However, if you’re not placing it in the correct compartment, you might not get the laundry results you’re expecting. Simply put, liquid detergent usually goes into a designated compartment or dispenser drawer marked specifically for main wash during the main cycle. This helps ensure that the detergent is dispensed at the right time, allowing your clothes to come out spotless without leaving behind residue.

Understanding Your Washing Machine’s Detergent Compartments

Main Types of Detergent Dispensers

  1. The Main Detergent Compartment: This compartment is for the detergent used during the main wash cycle. Whether you are using powdered or liquid detergents, this compartment releases its contents early in the washing cycle.
  2. The Pre-Wash Compartment: If your clothes are heavily soiled, you will need to add detergent to this section. It’s used for the initial wash that helps to remove the toughest of stains before the main cycle.
  3. The Fabric Softener Compartment: Often marked with a flower symbol, this compartment is for fabric softeners which are added during the final rinse to leave the clothes soft.
  4. The Bleach Dispenser: Not all washers have a bleach compartment, but if yours does, it’s important to use it correctly since bleach is a powerful chemical that can damage clothes if not used properly.

Distinguishing Between Pre-Wash and Main Wash Compartments

It’s vital to differentiate between these compartments because putting liquid detergent in the pre-wash section when you’re not running a pre-wash cycle means it will be washed away before the main cycle begins, effectively wasting detergent. Conversely, if fabric softeners or bleach are put into the main wash compartment, it could lead to damaged fabrics or clothing that does not get properly cleaned.

Close-up of liquid detergent compartment in a high-efficiency washer

The Correct Way to Load Liquid Detergent

Step-by-Step Guide on Using Liquid Detergent

  1. Check your clothing labels for any specific washing instructions.
  2. Load your laundry into the washing machine, being careful not to overload it.
  3. Measure the appropriate amount of liquid detergent using the cap or cup provided.
  4. Pour the detergent into the main wash compartment of your washing machine’s dispenser drawer.
  5. Select the correct washing cycle based on the type of garments you’re laundering.

Dos and Don’ts of Liquid Detergent Use

  • Do measure the amount of detergent needed based on the load size and soil level.
  • Don’t pour detergent directly onto the clothes as it might not rinse out completely.
  • Do check to see if your washer is a high-efficiency model and use detergent accordingly.
  • Don’t assume all liquid detergents work the same; some might need adjusting for soft or hard water.
  • Do make use of the additional compartments if doing a pre-wash or using fabric softeners.
  • Don’t forget to clean out your detergent dispensers regularly to prevent clogging and build-up.

Incorporating these practices will not only aid in better washing but will also maintain your washing machine in good working order.

The Impact of Using Liquid Detergent Correctly

An accurate implementation of liquid detergent use is paramount because it heightens the proficiency of each wash. Using the correct amount and placing it in the right compartment ensures that clothes are thoroughly cleaned without leaving any soapy residue.

Improved Cleaning EfficiencyUsing the correct amount of liquid detergent enhances the cleaning power, effectively removing dirt and stains without leaving residues.
Fabric CareProper usage prevents fabric damage and color fading, maintaining the integrity and appearance of clothes over time.
Cost-effectivenessOptimal use of detergent saves money by reducing the need for repeat washing cycles and preserving clothing quality.
Environmental ImpactMinimizing detergent use reduces the release of chemicals into the environment and water systems, promoting ecological balance.
Appliance LongevityCorrect detergent usage can extend the life of washing machines by preventing soap buildup and ensuring efficient operation.

Enhancing Washing Efficiency with Proper Detergent Placement

By strictly following manufacturers’ guidelines and giving attention to the dosages and timing of liquid detergent additions, you will see an improvement in the overall washing performance. Garments will emerge from the wash spotless, with vivid colors and free from any unpleasant odors.

Guide showing where to put liquid detergent in a modern laundry machine

Troubleshooting Common Liquid Detergent Errors

Overcoming Issues with Detergent Dispensing

If you’re encountering issues where the detergent does not seem to be dispensing correctly during the washing cycle, there are several steps you could take. First, ensure that the dispenser drawers are clean; residue can cause blockages. Check for any blockages or clothing items that might have gotten caught in the dispenser and clear them away. If the problem persists, it might also be a mechanical issue that could need professional assessment.

Addressing Residue and Odor Problems

Residue from excess detergent can linger on clothes and inside the machine, leading to odors and the potential for mold growth. To prevent this, always measure detergent according to the manufacturer’s directions and the needs of the load. If residue problems continue, you might also need to consider if you have hard water, which could affect the detergent’s effectiveness. Running an empty cycle with a washing machine cleaner could also help resolve odor issues.

The Future of Liquid Detergent and Washing Machines

Technological Advancements in Detergent Dispensers

Washing machines are becoming smarter, with some newer models featuring auto-dispense technology that releases the right amount of detergent based on the load’s weight and soil level. This not only saves detergent but ensures optimal cleaning.

Eco-Friendly and High-Efficiency Washing Solutions

Environmental concerns have pushed the development of not only eco-friendly liquid detergents that are biodegradable and less toxic but also machines that are more energy and water-efficient. High-efficiency washing machines require special low-sudsing detergents that are designed for use with less water, providing not only cost savings but also a lower environmental impact.

Empty liquid detergent tray in a washing machine ready for filling.


Knowing where to put liquid detergent in your washing machine is essential for getting your clothes clean and maintaining the life of your machine. By understanding the different compartments of your machine, following a step-by-step guide for loading detergent, and troubleshooting common errors, you can ensure that your laundry experience is as efficient and effective as possible. Additionally, staying informed about technological advances and eco-friendly options will help you make smarter choices for both your household and the environment.


  1. What should I do if my clothes have detergent residue after a wash? If you notice residue, you might be using too much detergent. Try reducing the amount, ensuring that you use the correct compartment, and running an extra rinse cycle if needed. Checking for a clogged dispenser and cleaning it might also help.
  2. Can I use powder detergent in a liquid detergent compartment? It’s not recommended to use powdered detergent in the liquid detergent compartment because it might not dispense or dissolve properly. Always use the appropriate compartment for the type of detergent you are using.
  3. Why does my washing machine smell bad even after I’ve cleaned it? Persistent bad smells could be caused by mold or mildew growth in hidden areas. Make sure to regularly clean the seal and leave the door open to air out after washing cycles. Running a hot wash cycle with a washing machine cleaner or vinegar could also eliminate odors.
  4. Do I need to use a different liquid detergent for high-efficiency washing machines? Yes, high-efficiency (HE) washing machines require low-sudsing HE detergents. Using regular detergent in HE machines can cause excess suds, which can lead to mechanical problems and reduced cleaning effectiveness.
  5. How often should I clean my washing machine’s detergent compartments? It’s good practice to clean your detergent compartments at least once a month. Regular cleaning prevents the build-up of detergent residue and ensures that your machine works efficiently.