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Washer Overloaded? How to Properly Load a Washer

Red laundry basket overloaded with clothes

When is a washing machine overloaded? Can you put that extra sweatshirt in with that large load? Find out how much to load a washer and whether you have an overloaded washer.

Washing machines aren’t created equal. Both top- and front-loaders can get your clothes clean, but there are differences in using them, specifically when you’re loading. If you run too small a load, you’re wasting energy and water. But overloading can lead to a whole host of problems.

When you pack your washer too full, clothes don’t have room to agitate. That can cause them to not get clean enough. But it also means all of those zippers and buttons and other items on your clothes can rub against and latch onto other garments. The result? Holes and tears in your favorite outfits.

Another peril of overloading: orphan socks and lost underwear. Admit it, you’ve wondered where the heck they go. If your machine is overloaded, it can force small items down the drainage line.

As annoying as those things are, overloading can also damage your washer. When that mountain of laundry gets wet, the extra weight can damage the components and strain the motor to the point that it might need a repair.

So, how full is too full? If you’re packing the clothes in tight, that’s your first clue that you’re overloading your washer. Machines vary, so check your manual, but a good rule is to loosely load the clothes and leave at least 6 inches between the top of the load of laundry and the top of the drum.

How to Properly Load a Standard Top-Loader Washer

It’s all about the agitator, which sits in the center and moves the clothes around. Loading laundry around the agitator in a balanced way is the key to the whole operation. If your load is unbalanced, it can cause vibrations strong enough to actually move the machine, which in turn can lead to a costly repair.

Some key points to remember:

  • Add your clothes as evenly as you can around the agitator.
  • Contrary to popular belief, you shouldn’t twist sheets and towels around the agitator. Instead, put them on each side to help maintain a balanced load.
  • It’s OK to mix large and small items. You’ll up the ante on the washing action.

How to Properly Load a High-Efficiency Top-Loader Washer Here are some key differences between HE and standard washers: HE models use less water (hence the name) and often do not have a center agitator.

Follow these tips to avoid overloading:

  • Place your clothes around the edges of the wash plate rather than piling them in the center of the washer. That way, your T-shirts and jeans will be able to move around and get clean.
  • If you’re stuffing your clothes in, your load is too big. Leave about 6 inches from the top of the machine.
  • It’s a good idea to mix large and small items. It helps the load stay balanced.

How to Properly Load a High-Efficiency Front-Loader Washer

These models use the least amount of water — 20 gallons or less, compared to 40 or more for older, standard washers.

  • One key to properly loading your front-loader is to put your clothes in it one at a time. This way, you’ll make sure you’re not tangling them up.
  • Keep it loose. Don’t pack clothes into the washer. Leave about half a foot at the top.
  • Front-loaders fill the bottom of the washer with water and rotate the clothes around. If you’ve got heavily soiled items, load them first. That way, they’ll be in contact with the water and detergent the longest.

Follow these tips to avoid overloading your washing machine — and help prevent damage to your clothing, lost socks and unnecessary repairs.

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