HomeLaundryWhat Are the 3 Compartments in a Washing Machine? 

What Are the 3 Compartments in a Washing Machine? 

Washing machines are one of those appliances we tend to take for granted. Just imagine how long it would take you to do all that laundry by hand though? 

And while you may never actually need to know how they work (and what’s with the walking?), what you do certainly need to master is where to put the detergent, and where the fabric softener goes. 

Here’s what the 3 compartments in your washer actually need to be used for: 

What Are the 3 Compartments in a Washing Machine? 

Washing machine drawers have three compartments: a pre-wash, a main wash, and a fabric softener compartment. Mixing them up won’t do any harm, but your clothes won’t be properly washed either. 

Most washing machines will use numbers (either roman or arabic) for the two wash compartments, and a star or a flower symbol for the fabric softener compartment. 

There are also two different types of layouts in washing machines, so don’t assume the drawer marked “1” will always be in the same place, rather check to make sure you are pouring the detergent where you should be. 

The Pre-Wash Compartment

The pre-wash compartment is labeled as “1” or “I”. As the name suggests, it should be used when you are using a pre-wash cycle on your washing machine. It is longer and more thorough, so it should be used when dealing with extra soiled items. You should leave this drawer empty if you are just running a regular wash cycle. 

If you don’t put any detergent in this compartment, but do run a pre-wash cycle, your clothes will essentially only go through the main wash cycle, and they won’t get washed twice. There is no such thing as a pre-wash-only cycle. 

Also note that not all washers have a pre-wash cycle, so don’t be surprised if yours only comes with the other two compartments. 

The Main Wash Compartment

The main wash compartment is labeled as “2” or “II”. This is the one you will use every time you wash your clothes, and is where you need to pour the detergent, liquid or powder. 

How much of it you need to add will have nothing to do with the size of the compartment, rather the detergent in question. Make sure to read the label carefully. Extra concentrated products need small doses, while regular detergents will take up more space in this compartment. 

You can use both powder and liquid detergent in the main wash compartment. Tablet or capsule detergents should however be placed inside the drum, unless otherwise indicated. 

The Fabric Softener Compartment

The fabric softener compartment should be the smallest one, and is labeled either as “3”, “III”, or with a star or flower symbol. 

You don’t need to fill this compartment every time. Leaving it empty won’t impact the cleanliness of your clothes, just their softness and smell. 

Don’t overfill this drawer. There is a max line on most washing machines, to indicate the maximum amount of liquid you can pour into it. In most cases, you will need one capful of fabric softener, but the product’s packaging will be your best guide. 

Detergent Drawer Symbols

Here is what each detergent drawer symbol means:

  • 1 or I – pre-wash compartment 
  • 2 or II – main wash compartment
  • 3 or III, flower or star – fabric softener compartment

If you want to add any water softener or stain remover to your load, you need to put it in the main wash compartment. 

Different Types of Washing Machine Drawers

Note that there are different types of washing machine drawers. Two of them are the most common. 

Type I, the one you see in most washing machines, has all the 3 compartments placed in a row. In this case, the left compartment will be the main wash, the right will be pre-wash, and the middle will be fabric softener. 

Type II washers have compact drawers, and the pre-wash and fabric softener parts will roughly be the same size as the main wash one. 

Some washers also come with a bleach compartment, which is usually on the bottom right side, below the pre-wash compartment.

What Goes in Each Slot of a Washing Machine?

The washing detergent (liquid or powder) goes in the main wash and pre-wash compartments, if you are using this added cycle. The fabric softener should be placed in the fabric softener compartment. 

Any stain remover you want to use, as well as water softener, should be placed in the main wash compartment. 

If you want to use Zoflora in the washing machine, pour it in the fabric softener compartment. 

Which Drawer Do You Put Fabric Softener In?

Fabric softener should always be placed in the drawer labeled either 3, III or with a star or flower. 

Which Drawer Do You Put Washing Liquid In?

Washing liquid should be placed in the main wash drawer (labeled as 2 or II). If you are using a pre-wash cycle, you will need to add it to that compartment too (labeled as 1 or I). 

Which Compartment Does Washing Powder Go In?

Washing powder goes in the same compartment washing liquid would go into: the main wash compartment, labeled with a 2 or a II, and the pre-wash compartment, marked with a 1 or I, if you want to run that cycle as well. 

Where to Put Water Softener in the Washing Machine?

The water softener should be added to the main wash compartment in your washing machine. 

Where to Put Stain Remover in the Washing Machine?

Stain remover should be added to the main wash compartment, if you need to tackle any strong stains. You can also try running a pre-wash cycle, in which case you will need to add your detergent to both the main and the pre-wash compartment. 

Can I Put Softener and Detergent Together?

You should never put softener and detergent together, as they will neutralize each other, and your clothing will neither be clean, nor will it smell as nice as you would like it. 

Is It OK to Put Detergent Directly on Clothes?

You shouldn’t put detergent directly on the clothes, as it is too strong and can damage them. Some washer tablets need to be added to the drum itself though, but they are already formulated in a different way than regular liquid or powder detergent. 

Can I Put Liquid Detergent in the Drum?

You shouldn’t put liquid detergent in the drum, as it most likely won’t mix well, and you may end up with clothes that come out slightly sticky. 

What Happens If You Put Fabric Softener in the Detergent Slot?

If you put fabric softener in the detergent slot, it will be dispensed during the wash cycle, instead of the rinse cycle. It won’t clean your clothes, but they will come out smelling nice.

You may need to rewash your clothes if you’ve made a mistake, but if they haven’t been particularly soiled, you can get away with this wash too. You won’t be damaging them, mind you, so no need to worry about that. 

Think of fabric softener as a hair conditioner: you add it once your hair is clean. Washing your hair with it would not do anything. The same principle applies in the washer as well. 

What Happens If You Put Detergent Into the Wrong Compartment?

If you put detergent in the pre-wash compartment and don’t run a pre-wash cycle, the detergent will just stay in the drawer. If you put it in the fabric softener compartment, you will need to run an extra rinse cycle, to make sure you get all of it out of your clothes. 

Nothing particularly horrible will happen if you mix your detergent drawers up. If you add detergent to your pre-wash compartment, all you need to do is run a pre-wash cycle, and it will give your clothes an extra clean.

If you add it to the fabric softener compartment, it will be dispensed near the end of the cycle, so your items won’t be as clean. You will also need to add one more rinse cycle to the process, to make sure no detergent sticks to the clothing. You won’t need to rewash them though. 

Wrapping It Up 

It’s easy to get mixed up with your washing machine compartments. If you apply some logic to the drawer though, it will make a lot of sense: pre-wash, main wash and fabric softener are placed in the order in which each product is dispensed into the drum. 


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