The 3 Compartments in a Washer Drawer (What They Mean)

If you’ve just got a new machine, or you’re thinking of changing from pods to powder or liquid detergent, you might wonder where exactly it goes. 

This is by no means self-explanatory, so if you’re new to this, you’re in the right place.

So, what are the 3 compartments in a washing machine drawer?

  • Pre-Wash compartment – Symbols = 1 or I
  • Detergent compartment – Symbols = 2, II, or A 
  • Softener compartment – Symbols = 3, III, a flower, or a star

The 3 Washing Machine Drawer Compartments

Most washing machines have a detergent drawer with 3 compartments. 

Although not a rule – and different layouts exist – typically from left to right, you’ll have a normal detergent section [2], then softener [3], then pre-wash detergent [1]. 

Nothing is mandatory, and if you’re using a liquid pod instead, you can pop this straight in the drum.

Pre-Wash Section 

If you have a load of washing that needs a more thorough cleaning, you can add extra detergent to the pre-wash section. 

This means your wash will essentially be cleaned twice – not always needed, but sometimes necessary. 

Detergent Section

Whether you prefer powder or liquid – this is where your main detergent goes. 

Always make sure to dose according to the instructions, as too much can cause error codes on your machine if it becomes too bubbly! 

If you use a stain remover, it typically goes here – either with the powder or after the liquid. 

Softener Section

Again, this is optional, but if you like using a softener, it goes within this section. 

It’s usually the smallest compartment, and again, be sure to dose according to the instructions on the bottle. 


washing machine drawer

Types of Drawer Models With 3 Compartments

Depending on your specific washing machine model, the compartments might be laid out or labeled differently, so it’s always worth checking your user manual. 

Type I

The most common layout has three portrait compartments with a normal detergent section [2] on the left, a softener section [3] in the middle, and a pre-wash detergent section [1] on the far right. 

Type II

Another layout has the detergent [2] compartment on the left, with the right section split into two – the softener compartment [3] will be at the front and the pre-wash [1] behind it. 


If you have a newer machine, it might have automatic dosing – meaning you don’t need to add detergent or softener before every cycle, and it’ll dose itself like magic! 

There are too many options for this to name, so look up your user manual to see how much you can add in one go and where it needs to be added. 

A look into a washing machine drawer

Washing Machine Drawer Symbols

The symbols on each drawer will vary by brand, but usually…

  • Pre-wash = 1 or I
  • Detergent = 2, II or A 
  • Softener = 3, III, a flower, or a star

Tip: Whether you’re using liquid or powder, always be sure only to use what you need, considering the size of the load, the washing machine drum size, and how dirty the laundry is.

3 Mistakes You Wanna Avoid

Here are three mistakes I often see people make that you wanna avoid doing.

Related: Laundry Pods Not Dissolving

Using too Much Detergent

Adding more than the recommended maximum can be tempting, especially if you’ve got toddlers or a sporty household with grass stains, but this isn’t always a good idea. 

It is better to add a pre-wash instead, as adding too much to the detergent section can result in error codes and mean you need to reset the machine. 

Overloading the Machine

If you have a mountain of washing to get through – you’ll need to be careful not to add too much into the drum. 

On the machine or on the user manual, you’ll have a maximum load capacity (likely around 6-10kg), but no one is standing around with a scale… 

A good rule of thumb is to only fill the drum to 75-80% capacity, leaving room for the water and letting the clothes thoroughly clean.

Not Cleaning the Machine and/or Filter

While it is rational to think that washing clothes in the machine should clean the machine, unfortunately, this isn’t the case, and machines are a perfect damp space for bacteria to fester. 

There are many home remedies or shop-bought solutions that can help. I usually try to clean the filter out once a month after running a Dettol Lemon cleaner through the machine – with an empty load at 90 degrees. 

You can try the equivalent made by Tide. Instructions will vary depending on what you use, but that’s what works for me!


What happens if you put detergent where the softener goes?

This won’t harm your machine, but it will mean the wrong product is used by the washer at the wrong time. 

If it’s only a light wash, this will be less of a problem, but otherwise, you might need to run the cycle again to ensure everything’s cleaned correctly.

What is an auto-dispenser?

Auto-dispensers, or automatic detergent dosing, work by weighing the clothes in the drum, calculating how dirty they are, and using these to add just the right amount of detergent and softener for the selected cycle. 

They can usually only be used with liquid detergent, so if you prefer powder, you’ll need to use the manual option.

Where to put liquid detergent in a washing machine?

Liquid detergent can either be added to the main drum in pod or liquid form or into the detergent drawer in the correct slot – usually labeled 2 or II, and almost always on the left.

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