The humble washing machine is the workhorse of a household. From stripping the mud and grime from the kids’ PE kit, to breathing new life and a few more wears into your favourite top, the washing machine is an essential component of every home.
Yet many of us will treat our poor washing machine like Cinderella – here to do all our dirty work for us with scant regard for its wellbeing. And, if we’re honest, cleaning the thing that does the cleaning isn’t often top of our list of chores.
With the average washing machine having a lifespan of 11 years, it pays to pay some respect to your washer. By following some simple hints and tricks you could add a few more years to your machine’s lifetime – and save yourself a tidy sum in the process. Here are our tips for a cleaner, healthier washing machine.
Too much of a good thing
Detergent’s great at clearing off the dirt, so doubling the recommended amount will make our laundry even cleaner, right? Well, no, actually. In fact, it can have the opposite effect.
To explain why, we need to get a bit scientific. Detergent molecules are amphiphilic, which means that they have one end that sticks to dirt and repels water, while the other end is easily washed away by the water that flows into your machine. This means the first bit connects with the stains and dirt on your clothes, and the whole thing is pulled away by the second bit. Like your dad’s ill-fitting trunks when he went on that water slide in Tenerife.
For this to work properly, there needs to be enough water in the machine. Adding more detergent makes the water:detergent ratio uneven, which means there’s insufficient water to yank the dirt and detergent off your laundry. And because the end that sticks to dirt is made up of fatty lipids, it can leave a greasy feel to your clothes after washing.
It can also damage your machine as well as your clothes. Dried detergent collects as residue in your machine, blocking the correct flow of water and forcing it out into areas where it shouldn’t be – such as the control panel and your floor. If trapped in the drawer, detergent can cause mildew or mould, which will transfer onto your clothes if not treated.
What’s more, using too much detergent is probably unnecessary. Detergent manufacturers want you back at the shop buying more sooner rather than later, so don’t be tricked into adding more than is needed into your wash.
Too much of a dirty thing
It’s tempting to throw as many clothes into the drum as possible, especially if you’re short of time and have a lot of washing to get through. But this is counterproductive and can only make the whole process much longer.
As already mentioned, your machine needs a good amount of water to successfully wash away the dirt. It’s common sense to see that overloading the drum makes this impossible, leaving the clothes as dirty as they were when they went in – and sometimes just as dry.
Overloading the drum will also put your machine under a lot of strain. Trying to move clothes around and cope with the sheer volume of laundry can damage the transmission and belts.
That’s what I shouldn’t do. What about what I should be doing?
Good washing machine maintenance begins with installation. How you set up your machine can have important consequences, so it’s definitely worth taking the time to get it right.
Ensuring your machine is level is one of the first tasks. An uneven washing machine can begin to shift across the floor once the spin cycle starts, which can cause serious damage. The drum will also make a lot of noise due to its uneven spinning motion.
This is easily fixed by adjusting the front-levelling legs to the correct height, and ensuring the lock nut is tight. Make sure that the feet on all corners are touching the ground so the machine doesn’t rock when leant on or when in use.
Lint may sound like the 40-day period prior to Easter when people from New Zealand give up chocolate, but is in fact the little bits of fluff and material that collect when you wash your clothes.
Your machine will likely have a lint filter on the front panel, which you should clean regularly to prevent build up. You can do this with a paper towel, or by running the filter under hot water.
Check your hoses
While your machine will typically last over a decade, your hoses will generally need replacing after five years. We recommend you check them regularly for signs of wear or tear, because it’s much better – and cheaper – to replace them before they fail.
Simply turn off the power to your machine, turn off the water supply using the knobs at the back of your machine, and you’re fine to remove and check for leaks or damage.
Run an empty hot wash
Give your machine the equivalent of a hot bath once a month!
Put on a hot cycle without adding any dirty laundry, but do add a small amount of white vinegar. This will help to remove residue and bacteria, and keep your machine smelling fresher for longer. You should also clean out the detergent drawers at the same time.
These few bits of advice don’t take much time or effort, but could have a huge impact on the lifespan of your washing machine. And when it comes to your key appliances, prevention is always better than cure.