What you need to know about washing machines

Here are five things you need to know about your washing machine.
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01.Video guide

Our updated test of washing machines has the latest models, including more that work efficiently with solar hot water heaters. We give you independent buying advice and real comparisons.

Video: 5 things you need to know about your washing machine

Martha Psiroukis provides the facts and myths about washing machines.

Script of video.

Five things you really should know about your washing machine.

1. Are there drawbacks to high water efficiency?

I'd say definitely: high water efficiency machines these days use a lot less water than they did quite a few years ago and [one] effect of that is poor rinsing, so you don't get as much detergent out of your clothes as you might be used to. It can also cause a little bit of excessive linting as well because the lint isn't washed out as it would be in other situations. Saving water is a big issue these days and I think it's very important to do all we can to save water, but in most cases you might have to switch your detergent, maybe switch to a liquid or maybe use a quarter just to make sure that you get overall good performance.

2. How important is maximum capacity?

People seem to think that the bigger the machine the more I can fit into it, and the better for me and the more loads or the more washing I can do in one go. So the manufacturer actually tweaks the performance of the machine to meet those minimum performance requirements while maximising the capacity of the product, so that's how they manage to get the highest star rating possible - highest water star rating possible - for the maximum load. But in real life we find that people actually only put in about half the rated capacity, so anywhere between 3-4 kg depending on the size of the machine. Now what happens is that the water use is a lot higher than what you would find on the star rating system. The energy would probably be a lot higher as well because it's all calculated on a capacity basis. So in real life it's not quite as efficient as it seems. But I probably wouldn't look too much into basing a complete decision on the rated capacity of the machine.

3. Should I always choose a cold wash?

It really depends on what you're washing. If you're washing lightly-soiled clothes then cold water washing is perfectly acceptable. But I think that if you're washing clothes which are heavily stained, particularly kids' clothes or perhaps greasy clothes, you're better off washing in warm to hot water; you're more likely to remove the stains without having the re-wash. But you do have to be careful with your temperature selection because hot water can also set some stains such as blood. So ultimately [it] really depends on your load and the best decision is to assess each load and sort it by stain, colour and type before you decide whether you wash in cold water or warm or hot. If you do do regular cold washes, you probably will need to do a hot wash regularly every maybe couple of weeks to wash the machine out because a lot of detergent doesn't actually dissolve quite as well in cold water as it would in hot.

4. How much detergent should I be using?

With high efficiency machines, definitely the less detergent you use the better. The less water you have in the machine, the less detergent you need. Past laundry detergent tests show that even using a quarter of the recommended dose can still give you a great performance. It might not be as great for stain removal, but in most cases people are washing lightly-soiled clothes anyway. So I'd say experiment - definitely reduce the detergent amount and see how your machine performs. In a lot of cases detergent [manufacturers] recommend about a scoop to a scoop-and-a-half for normal to heavy soiling clothes for a standard size washing machine - not that there is a standard size washing machine these days. Try a quarter, try a half if you're not getting the right result, try a different detergent too especially if you're using a high efficiency machine.

5. Should I be using a fabric softener?

In my opinion, no; I think it's money down the drain. Effectively what a fabric softener's designed to do is to remove static and to soften your clothes and perhaps give your clothes that extra bit of nice, fresh, clean smell. These days I think that detergents have a pretty good amount of fragrance in them, so I don't think you need that from a fabric softener. And the theory of washing oils out of your clothes and then replacing it with a synthetic oil doesn't really seem to make sense to me. It can actually build up in your fabrics; it can cause sensitivity issues; it actually increases the flammability of your clothes, so I definitely would not recommend it for kids' sleepwear or kids' clothes in general. If you're washing in cold water and you are using a fabric softener, what tends to happen is fabric softener and detergent don't mix. They actually form a precipitate or what's called a scrud in your machine: it's like a grey, waxy build-up which you need to wash out of your machine. You'd have to do hot washes a lot more regularly than you would normally do just to remove that build-up.

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