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How to clean and maintain your washing machine

Save money and fix it at home like a pro.

pressing start button on fl washer
Last updated: 26 March 2020

Unless you're hoping to make money from some kind of illegal gambling on appliance racing, you want to make sure you're using your washing machine and dryer as well as possible so they don't chase each other across the floor when they're off-balance. 

It's nice when you can just pop clothes in, press a button and come back to them perfectly clean and dry – no stains, detergent residue, or unexpected shades of colour.

Luckily, washing machines aren't that complicated – a simple problem is often behind most issues. Learn how to deal with them, and you'll save a lot of money on service and call-out fees over the years.

How to clean your washing machine

How to clean your washing machine

Every use

  • Check your clothes' pockets for coins, keys and tissues as you load the washer, because having them bouncing around in the wash is bad for the machine.
  • Place small items and delicates in a laundry bag to protect them from getting caught in seals and joins, or otherwise damaged.
  • Double check for any laundry left behind after you've taken the washing out. Damp laundry left in the machine can start to smell, and even cause rust spots on the drum.
  • Wipe out the inside of the door seal to clean off mould and scrud (the detergent deposits that can built up inside your machine).
  • Clean the lint filter (if fitted).
  • Leave the door ajar (if your laundry allows) to extend the life of your door seals.
  • If your machine has shifted during a cycle and is now off balance and bouncing around, move it back into place or adjust the feet to make it level again.

Monthly

  • If you only wash in cold water, run a cleaning cycle or run the machine empty on its hottest cycle with a bit of detergent. This will help clear out scrud.
  • Wipe away mould deposits on door seals and other surfaces using hot soapy water and a soft cloth.
  • If you notice any scrud build-up inside the drum, remove it with hot soapy water, a sponge and a bit of elbow grease.

Annually

  • Check if the machine is properly levelled and adjust feet accordingly if necessary.
  • Scrub detergent out of nooks and crannies with a toothbrush, and don't forget about the detergent dispenser.

How do you fix an off-balance washing machine?

  • Make sure your machine is level.
  • Load your washing machine evenly, alternating between small and large items.
  • Don't wash bed sheets and towels on their own – include smaller items in your load as well.
  • Don't overload your washer, and don't wrap clothes around the agitator.

How do you deal with detergent residue left on your clothes?

Some of the insoluble ingredients in detergents and some dirt may not always get washed out, particularly if you wash using a low-water program. 

Follow these steps if you're finding there's residue remaining after your final rinse:

  • Check you're not overloading your machine
  • Use less detergent. Our laundry detergent tests show that you can use even a quarter of the recommended dose and still get a good wash
  • If you wash in cold water, pre-dissolving powdered detergent in warm water before pouring it into the machine can help
  • Try using a clear or translucent liquid detergent instead of a powder
  • Store your detergent in an airtight container to prevent it becoming clumpy, which can make the problem worse, and
  • Try putting the residue-affected clothes in a dryer on the 'air-dry' setting (that is, without heat, just using the fan) for five minutes. You might find this helps knock off the residue.

How do you deal with vibrating floorboards?

Concrete floors cope best with a front loader, but most manufacturers agree that standing a front loader on a timber floor shouldn't cause damage to the floor (due to the vibrations), as long as:

  • your floor is in good condition
  • your floor is level
  • your floor is able to hold the machine's weight, and
  • your washing machine's feet are adjusted properly and stabilised.

To prevent scratches on your polished timber floor, consider putting a rubber mat under your washer. 

If your floorboards are in poor condition or you're still noticing excessive vibration, move the washing machine to a corner of the laundry where the floor is likely to be more stable. 

Some manufacturers also advise putting a panel underneath the machine so its weight is distributed evenly. Some also recommend screwing the panel to as many beams as possible underneath the floorboards to help minimise vibration.

What should you do if you're concerned about colours running?

  • Wash whites and colours separately
  • Check bright-coloured fabrics are colour-safe before you wash them by wetting them, then blotting them with an old white cloth. If the colour marks the cloth, wash the item on its own in cold water or have it dry-cleaned.
  • Turn jeans or garments you want to protect or preserve the colour of inside out.

What should you do if you there's lint left in your laundry?

Reduce the likelihood of lint left on your laundry by washing your towels and fleecy clothes separately from fabrics that attract lint, such as corduroy and synthetics. 

Make sure you're using enough detergent (though you probably won't need as much as the recommended dose), and that your machine isn't overloaded so your clothes can move freely.

How do you minimise marks left on your clothes?

The blotchy marks that are sometimes left on your clothes after you've washed them can be caused by 'scrud', which is a waxy build-up of fabric softener or detergent in the drum of your washing machine. 

Scrud is more likely to build up if you only wash in cold water, and (counter-intuitively) if you don't use enough detergent. Aside from leaving marks on your clothes it can also cause problems for the washing machine itself so it's worth taking care of it early. To eliminate scrud, try the following:

  • Run an empty cycle with just hot water and a good detergent, first letting it soak overnight.
  • If you wash in cold water, run a warm or hot wash every once in a while to reduce the amount of build-up.
  • Use fabric softener sparingly, or better yet not at all.
  • Try using a little more detergent.
  • Clean your washing machine's dispensers regularly.
  • Wash your whites in hot water with a good detergent. Not only will this help keep scrud at bay, it also helps your clothes retain their whiteness.

Another factor that contributes to black or grey marks on clothes is water hardness.

What should you do if you get mould in your washing machine?

When mould grows on the seals of your washing machine or in the drum itself, it can start to smell bad and make your clothes smell as well. 

Mould occurs because more people wash in cold water, which doesn't get rid of mould and washing machine designs can allow water to sit in the seal, promoting mould growth. 

Keep mould to a minimum by:

  • Give your door seals a quick dry after each wash.
  • Leave the door and detergent dispenser open to air dry between washes.
  • Wipe away existing mould deposits on the rubber seals with hot water and detergent.
  • Try skipping fabric softener, as there's no real need for it.
  • Run a hot wash monthly with a full-strength powder detergent.

How to unlock your washing machine

Unlike your top loader of old which you could open at any time, the door on your front loader locks during use. This can be frustrating if you want to add additional items after the cycle starts, but it's an important feature because opening the door mid-cycle could mean flooding your laundry with potentially scaldingly hot, soapy wash water. But what happens if something goes wrong, and you need to unlock your washing machine in an emergency? Say, you realise you've left your keys or phone in your pants pocket. Don't panic, because depending on the make and model of your washing machine, there's usually a way to unlock it in an emergency. 

The emergency unlocking procedure will vary from brand to band and model to model, so you'll need to conduct an internet search for instructions for your specific washer, but there are some general guidelines to follow first.

Firstly, stop the cycle and turn the washing machine off - at the very least this will limit the the damage to washer and contents from the turning drum. Now wait a few minutes - if you're lucky then the lock will deactivate automatically and you'll be able to open the door again. Do what you need to do, and restart the wash as necessary. If your washer's mid-cycle and full of water though, chances are the door won't unlock until you've drained it. Does your machine have a 'drain' program? then you're in luck - turn it back on and use it, then see if you can open the door. If it doesn't, the power's out or the washing machine just won't cooperate then you'll need to use the emergency drain function. This job's as messy as it is awkward, so you'll need some old towels to soak up any spills, a bucket or recepticle to drain the water into, and some bricks, blocks or equivalent to raise up the front of the washer so you can get the bucket under it. First, if you can, tilt the washing machine backwards and prop the front up on the aforementioned bricks. Now lay the towels down under the front (this also gives your knees a softer cushion than your laundry floor. Now open the little door at the bottom front of the washer (it's exact location will vary by model but they'll all have one). and you'll see the emergency drain hose - pull it out and aim it into your bucket, then unstopper it - water will start draining out of your machine. Be careful not to scald yourself if you were in the middle of a hot cycle, and restopper the drain hose to empty the bucket periodically. Once the water's all drained out, restopper and replace the hose, close the door and remove the bricks from under the door. Wait a few minutes and see if the door unlocks by itself.

Still no good? there's one more trick you can try. Take a piece of fishing line, and working from the latch side, start to work it between the door and the body of the washing machine - your aim here is to catch the latch with the fishing line and pull it back to release it - when you think you've got the fishing line up against the latch pin, give it a firm pull with both hands towards the hinge side of the door and see if it opens. If it doesn't, don't force it lest you damage your machine, and it's time to call for reinforcements. If you're renting and the washing machine was already in your home then call your landlord - they may know a few tricks with the machine that you haven't thought of. otherwise, call a repair technician. Or several, until you find one that can come straight away - wet clothes will start to go mouldy if they're left in the machine for long periods, not to mention the machine will start to rust too.

How can you stop your clothes from getting tangled?

Stop your top loader from leaving you in a tangle by making sure your clothes aren't wrapped around the agitator, and check you're not overloading your machine. 

Use a 'delicates' or 'gentle' cycle when washing business shirts, because they have a greater tendency to tangle.

What can I do to make my towels less scratchy?

A downside of front loaders (and water-efficient top loaders, for that matter) is that they often produce stiff, rough or scratchy towels. 

That's because the clothes are generally tumbling through just a little water rather than floating through lots of it, like they would in an older-style top loader. 

To get the fibres nicely fluffed up, the clothes must be immersed in water.

Another reason could be that your front loader uses too little water for the rinse, leaving detergent residues in the wash. You can check for rinse effectiveness in our test results.

Short of drying your towels for hours in a dryer to get them soft, you can try the following to help reduce their scratchy, flat effect:

  • Add an extra rinse to your towels wash.
  • Use a gentler program that uses more water.
  • Lower the spin speed. Higher spin speeds tend to flatten the fibres and line drying doesn't fluff them back up, making them feel hard.
  • Add half a cup of white vinegar to the fabric softener dispenser (don't be tempted to use fabric softener, as this will lower the fabric's ability to absorb water).
  • Shake your towels out vigorously, or put them in the dryer on the cooling cycle for a few minutes before hanging them out to dry.
  • Take them off the line when still a little damp and finish them off in the dryer.