Washing machines are the unsung heroes of the appliance world. They're not as glamorous or visible as fridges or televisions, and we don't interact with them as much as, say, a vacuum cleaner. We only really notice them when something goes wrong.
And of course they only seem to break before you've reached the bottom of the dirty laundry mountain, never after! That's why it helps to know when your machine is on its last legs, so you don't get caught out.
Here are some hints that you should start looking for a new washing machine.
1. It's more than six years old
Once your machine is more than six years old, a major failure usually means you'll need to buy a new one because any repairs will be expensive. And with older appliances you'll need to weigh up the risk that, after paying to fix one problem, something else may break.
If you have a front loader, once it hits 12 years of age, it'll likely be cheaper to replace it than repair it, even for more minor failures. For a top loader, that figure drops to seven years.
But – and this is a big but! – it's always worth trying to repair your washing machine, particularly if it's still within the life expectancy range. You might find that repairs are cheaper than you'd expect – and some of them you might even be able to DIY.
If you do buy a new machine, make sure you recycle your old one so it doesn't end up in landfill, or buy from a retailer who will take your old one away to recycle.
Before you do anything, check our guide to how to clean and maintain your washing machine – if you take care of it, it'll last longer.
CHOICE expert Ashley puts washing machines through their paces in our labs, which are accredited by Australia's National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA).
2. It's on the move
If your washing machine likes to 'walk' around the room during a cycle, it could be time for a repair or replacement. There are a two main reasons why your machine is never where you left it before a cycle: it's either off balance or the shock absorbers have failed.
If the machine is off balance, it's a pretty easy fix: first, use a spirit level to check if your machine is level and adjust the feet accordingly if it's not. Then make sure you're loading your machine evenly by alternating between large and small items, and not overloading or wrapping laundry around the agitator.
You'll need to weigh up the cost of having it repaired, the age of the machine and how much a new machine will cost
If it's vibrating, check the machine's feet to see if they're properly adjusted and all making firm contact with the ground.
You can pop a rubber mat under the machine to protect your timber floors. Some manufacturers recommend putting a panel underneath the machine so its weight is distributed evenly to minimise vibrations and movement. You could also try moving it to a corner of the laundry where the floor is likely to be more stable.
Unfortunately, if the shock absorbers are broken it can be an expensive fix. You'll need to weigh up the cost of having it repaired, the age of the machine and how much a new machine will cost.
"If you factor in parts, a callout fee and an hourly rate for the technician, then it could easily cost you $400 or so – which is a lot for a 10 year old washer," says CHOICE whitegoods expert Ashley Iredale.
3. It's getting noisier
There's no such thing as a silent washing machine, and front loaders tend to be louder than top loaders.
But if your machine has developed new noises or has become much louder than it used to be, it's probably time to have it serviced, repaired or replaced.
4. It's leaking
There are all kinds of causes for washing machine leaks – some benign (like a tap connector that's not tightened properly) and others more serious, like a coin or key getting in between the washer's two drums, punching a hole in the outer drum.
If you're finding small puddles of water on the floor, check all the connections first before you panic. But if the puddles are more like lakes, you might need to call for a repair person or even start looking for a new machine.
And whatever you do, don't just ignore leaks – water damage from leaking washing machines isn't generally covered by home and contents insurance if it occurred slowly and over a long period of time.
5. It's staining your clothes
You might not realise that the washing machine drum is rusty until you start seeing rust stains on your clothes.
There are many things that can cause rust spots in your washing machine, including damage to the drum, but even leaving damp laundry in the machine can cause rusting (not to mention an unpleasant smell!).
No matter what you see on social media, don't use highly caustic cleaners such as dishwashing tablets to clean your washing machine – they're really bad for your machine's insides. Not only can they degrade the hoses and seals, but they can also lead to rusting.
"Surface rust should be easy enough to get rid of with another wash cycle or two, but if you keep getting rust stains on clothes, then your machine's pretty much done for," says Ashley.
"Also, if you live in a coastal area or keep your machine outside, then the housing may also rust. This won't affect your clothes, but it could pose a tetanus risk, and if it gets really bad, potentially impact the structural integrity of your machine."
6. It's no longer right for your situation
If you used to wash just one person's barely dirty clothes once a week, but now you have a partner and triplets creating a small laundry mountain each day, it may be time to buy a new machine. Or maybe the kids have taken up soccer and you've been 'volunteered' to wash all the uniforms. Perhaps your household has reduced in size and you don't need such a large machine any more.
Front loaders tend to cost more, but are cheaper to run and generally use less water. They're more space-efficient, too, as you can fit them under a bench or put a dryer on top of them. On the downside, they do tend to have longer wash cycles and louder spin cycles, which might be a consideration if you need to limit noise.
Top loaders are generally cheaper to buy and weigh less than front loaders, but they cost more to run (particularly if you wash in warm water) and use more water. They're easier to load and unload, so could be a good option as you age or if you have mobility issues.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.