Washing machine troubleshooting

Fix your own washing machine like a pro!

Has your washing machine seen better days?

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 shades of colour where before there was none!

Washing machines, while performing an essential task many days of the week, aren't something we give a lot of thought to usually. But luckily they really aren't that complicated when it comes down to it, with just a few simple problems responsible for most issues you'll come up against. Learn how to deal with them, and you'll save a lot of money on service and call-out fees over the years.

How do you fix an off balance washing machine?

These four simple steps will help keep your machine from loading too heavily on one side:

  • Make sure your machine is level
  • Then, take the time to 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, and
  • 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.

Video: How to clean your washing machine

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 from your washing machine then moving it to a corner of the laundry, where the floor is likely to be more stable may help. Some manufacturers also advise putting a panel underneath the machine so its weight is distributed evenly. Some manufacturers 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?

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.

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' (a technical term, believe it or not!). Scrud is a waxy build-up of fabric softener or detergent in the drum of your washing machine. It's more likely to build up if you only wash in cold water, and (counterintuitively) 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, and
  • 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 mold 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. Mold occurs because more people wash in cold water, which doesn't get rid of mold and washing machine designs can allow water to sit in the seal, promoting mold growth. Keep mold 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 mold deposits on the rubber seals with hot water and detergent
  • Try skipping fabric softener, as there's no real need for it, and
  • Run a hot wash monthly with a full-strength powder detergent.

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 washing machine test results.

Short of drying your towels for hours in a clothes 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, and
  • Take them off the line when still a little damp and finish them off in the dryer.

How do I clean my washing machine?

Many newer washing machines have cleaning cycles built into their programs – some even remind you periodically. At the very least they'll have a description of how to keep your washing machine well-maintained within their manual.

Older machines may not have a built in cleaning program, so here are a few options to maintain a clean machine.

  • Run the hottest wash program on a high water level, every month or so, with a little detergent. This should remove any scrud that's built up in between the inner and outer drums
  • Take your sponge to the inside of the drum if you see any build up. Elbow grease tends to get rid of any build up
  • Some areas need a little finer detail, such as a toothbrush or earbud to remove a build up of detergent in the corners of some plastic fittings, then a wipe over with a sponge, and
  • Don't forget to remove any build up of detergent from the dispensers.

How do I keep my washer in good nick?

These little tips can help you avoid long-term issues with your washing machine.

  • To keep the door seal of a front loader in good condition, leave the door slightly ajar between washes
  • Breakdowns are often caused by loose change and keys, so carefully check and empty clothing pockets before washing
  • Turn jeans or garments you want to protect or preserve the colour of inside out.
  • Use a net bag or pillow case for delicate items
  • Read and follow the instruction labels on all garments before washing, and
  • Wash whites and colours separately.

Time to buy?

Perhaps troubleshooting is just not going to cut it this time. If you're in the market for a new washing machine, don't open your wallet without first checking out our latest test results.

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