Using the washing machine (part 2)
Advice and tips related to the actual usage of washing machines
- Washing machine smells - what are the causes of grease, slime & black mould in washing machines?
- Is it safe to leave the washing machine on while I'm out or in bed?
- Should I turn off the water taps when the washing machine is not in use?
Washing machine smells - causes of grease, slime and black mould inside washing machines
Many people use 40 degrees washes almost exclusively these days and the current trend is to use even lower temperatures to save energy ( Do you save as much as you think? Washing at 30 degrees ). Remember that a non-biological powder, doesn't work as well at lower temperatures so washing at low temperatures requires biological detergent for best results. It's also worth noting that bed bugs (or their eggs) are reported to be able to survive washing at lower temperatures and therefore it is recommended that bedding sheets should be washed at 60 degrees ( Related Whitegoodshelp Blog article: Bed bugs don't drown in the washing machine - but at least they get cleaned )
Also, (as mentioned in detail later) a regular 90 degrees maintenance wash is needed.
Washing machines now commonly suffer from a build up of a greasy deposit and bacteria that causes bad smells, rots hoses & door gaskets and blocks the pressure system causing overfilling or spin failure. An even more serious consequence of this problem is that the aluminium based drum spiders can be corroded by this grease and in serious cases can cause one or more arms to break. This is often fatal to the washing machine.
This fault was not prevalent before the 1980s when detergents started to become more environmentally "friendly" and before liquid detergents were invented. It seems that the problem is worse when a combination of factors are involved, but almost everyone suffering the worst cases of this slimy grease uses 40 degrees washes almost exclusively. This, combined with poor quality detergents, or not using the recommended quantities, or using colour-friendly detergents that contain no bleach (allowing bacteria to thrive) can seriously rot a washing machine inside.
Here's an example of the level of gunge that can build up inside a washing machine.
If you were to wash greasy plates in a plastic washing up bowl with the water at 40 degrees you would expect the plates to come clean but when emptying the bowl there is likely to be a greasy film coating it. To break down grease you need higher temperatures. Washing the same plates at 60 degrees or higher I would expect the grease to be dissolved more effectively.
Washing machine manufacturers now recommend a maintenance wash once a month.
Washing machine repairmen like myself have been recommending a maintenance (or service) wash for about 15 years. Washing machine manufacturers have eventually decided to endorse the advice by also advising it in their instruction books. This is particularly important if you mostly use low temperature washes and (or) liquid detergent, and other washing machine detergent without bleaching agents such as colour friendly detergent.
A service (or maintenance) wash involves putting the washing machine on the hottest wash with only the detergent inside - and no laundry. If you normally use a washing machine detergent that doesn't contain bleach such as liquid detergent or colour friendly detergent), then buy some detergent that does, and use it for your maintenance washes. This will help kill off bacteria and prevent black mould and grease. Tip: Look for something like, "bleaching agents" in the ingredients. Another recommendation worth trying is to do the maintenance wash with biological powder detergent.
Don't put chemical cleaning bleach in the washing machine, there are certain types of bleach (eg. oxygen bleach) that are appropriate for laundry.
Another idea is to use some soda crystals, which are renowned for dissolving grease, and pour them into the drum. Put the washing machine on with no clothes in on a hot wash.
To check if your washing machine is being badly affected, carefully examine the inside of the door seal for slime and grease. Pull the lip in front of the drum and look underneath on lip of the tub. If it's a Hoover Classic, Soft Wave or New Wave, it will have a large section that can be lifted to inspect underneath which (due to the poor design) can accumulate grease and slime, which causes smells, and rots the seal (see photo above).
Washing machine smells
Washing machine smells can be caused by a build up of grease (see above). They can also be caused by chemicals or substances introduced from the laundry, or by plumbing without a proper u-bend water trap. A u-bend is required to hold water that acts as a barrier to smells getting from the drains back into the house. Make sure your washing machine doesn't pump into a drain pipe that has a direct run to a drain without some sort of u-bend.
To get rid of stubborn washing machine smells that remain even after one or two service washes, try pouring a cup full of distilled white vinegar into the soap dispenser drawer while it is filling up on a hot wash. Don't put any washing in, just let the machine go through the full cycle. Repeat if necessary. This is a well known tip, distilled white vinegar has some amazing properties. More DIY repair advice - Washing machine smells (gives off bad odour)
Removing black mould on door seal and soap dispenser
Black mould can grow in washing machines. It mostly grows on the door seal and in the soap dispenser. On the soap dispenser it can divert jets of water to the front and cause water to leak from the soap drawer. Check the top of the dispenser compartment where the water comes in and use an old toothbrush or something similarly suitable to remove it.
Black mould is known to release spores and there are known health hazards with black mould such as allergies and some illnesses although as it's so damp in a washing machine it's possible the spores don't get released so easily unless scrubbing them. You may be able to scrub lightly affected areas of the door seal with a scourer or old toothbrush etc. and something like Jiff. To be on the safe side you should wear goggles and a mask when dealing with black mould.
It may be worth trying a black mould remover available from supermarkets but read the instructions to make sure it is safe to use on rubber if intending to use it on the door seal. If badly affected - the only way to get rid of it - is to replace the door seal.
What causes black mould in washing machines?
Using mostly low temperature washes, and using washing machine detergent that doesn't contain bleach causes black mould, which thrive in warm moist places. Bleach in washing machine detergents (plus high temperatures) kills bacteria that can otherwise multiply inside a washing machine. Many "colour-friendly" detergents and liquid detergents do not have any bleach in them which is why they are "friendly" to coloured garments.
To prevent, or try to get rid of, black mould in washing machines, put the washing machine on a monthly boil wash using detergent that contains bleach, and with no laundry in. If you normally use biological or liquid detergent, buy some normal detergent containing bleach and keep it just for the maintenance wash.
Also, leave the washing machine door open after washing to let it dry out. If the washing machine is in a place where it's exposed to warm moisture such as in a steamy kitchen then you may need to actually dry out the drum and door seal manually and leave the door closed. At the end of the day mould needs moisture and warmth to grow.
Related information: I have also written a Blog article on my Whitegoodshelp.co.uk site - Black jelly-like substance in soap dispenser and on soap drawer which looks at what causes the black jelly-like slime on washing machine soap dispensers and how to prevent and deal with it.
Is it safe to leave the washing machine on while I'm out or in bed?
Many washing machines now come with delayed start features. This shows the manufacturers are happy for the washing machine to be used totally unattended. However, cases of washing machines (and other white goods such as dishwashers and tumble dryers) catching fire still occur. Government fire safety advice is to not to leave white goods unattended.
- Always at least have a smoke alarm fitted near to the washing machine (or other white goods appliance) if it is left on and unattended. However, this could be impractical if they are in a kitchen due to the nuisance alarms from cooking
- The Trading Standards site has an excellent list of safety related product recalls which covers virtually all appliances in the home. It's well worth book-marking and checking regularly as it covers all safety issues on all consumer goods - even food
Some old washing machines (at least over 10 years) have no protection against overheating. If the timer or thermostat fails, it can boil the water inside. Your clothes could be reduced to pulp and the wallpaper in the kitchen could peel off. The other main risk is flooding. Most washing machines have a third level on the pressure switch (the pressure switch controls the water levels in the machine) This third level switch is supposed to protect against overfilling by energizing the water pump if the water level rises dangerously above normal. This will work fine if the cause of an overfilling machine is a fill valve that has failed to turn off. However, the majority of overfilling machines are caused by a blockage in the pressure system. This safety feature will not work if a blockage stops air entering the pressure tubing. This amounts to having no real overfilling protection at all. Finally flooding could occur through a leak.
Many people like to set their washing machine to come on during the night to use off-peak electricity through economy 7 ( further comment and information on my blog - Economy 7 and white goods ) If you are prepared to risk doing this then make sure you set it to come on as late as possible so that you will be up not long after the machine has finished. If you use an external plug-in timer, then ensure the timer is set to cut off after an hour or so (obviously allowing enough time to complete a cycle) in case of trouble. That way the power will be cut to limit damage should a serious fault occur.
UPDATE: Most modern washing machines are now controlled totally electronically by software built into the main PCB. Such a machine will typically have selector buttons and LCD or LED displays. Some of them may still have control knob selectors, but unlike the old ones, when you turn them they don't click round (no cogs inside) and don't have the same resistance to turn that they used to. Instead they electronically send instructions to the main PCB power module. These washing machines have much better safety protection and will normally abort if they detect over heating for example. The computer style programs they use will time out (causing an abort of the programme and an error code to display or be indicated by flashing lights) if it takes too long to fill, empty or heat the water. They can even abort the programme if the load is unbalanced.
These washing machines are much safer than the old ones, but clearly none are infallible and electrical short circuits or overheating connections could still cause a fire! Fire risks in appliances (Whitegoodshelp Blog article)Go to top of page
Should I turn off the water taps when the washing machine is not in use?
This article has been revised and updated, and moved permanently to my white goods blog here - Should you turn off the water taps when washing machine or dishwasher is not in use?.Go to top of page
More on next column...
Washing machine usage (part 1)
- Am I overloading my washing machine?
- How do I avoid out of balanced loads in my washing machine?
- Washing is still dirty or has marks on it (marks on clothes)
[ Related: Washing machine detergent ]
If you simply want to find a reputable repairman then try this section - Find a reputable washing machine repairer and get advice related to finding a repairer
DIY washing machine repairs advice
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