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How To Clean a Washing Machine

An article advising on how to clean a washing machine.

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We use tank water in the washing machine and the F&P top loader we bought in 2004 has never been cleaned (with exception of the outside with a warm water to remove dust) and internals are still in good condition/clean and continues to work well (touch wood).

The only thing is a little panel rust at the bottom of the external cover.

I can see that seals on the front loader would need maintenance, but the drum? Maybe it is a marketing ploy to get us to buy yet another specialised cleaning product we potentially don’t really need.

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Our Front loader (FL) has a tub clean cycle we try to run regularly. This just requires water and if we miss doing it for too long the amount of foam during the wash can be quite spectacular. Most FL these days have a tub clean cycle and it is worth using every couple of weeks if a heavy washing family, if less use then every month or so is probably ok. This cycle fills the tub with more water than normal and ensures that a lot of powder, and lint build up that can stick to the drum and tub walls is removed.

Some of the stuff suggested in the article seemed about buying something but they did offer the vinegar one (don’t bother with the bicarb or as they call it baking soda) and this will react with the alkaline washing salts left behind and help remove them. The door open stuff on a FL whether it has a magnet to do it or not is sensible. You don’t need to buy something though just leave the door ajar.

If someone is worried about a dirty seal just wipe it over with a moist microfibre or similar cloth to remove the dirt. I don’t know that I would go scrubbing it with a brush though as that may be too abrasive and help to wear the seal out sooner than needful.

If you can access the pump cover (usually behind a flap near the bottom of the front section and also nearby is typically the emergency drain hose) the occasional opening it up and checking for small objects eg coins, paperclips is not a bad idea (there will be water so lay an old towel or rags down to avoid water on the floor).

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This is most definitely not a marketing ploy to sell more cleaning products.

You need to be aware of the fact that over time mineral salts build up inside your washing machine, just as a coffee maker, steam iron or electric kettle needs period descaling so does your washer. In hard water areas this needs to done more frequently.

Nasty deposits of mould/mildew and odor causing bacteria can become entrenched if your machine isn’t cleaned periodically.

Fabric softeners will eventually cause a build of greasy residue under the wash drum, inside pump and many other areas.

Your washer may look sparkling clean when you open the door, but videos on YouTube show dismantled washing machines and detail the sheer amount of this disgusting filth that accrues after long periods of time when no washing machine cleaning is periodically done.

If left to build up for long periods of time these types of residue and muck can cause nasty foul odors in your machine and effect the efficiency of your washer as the circulation of water and detergent is adversely impacted over time.

If you are skeptical in regards to my advice, then perhaps you may more inclined to believe the guidelines issued by washing machine manufacturers.

My Simpson front loading washer instructions advise using the “Tub Cleaning Cycle” monthly.

If you still not convinced, please note that when I had a repairman service my washing machine he quite specifically advised me to perform regular washing machine cleaning with one of the washing machine cleaning products now available in supermarkets.

In a pinch he said that if I could not get a washing machine cleaner that using “Finish Dishwasher CLEANER” would do the job if dissolved in very hot water and left in the machine over night, then run the washing machine on the hottest, longest heavy duty wash cycle that it can perform.

NOTE: DO NOT USE Dishwasher Detergent/Tablets to clean your washer as the high Alkalinity levels may have detrimental effects on your washer.

The “Finish Dishwasher CLEANER” and Washing Maching Cleansers are usually based upon Citric Acid and detergent and are specifically formulated to safely dissolve and remove these residues.

If not cleaned for some time or being cleaned for the first time he advised several repeat deep cleanings would be needed to rid your machine of this type of residue.

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Never used fabric softeners. Even Choice questions their value.

None of these either. Using rainwater, naturally low in total dissolved soluble solids/salts, means no lasting residues from the watet.

Sparkling clean everywhere for our top loader, except where there is rust on the outside housing/cover.

The water pump was removed about 12 months ago due to a lost bra wire being caught in the pump (Yourube showed how easy if could be removed and checked from a top load F&P machine)…it along with connecting hoses were all clean after about 13 years of use…including heavy use during a nappy period where modern cloth nappies were washed every 1-2 days for 2-3 years.

The orginal user manual suggested setting a hot wash every 12 months if needed. It is only needed if noticable deposits occur within the drum area. I have removed the agitator several times to check the condition at the base of the drum and always clean and deposit free.

Many Youtube videos are non-Australian and possibly from machines subject to continual use with high total dissolved solid water and possibly detergents with fillers (which were removed from Australian detergents about 15-20 years ago). Maybe Adelaide is the only city with potentially high TDS water…other cities have low TDS reticulated water. If one lived rurally using high TDS, this could be different as well.

In Europe they sell salts for use in washing machines which is different to Australia. It ahows that water qyality can affect machine deposits.

I should also say that we often soak loads overnight which is a good way to form deposits in a machine…and still not evidence of any deposits when using rain water.

One shouldn’t beleive Youtube as there are many videos either not relevant to Auatralian conditions. We have been to many places (e.g. Santiago in Chile) where water is very high in TDS and a video from there may indicate problems. Same with Europe…the water quality if very different to Australia.

Marketing information is often very convincing and easy to believe the information provided. Our experience is the proof is in the pudding.

This is our experience based on our water quality, detergents used machine use (always cold water). Others may get different results based on differences with these factors.

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A closer to home overview than from the US.

From my LG front loader manual. Note the reference to Calgon (a popular USA water softener). I followed up and LG referenced ‘any similar product’ without recommending any. For context when I lived in Houston TX USA the water had so much calcium/minerals a water heater would fill with it as it settled and hardened; a decade was an exceptional life. They got heavy with the build up and small leaks would often self-seal after a few months. A not so amusing event was (many are installed in ceiling cavities there) when they unceremoniously fell through the ceiling from the weight and shonky construction underneath. You can imagine how washing machine internals fared, noting the US remains generally welded to large top loaders and softeners.

Here my water service is 20 years old and counting and if a leak is not tended to it will only get worse since the water quality is so good.

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It comes down to risk management. One can play the game or not.

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Hi, any suggestions as to how to clean when on limited water?

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Yes in the final rinse of a normal wash with clothes etc use a small amount of white vinegar eg tablespoon or so every wash, just put it in where you normally add softener (you know you shouldn’t use softener :slight_smile:) . It will help neutralise any soap powder residue left behind in clothes and if used each wash will help keep build up under control. Or just make a Tub Clean cycle a less frequent one and add a cup or two of vinegar to the wash cycle when that tub clean is on. If you have areas you want to water run the waste water hose outside to those areas by adding an extension hose (example of one https://www.bunnings.com.au/kinetic-4-1m-grey-pvc-washing-machine-and-dishwasher-outlet-drain-expandable-hose_p4920263) or to a drum so it can be used on the areas.

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Thank you, I will try the vinegar in each load. We are on tank water in a severely drought declared area so no spare drops of water.

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Saving your washing water to a drum or tank may be a way to help keep some favoured plants alive even if it is only the final rinse water. It means keeping an eye of what stage the wash is at though if you intend to just save the rinse water. If you decide to use an extension hose be careful it doesn’t create a siphon effect so that it continues to drain the machine. The vinegar should work very well and it shouldn’t add a smell to the clothes if you keep it to one or two tablespoons.

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The water from the rinse cycle can be used for the next wash cycle, if one has the capacity to do such…easier with a top loader where a washing machine can usually be manually filled. This can cut washing water use considerably.

If this is done regularly using the wash water, one should also consider applying gypsum (calcium sulfate) in the same area as the irrigated wash water. The surfactants in washing powder and liquids contains sodium which over time can impact on the physical properties of the soil. Gypsum, the calcium part, will help correct this while not changing the soil pH.

Also, wash water isn’t recommended for acid loving plants as it is alkaline and may impact on the growth of such plants.

This sheet has additional information which may be useful…

While is is from the US, it is also applicable here. There are alsonsome state governments which also have information, like that of the Victorian government…

If you live in a sewer plumbed or urban area, also check with your local authority to see if they have any special requirements for grey water use.

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Our older washing machines had a suds saver option that did exactly that using the laundry tub as a reservoir. No need to manually return the rinse water.

The feature has not carried over to front loaders. I have not seen a recent top loader with the feature either.

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In research for an upcoming article we’ve come across talk of using dishwasher detergent in your washing machine to clean out detergent residue. We wouldn’t recommend this as the high alkalinity of the detergent could potentially damage the seals and hose linings in your washing machine, but in the name of science we tried it in our 20 year old staff washing machine here and, judging from the amount of residue that came out of it, it seems to work (unless that residue was just the lining from the hoses and pipes inside).
I’d be curious to know if anyone else has heard about doing this, or if you’ve tried it, what were your results?

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Got you, chuckles! How many times have we read about upgrading to more water efficient power efficient washing machines? How many washing machines get tested and offered to staff or otherwise disposed of at Choice?

Was trying the dishwasher detergent a go at causing it to give up the ghost so it could be replaced? 20 years for staff use? Obviously a quality reliable product! But the efficiency. The efficiency! :laughing:

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It’s a tough one, and the same with cars - ‘upgrading’ to a new model usually means better performance and more efficiency. However, when you factor in the energy and resources used to manufacture that new car or washing machine, we’re generally better off persevering with the older, albeit less efficient, one for longer. That’s why we’re so keen on the idea of repairability and longevity, not to mention recyclability at end of life.

How many washing machines get tested and offered to staff or otherwise disposed of at Choice?

Plenty - we test up to 40 washing machines a year, and because we buy these outright, anonymously at retail, we then offer them for sale to staff after the testing - this allows us to recoup some of the costs of testing - it’s our members’ money we’re using to buy them after all - helping keep the cost of membership manageable. We also have a relationship with WAGEC, the Women and Girls’ Emergency Centre and, while staff get first right of refusal, we donate a substantial number of washing machines and other appliances to WAGEC to help people in a difficult situation get back on their feet.

Was trying the dishwasher detergent a go at causing it to give up the ghost so it could be replaced?

Ha ha, not really - we love our old washing machine and there would probably be a mutiny here if anything were to happen to it. We’ve even taught it to play the national anthem: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GDMEF-aTzh8
But yes, part of the reason we tested it on that one was because it was so old - not that we want to replace it, but because if we did break it, we’ve certainly got our money’s worth out of it, and yes, then we could replace it with a newer, more efficient model.

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Hi,

In a previous posting I quite specifically mentioned that I was advised by a washing machine repair technician that “Finish Dishwasher CLEANER” could be used to clean out residues from a washing machine.

I should have made it clear that it was the product made for cleaning out the residues in your dishwasher.

These type of products are usually based on Citric Acid and a detergent and are specifically formulated to safely dissolve and remove these residues.

I have heard of people using Dishwasher Detergent/Tablets to clean washing machines, but I am also concerned about the possible detrimental effects of the high alkalinity levels in these products.

Please Note: I will edit my original posting and make it clear that only the Dishwasher Cleaner products can be used in place of a Washing Machine Cleanser.

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With respect to internal cleaning of washing machines. Washing machines rely on an alkaline based detergent that semi dissolves fats, oils and grime from our clothes, keeps them in suspension and allows them to be flushed. In doing this over time there is a deposition of compounds combined with residual detergent that can become lodged behind the drum and in areas where there is less flushing ability. The internal, visible parts of the machine, like the bowl often appear clean due to the abrasive action of the clothes. Thus we think the machine is “clean”. The problem can lie in the hidden areas. Now days we are using less detergent and cold wash cycles meaning a potential for deposits. For households that use water with a high level of hardness there can be an additional build up of water hardness salts.
As far as I can remember manufacturers have recommended that their machines get an internal chemical clean about every 6-12 months. Service guys recommend a cupful of washing soda put through on a hot cycle. This makes technical sense to me because this is a mildly alkaline cleaner which will act on fat based deposits. The high temperature aids the saponification reaction thereby potentially loosening the build up and allowing it to be flushed.
I would be sceptical about using vinegar. It is a weak acid (acetic) and when the bowl is filled it would be diluted to close to a neutral Ph. Meaning it would lose its reactive ability to somewhat similar to using tap water. Acids need to have a low Ph to do their job.
Some proprietary compounds (and those mentioned in this chat) could work. Remember all the claims for WD40! But if you have one of those expensive machines and are worried about longevity or warranty then always check with the manufacturer. They may remove gunk but all machines rely on specifically formulated rubber seals that keep the water from escaping into the air and if they get compromised it becomes an expensive exercise.

I have semi-dismantled our machine as there was a bar wire caught in the water pump which resulted in the machine stopping mid-cycle. This happened more than a decade after use and the pump, hoses and visual internal working were all residue free.

In relation to our F&P machine (which I have managed to find), the manual says the following:

Cleaning the Inside of Your Smart Drive®
If you use fabric softener or do regular cold water washing, it is important that you occasionally
clean the inside of your machine.

  • Fill your machine with hot water. Add about two cups of a powdered detergent that contains
    phosphate.
  • Let it agitate for 10-15 minutes.
  • Stop the machine, open the lid, and leave it to soak overnight.
  • After soaking, drain the machine and run the machine through a regular cycle.

We do not recommend that you wash clothes during this procedure.

Being a top loader, we often load the machine, fill it with cold tank water and allow the clothes to soak overnight…with the wash cycle completed the following morning. Allowing the machine to sit there full with detergent may also have a positive effect as the enzymes in the detergent have the potential to keep the machine clean. While we don’t use hot water (we have used warm water when clothes have been extra dirty), this is similar to the soaking recommended by F&P…albeit being done cold and for a normal wash.

I should also say we use the water saver mode which has cycles of pulsing rinse water and spinning the wash rather than a full rinse bowl fill. I expect this would potentially encourage deposits as there is risk that all residues from the wash were not removed. Even so, still no deposits.

I put it also down to the rain water used in the washing machine as it is low in total dissolved salts (such as calcium or magnesium salts often present in reticulated water) which cause the buildup in water pipes. I think that if we used town water, there may be greater risks of deposits within the machine requiring removal through special cycles.

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Another article regarding cleaning your washing machine with a tip not recommended by Choice.