Why your washing machine might not actually be cleaning your clothes - and how to sort it

Is your washing machine getting your clothes clean? [Photo: Getty]
Is your washing machine getting your clothes clean? [Photo: Getty]

The whole idea of putting something in the washing machine is that it is supposed to come out clean.

So why does it smell so, well, gross when you open the door?

One mum was shocked to find out that the ‘musty’ smell she was getting from her laundry was caused by a hidden area of mould in the washing machine.

“I had noticed my washing smelt a bit musty when I took it out of the machine but couldn’t work out what it was,” the mum, Mel, told Kidspot.

“My ex husband asked me if I had checked the rubber seal around the machine – I pulled apart the seal and it was full of brown sludge.

“It was so disgusting it nearly made me vomit.

“I was horrified that I had been washing mine and my children’s clothes in mould. I had no idea you had to clean out that part of the washing machine.”

After sharing her story on social media Mel was inundated with comments from other parents who’d all discovered hidden mould in their machine.

So what causes a mouldy machine and what can we do about it?

Why do washing machines get mouldy?

Come on fess up, how many of you regularly give your washing machine a scrub? If we’re honest most of us think of the washing machine as being sort of self-cleaning, but in fact there are a couple of areas within the machine where dirt and grime can collect.

One of them, as Mel discovered, is the inner rubber seal around the drum, but that isn’t the only grubby area inside your washing machine.

“One of the biggest enemies of the washing machine is mould and limescale,” explains cleaning expert Roxanna Pelka from Helpling.com. “Limescale in particular is deposited inside the machine and on the heating rods. Mould lurks everywhere: on the rubber ring of a front loader, in the lint filter and in the detergent compartment.”

Hence a grubby washing machine.

Bacteria build-up is also a problem. “The chemicals from detergent and soapy residue create a build up inside the machine that can trap bacteria,” explains Kirstine Penderson of Airtasker.

“As well as starting to smell, the bacteria can clog the inner mechanism meaning your water doesn’t heat up as much and the detergent won’t be as effective. The heat and humidity of the washing machine can also create a breeding ground for bacteria to cultivate and spread.”

Beware the mould in your washing machine [Photo: Getty]
Beware the mould in your washing machine [Photo: Getty]

How do you clean your washing machine?

Kristine says we should try to give our washing machine a thorough clean, inside and out, at least once a month.

We should also get into the habit of wiping the rubber seal with a cloth and a solution of dilluted bleach after every few washes to prevent build-up of mould and bacteria.

Kristine also suggests leaving the machine door and detergent drawer slightly ajar when not in use to allow air to circulate and prevent the growth of bacteria.

“Wipe the detergent compartment regularly with a cloth,” Roxana adds. “Usually you can simply pull it out and clean it in the sink.

“The lint filter should be emptied regularly and then cleaned – vinegar has an antibacterial effect.”

And switching up the temperature of your wash can help keep it germ-free. “Don’t just wash in the 30 degree programme,” Roxana advises. “Organise your laundry so that you wash your towels at 60 degrees at least once a month. Only the hot water in the pipes kills bacteria – instead of growing them.”

Kristine’s step by step guide to keeping your machine sparkling

Front loading machine:-

  1. Add 2 tablespoons of bicarbonate of soda into the detergent draw and 120ml of white vinegar into the washing machine drum.

  2. Run a standard cycle with hot water.

  3. Check the manufacturer’s guidelines on how to clean the filter. Filters are usually a contributing factor to poor washing results in a front loader.

  4. If applicable, remove and clean the soap and fabric softener dispensers in hot soapy water and dry them out in the sun. This will prevent mould from forming and growing.

  5. Leave the machine door ajar between washes to dry out properly and eliminate mould

Top loading machine:-

  1. Mix 2 tbsp of bicarbonate of soda with 480ml of white vinegar.

  2. Run a washing cycle with hot water on the maximum water level setting.

  3. Once the machine is at least half full with water, add the vinegar mixture.

  4. Let the filled water sit in the machine for about 30 minutes then allow your machine to run through its usual cycle.

  5. Before all of the water drains out, use a toothbrush to scrub the holes in the washing machine barrel. The grime will come away easy after being soaked and you will be surprised at what comes out!

  6. The vinegar, bicarb and hot water will break down any grease or dirty patches and clean the hoses.

  7. Remove and clean any parts that can be washed separately, such as the fabric softener basket and lint catcher.

  8. Once the inside is squeaky clean give the outside a once over with some washing liquid and wipe away any accumulated dust.

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