Washing machine care — How to make yours last

Washing machine care is something you’ll never hear me complain about. That’s because, when I was a little girl, my mom would wheel our carts of laundry—and my brother and me—down five double flights of stairs and through the city streets on foot to the local laundromat. (I loved the sight of the folded laundry in the cart on the way home!) How much easier daily life would have been for her if she’d had a washing machine in the apartment! 

Most of us appreciate the convenience of having a washing machine in our homes. Happily, it’s an appliance that can last for many years with just a little TLC.

When using your machine, don’t:

• Overload it. This is easy to do, especially when I’m attempting to get “laundry” checked off my to-do list. Tossing in another sock is one thing. Compressing the contents to pack in more bath towels is another. Overfilling is hard on the machine, and your items won’t get cleaned well, either. Too heavy a load can also quickly put the washer off balance.

• Use too much detergent. Follow the manufacturer’s directions for your washing machine care, including detergent use. Too much detergent can stress your machine and leave residue on your clothes. Especially follow directions for using low-sudsing detergent with high-efficiency (HE) washing machines. 

• Leave wet items in the washing machine. I know, you start a load, head out for errands, and they sit there until you’re home hours later—or you forget about them and they sit there until the next day, or whenever you go to do your next load. Try not to make this a habit, though, because those wet clothes can cause mold and mildew to grow, both on the items and in the washing machine.

• Close the door when you’re finished. When a load is finished, leave the door open to let the machine dry out. This will help avoid musty smells. To further help drying, you can take a thick, dry towel and wipe the inside of the machine. (Do this about half an hour after you’ve finished washing for the day, to let some of the moisture air dry first.)

• Be too hard on the knobs. Only turn them in the right direction, and be gentle; they’re kinda sensitive.

• Overuse commercial fabric softeners. Ever notice how fabric softeners can leave a waxy residue (and a not-so-natural scent) on clothing and in the washing machine? Go easy on their use. Better yet, give a natural alternative a try. To soften clothes, I like to simply add about half a cup of vinegar (with a little lavender essential oil diluted in it) to each rinse cycle. I’ve read that about half a cup to a cup of salt works, too, but I haven’t tried it. I’m also planning to make wool dryer balls, using these directions by Shannon over at Alittleinsanity.com

To clean your washing machine:

It seems silly that washing machine care includes having to wash a washing machine. But there are parts that aren’t reached by the water level or that accumulate detergent residue that can lead to mold and mildew. So make it a point to clean the:

• Gasket. That rubber seal around the edges of the washer, in front or on top (depending on what kind of machine you have), can get dirty, gunky, and smelly. It’s a good idea to wipe the gasket after each use with a damp cloth, then dry it. Once a month or so, give it a good scrubbing with some liquid dishwashing detergent and warm water. Rinse with equal parts vinegar and water, and dry well. 

• Inside of the machine. To clean the inside parts of the machine (including hoses and the drum), simply run two empty loads on a hot cycle: one with about half a cup of baking soda, and a second with a couple cups of vinegar. I like to add some essential oil, like lavender, to the vinegar cycle, too. (Some people use tea tree for its disinfecting properties, but I dislike the scent.)  Do this about once a month, and your machine will be squeaky clean on the inside. 

• Outside of the machine. My sweet mother-in-law Helen (who took spectacularly good care of things) used to wax the outside of her washer and dryer. “Like a car,” she explained. I’m not suggesting you wax your machine (unless you feel about it the way some people feel about their cars), but do wash the outside of it when necessary with a mild liquid soap, then rinse and dry it well. And always be careful what you put on the top of your machine—you don’t want to scratch the finish.

• Dispensers. If your machine has detergent and softener dispensers, be sure to wash these out regularly. They can easily accumulate bacteria and toxins. 

• Lint trap. We all (I hope) clean the lint traps on our dryers. Did you know that many washing machines have lint collectors, too? Dirty ones won’t work to collect lint. They’ll also put extra wear on the machine if you don’t keep them clean. Check your manual to find out where yours is. It might be near the top rim of the drum, inside the agitator, or at the end of the hose that drains the water out. Wherever it is, use a soft brush to remove the lint, or—if you can remove the screen—soak it in hot water for 15 minutes or so. Some lint traps are disposable, and you can replace them when clogged. 

Note that high efficiency (HE) washers don’t have lint traps; instead the pump filter removes lint during the wash cycle. When you wash the inside of the machine (as described above), you’ll also be cleaning that out.

To maintain your machine

In addition to keeping your machine clean inside and out, take these steps to keep your machine running well:

• Take care of the hoses. There are three hoses: two inlets and one outlet. Replace them if they’re cracking, bulging, or fraying. Skooch your machine so it’s not too close to the wall (to keep the hoses from bending). 

• Level your machine. Use the levelers on the legs of your washing machine to keep the machine level. Turn clockwise to lower and counterclockwise to raise. If the machine is unbalanced, it can cause internal damage (not to mention that dancing across the floor).

• Pay attention. Get your machine checked out at the first sign (or sound) of trouble. Continuing to run a machine with a minor problem can lead to a major maintenance issue.

One final washing machine care tip for those of you with machines in pretty laundry areas/on nice flooring. To protect the floor under your machine, place a drip pan under the machine. Then if any water leaks out, the pan will catch it and protect your floor.

You might also like: Taking care of your clothes iron

2 thoughts on “Washing machine care — How to make yours last”

  1. This blog entry is timely for me, as I contemplate the purchase of a new washer and dryer. My machines (the first of the Maytag Neptune front load large capacity machines to hit the market, way back when) are still working; however, the gasket on my washer is torn in three places and contains mold which I have not been able to eradicate after lo these many years of buildup. Hence, I can’t get rid of the mildew smell. Ugh. One repairman visit and an exhaustive online search have yielded zilch in terms of replacement parts. There simply are no options for a new gasket for this machine. So, I’m researching and lamenting the fact that my new machines will undoubtedly have a much shorter life span than the hard-working, top-performing ones I must leave behind! Thanks for the tips: I’m definitely going to pay attention to careful maintenance of the gasket for here on.

    • I’ve heard lots of complaints about that mildew smell, Mary. It’s one of the reasons I opted for a top loading machine. What a shame/waste they can’t replace that gasket, though! Enjoy your new machine when it arrives! (I admit to loving new appliances while advocating for the long-haul.:))


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