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How to clean your washing machine

Washing machine and damaged electric heater

Almost one in five Brits never clean their washing machine, putting them at risk of bacteria such as E. coli and Staphylococcus aureus, a recent survey by Glotech repairs has found. The problem is compounded by liquid detergents and low temperature washes. Of course, low temperature washes are better for the environment as they use less energy.

But more people are realising that it pays to care for your washing machine and there is now a big growth in dedicated 'washing machine cleaners'.

But don't take everything at face value. Our lab technicians have tested the acidity of a new Washing Machine Cleaner that's recently been launched from a big brand. One of its claims is 'Limescale Removal' yet the acid is so weak it will have negligible effect....but limescale can't be seen in the machine! Citric acid has 10x the acidity in the wash drum.

There are many posts on the internet about using bicarbonate of soda and white vinegar, but this ISN'T the best way. Any GCSE Chemistry student will tell you that the alkali and the acid will cancel each other out.

There are two particular tasks required to keep your washing machine in good health:

  • Cleaning - Low temperature washes and liquid detergents in particular aren't always effective at removing build up. This encourages the growth of bacteria, with the resultant odour.
  • Limescale Removal - Mineral deposits can build up on internal components, particularly the heating element. Limescale reduces the efficiency of your machine and may reduce its service life.

We advise the following for a trouble free washing machine:

Every wash

Add Soda Crystals to every wash. Use the soft water dose of your regular detergent and make up the difference in Soda Crystals. You can even use Liquid Soap (formerly Liquid Soap Flakes) instead of your usual powder/liquid detergent. Particularly useful if you have a baby or people with sensitive skin in your family. Liquid Soap is also recommended for cleaning delicate and waterproof clothing.

Use the following amounts of Soda Crystals, depending on your water hardness:

  • Medium - 50g
  • Hard - 75g
  • Very Hard - 100g

Obviously put the crystals in the drum if you put the liquid in the drawer, or vice versa.

Soda Crystals soften the water to help prevent limescale building up on internal surfaces. It also helps with the cleaning of your laundry. For tough stains, use Soda Crystals Laundry Boost. It also helps flush out residual detergent and grime. All three can act as a breeding ground for bacteria, which cause the smell.

You can also use white vinegar in place of conditioner. This also helps keep the machine clean and free of limescale. 

Monthly

Run an empty hot wash of 500g of Soda Crystals, placed in the main drum, to eliminate gunk and clean out any bacteria. If you've not done this before, it may take more than one cycle. If the smell gets worse or you see black bits, it's a sign that the gunk has been lifted and needs flushing out. Hence the need for a second run with Soda Crystals.

Use White Vinegar to clean the detergent drawer and door seals, where bacteria and fungus can accumulate.
Here's a video showing you how to clean your washing machine.

Remove limescale from your washing machine by adding Citric Acid

If you live in a hard water area

If you have hard water, you can alternate your monthly maintenance clean by using Citric Acid instead of Soda Crystals. Although if you have exceptionally hard water, you may want to carry out these maintenance washes fortnightly.

On alternate months, run an empty hot wash with a box (250g) of citric acid to remove limescale. Not only does limescale build up mean higher energy bills, it can cause corrosion of the heating element. It also can provide a breeding ground for bacteria.

These simple steps will help keep your machine clean, odour and limescale free.

Cleaning Dishwashers

We are often asked if Soda Crystals are suitable for cleaning your dishwasher. Other than cleaning the hinges at the bottom that get gunked up, it's best to use Citric Acid or White Vinegar. Here are the instructions on how to clean your dishwasher.

32 thoughts on “How to clean your washing machine

  1. Hi can i use sugar soap to clean out a 3yr old LG washer /dryer ? As all my washing smells lately & black bits in drum . Sugar soap is sll i have in house thanx jeni

    1. Sorry Jeni – we wouldn’t know about that as it’s not a product we do. Soda Crystals will definitely help though.

    1. Hi Tracey – try white vinegar, preferably the Extra Strength version, or some citric acid (dissolved in a bit of hard water). Leave to ‘soak’ for 5 minutes before wiping with a cloth. You could even try Soda Crystals Laundry Boost because that has added oxygen bleach.

    1. Hi Sam – no, it wouldn’t be as effective and FAR less economical. Liquid Soda Crystals are ideal for cleaning and treating laundry stains whereas Soda Crystals soften water and have LOADS of other uses.

    1. Hi Amanda – we are unable to comment on other suppliers’ products as we cam’t say what else is in the product. The reason our white vinegar is so useful for cleaning is that it’s simply diluted acetic acid, so there are no other ingredients that could leave residue or cause smearing on surfaces. Plus the trigger spray makes it very convenient in use. As it’s available on most high streets, it shouldn’t be difficult to find. Here are details of where to buy white vinegar.

  2. Hello

    Can I put soda crystals and vinegar into washing machines/dishwashers at the SAME time to clean them? Or will this cause a fizzy reaction/mess and damage my machines?

    Thanks!

    1. Not in the drum or main wash at the same time. Use Soda Crystals in the main wash to soften water and tackle stains/dirt grease. Use white vinegar in place of fabcon. This enters the wash chamber at a later stage to provide a rinse. Of course it also helps remove any limescale on pipes and internal surfaces.

  3. My washing machine drum has plastic strips to agitate the wash load. If i use citric acid to descale the machine will these parts be affected?

    1. Hi there – no, it’s perfectly fine. This chart shows how various plastics are affected by different chemicals. Citric acid has one of the best profiles.

  4. Interesting article.

    I buy Dri-Pak Soda Crystals to clean our teapots. Despite the suggested laundry use on the packaging, I feared it was caustic and might damage clothes. I realise now it just softens hard water, which we have.

    The Dri-Pak Soda Crystals packet carries a warning on the back which says “Do not use Soda Crystals (aka Washing Soda) in contact with aluminium.” Does this refer to the dry crystals or when they’re in solution?

    Our washing machine catastrophically failed recently and local repair engineer mentioned the possibility of the spider bracket and/or bearing failure. While looking for a new machine I discovered that the spider bracket is made of cast aluminium (the spider bracket is attached to the back of the stainless steel wash drum and from this bracket protrudes a steel shaft that fits through a seal and locates into two bearings). Will a cast aluminium spider bracket be affected by Dri-Pak Soda Crystals added to a wash?

    There are many videos on YouTube showing spider brackets that look as if they’ve just rotted away. Our repair engineer said he suspected liquid detergents are clinging to internal components that may accelerate corrosion. Why isn’t the spider bracket made from cast stainless steel, which wouldn’t rot? While reviewing new washing machines, I was unable to find one that boasted a cast stainless steel spider. Why? Because of this issue I’ve opted for the cheapest Bosch washing machine. What’s the point of spending a lot £600-1,500 on a machine when they can fail this way? Bosch are promising stock of spare parts for at least 10 years. If your washing machine starts to make a loud noise when spinning or if there is lateral movement of the drum near the door seal, it’s likely the bearings have failed. Bearings can be replaced – http://tinyurl.com/hy6w2fe n

    Could Dri-Pak’s Citric Acid cause a cast aluminium spider bracket to dissolve? Could Dri-Pak test this?

    1. Hi John – the use of Soda Crystals in the washing machine will be no more of a risk than any detergent; soda crystals are simply a mild alkali, as are washing powders. We sell millions of bags a year and have never had a complaint of this nature. In contrast, the only comments that we have had re: washing machine service engineers is that they can tell when a customer has been using Soda Crystals, because of the healthy state of the element and the cleanliness of internal pipes etc. Although we are not directly involved with any washing machine manufacturers, it would appear that even if the spider bracket was an issue, then the chances are that other components will have failed long before then. I would say that the manufacturers are best placed to advise.

  5. hi ive tried cleaning with this product plus another machine cleaner and still get a foul smell when the water drains away?? Do u know wot else i can do or use. Thanks

    1. What other cleaner did you use?

      Don’t be disheartened by the smell, if it has got worse, that’s a good indication that it IS working. If you’ve not done it before and not been using Soda Crystals in each wash, it’s a sign that the gunk is being dislodged. You just need to keep at it until the smell goes.

      First of all, check that the drain filter (usually bottom right) isn’t blocked, then follow these instructions.
      You could also give this a try.

  6. My washing machine uses cold water only. Can Soda Crystals and citric acid remove the foul smell from the door rim?
    Thanks.

  7. I use Aerial 3 in 1 pods in the drum of the washing machine. Where do I put the soda crystals? What amount should I use?

    1. Simply use the quantity of your usual detergent as per the ‘soft water’dose and then make up the rest in Soda Crystals for your relevant water hardness ie moderate or hard. If you are unsure of your hardness, it’s ok to base it on hard water as you can’t really use too much Soda Crystals. As well as softening the water, it will be helping keep the machine clean.

  8. I have run my washing machine with soda crystals hot wash. I have ordered citric acid at Wilkos they couldn’t find them and have reordered still waiting 4 weeks.

    Please could you state the amount of soda crystals to put in the washer for normal load 3-4k in soft water?
    Yours sincerely
    A L Sharp

    1. Simply use the quantity of your usual detergent as per the ‘soft water’dose and then make up the rest in Soda Crystals for your relevant water hardness ie moderate or hard. If you are unsure of your hardness, it’s ok to base it on hard water as you can’t really use too much Soda Crystals. As well as softening the water, it will be helping keep the machine clean.

      With regard to citric acid at Wilko, if your local store doesn’t stock citric acid routinely then there should be no problem getting it in a couple of days delivered to the store. Have you tried the ‘click & collect’ on the website? You only pay when you collect it in store.

    1. If you are using powder detergent, simply use the soft water dosage and add the Soda Crystals directly to it, making up the amount to the relevant hardness.

    1. If you are adding them as part of a routine wash, you can put them in the main detergent slot with your other powder (you will be able to follow the ‘soft water’ dose if you have ‘medium’ or ‘hard’ water) or you can put them in the drum. Obviously don’t mix Soda Crystals in the drawer if you are using a liquid detergent.

      If you are doing a maintenance/cleaning wash (with an empty load), put them directly into the drum.

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