Gunge & Mould in a Washing Machine

Smells, Grease, Slime and Black Mould

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 30º?.  

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 

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, 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.

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. 

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.

View video showing how to clean washing machines.

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