Clothes Washer Maintenance

by Meg G.

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I just had a visit from our clothes washer repairman. Thankfully my machine was under maintenance or I would have shelled $108 out for the cleaning! Now that I was taught how to perform this maintenance on my own, I don't anticipate another call to the repairman. The repairman gave me several tips that will not only save you the cost of a repairman, but will save you energy, detergent, and clothes replacement costs as well.

  1. When washing lightweight clothes always make sure the tub is full to the proper level and never wash on the highest agitation. The higher the agitation, the more suction created. This will cause the clothes to become lodged under the agitator. The highest agitation is only needed for extremely soiled things such as greasy work clothes.

  2. Never use more than 1/2 of the provided cup of laundry detergent. Use 1/4 cup for smaller loads.

  3. Thoroughly clean the residue from inside your machine. Because most detergents are made from animal fat they will cause a residue inside your machine tub. This residue is caused from using too much detergent. In turn, this will cause an odor in the machine and in your clothes, and will not allow 100% of the detergent to be removed from your clothing. The problem of too much detergent continues to build upon itself. If it's been awhile since your machine has been professionally cleaned, it's easy to do at home. First, you must unplug the machine. You can remove the outer shell of the machine with a screwdriver bit on your drill. This will show the actual washing tub (the part between the internal porcelain tub and the shell). The tub in my machine is plastic. Along the top few inches of the outer tub you will most likely find a dark residue, this is the result of too much detergent and not cleaning your machine often enough. You can remove this with a toilet brush. After doing this, run an empty cycle (hot water, full water level) on high agitation through the machine. Make sure to thoroughly dry your hands and all surfaces before plugging the machine back in. If you are uncomfortable with this, call a professional. If you continue with the monthly cleaning as stated below, you shouldn't have to repeat this procedure more than every 1-2 years.

  4. Use a baking soda-based detergent. These are available in health food stores and cost about the same, or less than, the typical high quality detergent. Due to skin allergies, I have been washing my kid's clothes in Ecos brand baking soda-based detergent for about a year now and am going to switch for all our clothes. Note that the soda detergents don't create many suds, but be assured your clothes will be clean. This detergent will also make your clothes much whiter than typical detergents.

  5. Perform a monthly or bimonthly cleaning of your machine. Run an empty load with a full water level on a hot wash/rinse cycle through the machine. Add a cup of vinegar and 1/4 cup baking soda while agitating. Watch the cycle and stop as soon as the water begins to drain. Advance the machine to spin so it will spin and drain at the same time. When the cycle is complete, take a damp towel and wipe the residue away from the inside of the tub. Follow this with a full cycle of cold water and high agitation.

  6. Most minimally soiled clothes need only 6-8 minutes of agitation, more than this can cause excessive damage to your clothes. I don't know about you, but I had been setting my machine to the maximum (14 minutes per load). This will save me 7 minutes of energy per load! If you have a large family like me and do 3 loads of laundry per day, this will really add up over a year!

  7. As for our dryer, the repairman said the biggest way to save energy costs and be assured your clothes are properly dried is to make sure your vents are always open. The best way to test this is to remove your lint trap and begin a drying cycle. Take a 1-2" piece of lint and hold it over the vent. When you let go the lint should be sucked into the vent. If the lint is pulled slowly instead of being sucked in the vent is clogged. If the lint is kicked back out of the vent, it's clogged completely and needs immediate cleaning. This will also help to lower your risk of a lint fire. Another hint that your vents are clogged is when it takes more than one cycle to dry a load, or your auto-drying setting (if your machine has it) seems to be taking longer than usual. The repairman stated that his most common call on dryers is from people who are experiencing long drying cycles, the cure to which is almost always cleaning the vent. This particular company (a major department store with their own repair service) charges $216 just to come and diagnose a clogged vent. He suggested every 3 months or so I should disconnect the dryer venting and shake it out, and to replace the venting every 2-3 years.

These suggestions won't cost you anything but a small amount of time, and will save you hundreds in repair calls, detergent costs, energy costs, and clothing replacement!

"My Story" is a regular feature of The Dollar Stretcher. If you have a story that could help save time or money please send it to

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