Sunday, 15 August 2010

Fabulous Things About England #17: Washing Machines and How to get the Mold Out

This is my washing machine.

Like most English washing machines it lives in my kitchen.

I hear that many Americans are moving toward front loading machines. As usual the newfangled in America has long been the old school in Europe. If it's space saving, you can practically guarantee it has been used for eons on this side of the pond. See also dorm fridges, drawer freezers, and most of your flat-pack furniture. Ditto for energy saving. But that is tomorrow's post on dryers.

Back in my days at Indiana University, the powers of the universe replaced all of the top loading machines with front loaders. We were annoyed. At first, this was because the machines also came with higher prices. And with much grumbling and insisting the things were energy saving (really should have been more on board with that but this was before the tech crash of 2000), the powers that be agreed that once the new machines were paid for the extra money would go to some student service or another. I wonder if that actually happened.

My later complaint was that I couldn't open the machines and pull out garments I didn't want to go through the spin cycle or garments that I hadn't meant to put in on a hot wash. When I made those very frequent mistakes, I also couldn't change the temperature of the water by flipping a switch. I shrunk almost all of my jumpers (sweaters) that year. I still think the trustees owe me several woolens.I'm fairly certain the one I suggested that to would be gleeful to know that I now have one of those front loaders in my kitchen.

The problem with front loaders is of course mold. And the problem with front loaders in the land of hard water is limescale. And the problem with front loaders in the land of limescale and mold is the movement toward highly concentrated liquid soap use on thirty degree cycles (86 F, a cool wash). Add an American without a clue to that, and you get some pretty nasty stuff.

How to Avoid Giant Mold Growing Appliance (Or I am not an expert. Call your machine's maker for advice)

  • If you wash your clothing using a liquid detergent at any temperature, you really need to use a water softening tablet as well. And you guessed it, that just ups the miles your detergent travels and the weight of that detergent. Powder and powder tablets already have the the water softener added. Lack of softener in most of England will lead to limescale buildup which will eventually lead to your machine dying. It is more ecologically sound to use an old energy guzzling machine than to buy a new one. And like all machines, machines without buildup are much more energy efficient.
  • Detergents build up. If you don't believe me, run your machine on empty  without adding detergent (on a hot wash because that's the solution to the problem anyway) and watch all of those soap suds in your handy window. See the above problems with limescale, and add to that new detergent not getting through to your clothes and old detergent molding. The solution is to do at least one hot wash a week. Sheets, pants (underwear) and towels should be done on a hot wash anyway. So you don't have to add an extra load every week. And pour a kettle of hot water down the drain pipe now and then. This last isn't a bad idea for all of your drain pipes.
  • Your detergent drawer is made to come out of the machine and be thoroughly scrubbed on a regular basis. I do ours once a month, and it's not enough. It's a good idea to place your detergent directly into the tub rather than into your drawer as this avoids the problem all together. Read your washing detergent instructions and your machine instructions as all of these things are variable. I know you'll do this anyway because as I mentioned at the top, I'm not an expert.
  • When you open the door to your machine, you'll note the rubber seal has many puckers. After each wash, dry the entirety of that seal with a towel. You'll be amazed at how much water gets trapped in there. It will grow mold, impossible to remove mold, if left to its own devices.
  • Leave the door open whenever you're not using the machine. It'll dry it out and keep down the mold and damp (mildew) in the machine. If you have a tendency to close things without noticing, you'll want to place a tea towel (kitchen towel) in between the door and the seal. It'll stop the door from actually shutting.
  • Your machine also has a filter. Clean it once a week. Make sure you have a towel handy when you pull it out of the machine. It's meant to keep your drains from blocking, but it has to be cleaned for that to work. If it hasn't been cleaned you will end up with a bunch of mold inside it.
Once the mold is in, it is a complete nightmare to get out. Because of how the machines are made and the amount of plastic and rubber in them, straight bleach is NOT an option. Read your machine instructions for helpful hints. I'm not going to tell you how to handle the situation because most of the solutions on offer can also lead to the death of your machine. I will tell you that I spent two days one sunny day in May with a tooth brush and two litters of vinegar. My housemate being English knew none of this. So, it falls to me to make these things happen because she doesn't really believe me. Next week is going to involve another toothbrush a ton of elbow grease. It's tempting to start doing the whole household's laundry.

Tomorrow, I'll introduce you to my dryer. Right now I have an appointment with my kettle.


  1. I had no idea these front loaders were so problematic, especially since if you're really cool you have a giant, shiny new red one here in the USA.

  2. They come in red? I want a red one. They really do save space and energy. But they only save energy if you're not replacing an old one. They only save space if you're able to put a counter top on the top. So hmmm. I'd keep a working top loader.

  3. Hiii .... glad to see your blog, I am a blogger Indonesia. Welcome stranger!

  4. Hmmmm, I almost want to go and examine my washing machine, but I'm too scared.

  5. It's not worth it Veronica. It'll just end in tears.


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