Are you misusing your front load washer?

26 Mar

March 26, 2012

By Geoff Meeker

Last week, my still new refrigerator broke down, and I was lucky enough to call in a repairman who actually knew what he was talking about.

When I mentioned my new front-loading washer and dryer to Jim Shea, of Appliance Solutions Ltd., he said:

“I bet you’re not using it right. And if you aren’t, you may be damaging the machine. People buy front load washers, bring them home and at first they love them. The complaints start when they’re six months to a year old, and it’s all from misuse of the machine. The vast majority of our service calls on these washers is caused by misuse.”

This was news to me. So we made our way to the laundry room, where he opened the washer and ran his finger along the underside of the clear plastic door.

“See this sludge?” he said. “That’s detergent that didn’t dissolve.”

Our first mistake? We were using cold water. “You want to use warm or hot water, to activate the enzymes in the new detergents. There’s no more phosphates, so cold water should never be used in a front loading washer, or any washer that takes HE (high efficiency) detergent. The detergent doesn’t activate so it doesn’t clean properly. Because of that, it sticks to your clothing. We hear complaints about a smell in the washer, a smell on your clothes, towels not feeling fresh, towels not soaking up water, and skin irritations.”

Yes, it costs more to use hot water, than cold. However, the washer uses so little water – enough to fill the kitchen sink – that hot water cost is not a factor.

Sometimes, Shea will demonstrate by washing a load of “heavy” clothes without detergent. “You can see the soap coming out of the towels and splashing all over the door,” he said.

Which leads to another problem: people use too much detergent. Shea says we should ignore the manufacturers’ own instructions, which call for ¼ cup of detergent for large loads.

“You should use a teaspoon ideally, a tablespoon at most, in any front load washer. The reason is, there isn’t enough water to get rid of the detergent. It can’t rinse out of the clothes, so you get complaints of water leaking out of the door, and a smell. They sell these lovely things called Fresh Tabs. They’re junk. They don’t need to be used. If you use the proper amount of detergent, and you’re using warm water, you should never have to clean your machine.”

Small loads of laundry can also cause serious problems. A washer that is only half-full will not spread out evenly across the inside of the drum, when wet. When the rinse cycle starts, the machine recognizes an unbalanced load, and slows down the spinning to prevent vibration that will damage the machine (even worse, this feature occasionally malfunctions and the washer is damaged by its own vibration).

The energy efficiency of the front load washer is achieved by its dizzingly fast spin cycle – 1200 RPMs – that leaves clothes only slightly damp, dramatically reducing dryer time (and saving electricity). But if that washer doesn’t spin at full RPM, you’re wasting your time.

The solution, Shea said, is to fill the dryer drum with clothes. “Fill the tub right to the top. Don’t pack it in tight. Fill the drum loosely, so that you can barely reach your hand in across the top. If you only half-fill it, that will turn into a quarter-load when it gets wet, and it will not spin and rinse properly.”

The upside is, larger loads mean even greater energy savings.

Homeowners make one other mistake that can cause breakdown and a major mess. Occasionally, very small articles of clothing will find their way under the rubber ring at the front door, and down into the mechanism on the other side of the drum, inflicting all kinds of mischief. At best, it will plug the pump, resulting in a service call. At worst, it will plug the outlet and cause the washer to flush water all over the laundry room floor.

“It’s not unusual for us to pull a thong out of the machine (on repair calls), which is usually fairly embarrassing for the customer,” Shea said.

To prevent such a crisis, place small items of clothing in a mesh bag that keeps them safely together.

When these problems of misuse are addressed, consumers quickly develop a serious love affair with their front load washers.

“I’ve had a front load for a number of years and would never go back to a top load,” Shea said.

Geoff Meeker is a communications consultant with a soft spot for technology. He also writes a blog about the local media scene, which is hosted at


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