Saturday, 12 January 2013

Laundry Soap and Bacterial Soup

I’ve just come inside from hanging the washing to dry in the garden and immediately put the washing machine on again. Nothing particularly earth-shattering about that, readers, but, a) there are no clothes in said washing machine, b) it is set at 90 degrees Centigrade and c) I’ve poured bleach into it.

No, it hasn’t all gone horribly wrong on the homestead. It’s time for A Maintenance Wash. This is something we’re supposed to do on a monthly basis, according to detergent manufacturers and washing machine manufacturers, but usually I forget, because it isn’t listed on the Sacred To Do List that is otherwise known as the Confident Mom’s Weekly Planner. Instead, I do a maintenance wash when the washing machine starts to have a bad odour or leave specks of grime (which I suspect could be mould) on the otherwise clean laundry.

One of the biggest causes of this build-up of bacterial soup is the fact that modern machines use far less water than they used to. In addition, if you use only colour detergent, liquid, liqui- tabs or any other detergent that does not contain bleach, this will increase the need to carry out a maintenance wash. (This includes green washing products such as soapnuts, ecoballs etc, all which, of course, contain no bleach).

Having read about the build-up of grime, bacteria and mould that can occur in washing machines, and seen it first-hand in my detergent dispenser drawer, I now do opt for biological powder on probably half of my laundry loads. I use Asda’s cheapest powder (Smartprice) and it seems to do the job, with no adverse affects on Prima's eczema-prone skin.

Another problem is that we are all encouraged to wash our clothes at low temperatures, using the 40, 30 or even 15 degree* cycle. Only hot washes will tackle the build-up of grime inside the machine’s drum.

It’s also crucial to keep on top of any mould problems in your detergent dispenser – particularly the section where the fabric conditioner goes. If you get the soap drawer out and look up above it you'll see a series of jets. This is where the water comes in to disperse into the drawer, and where I discovered an awful lot of black mould about six months ago. It can be tackled with bleach and a toothbrush, ideally just before a maintenance wash, to ensure that any bleach or other cleaning products are removed and do not then affect the next load that you wash.

The maintenance wash is solely to clean out your washing machine, so make sure it is empty of laundry. Common advice is that you need a good brand of bio powder or tablets to do this wash. Liquids, liquid tabs or colour detergent is of no use at all for a maintenance wash and they will not clean the insides of the washer properly as they contain no bleach or bleaching agents.

It is the bleach in the detergent that will kill the bacteria, which made me decide to just put some thin household bleach in the dispenser drawer this time. You can also use bicarbonate of soda or dishwasher cleaner, I’m told. I like to experiment! This is the only time I use the 90 degree wash (and I still get a bit of green guilt!) but I reckon it’s worth it, especially if it makes the washing machine last longer and perform better. Who knows if the skin irritations so many of us suffer from these days could perhaps be due to the fact that our clothes are often being washed in machines full of bacteria, at low temperatures and with no bleach? 

* All temperatures are in degrees Centigrade


  1. I run white vinegar through my washer ever few months.

    1. Thanks, Manuela; I'll do that next time.

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