How important is a washing machine service wash?

Washing machine maintenance wash

A washing machine maintenance wash or service wash is one the cornerstones of a perfectly running cleaning appliance. In fact, this is probably the singular issue on which both machine manufacturers as well as detergent manufacturers are in complete accord over. Officially, the recommendation is that this specific wash program should be run at least once a month. This figure, however, depends on the frequency with which you tend to use the appliance. (If you tend to use your washing machine intensively, it far more advisable to shorten the duration between successive service washes.)


There are other practical issues that need to be considered before you can actually decide how often you need to perform this type of wash. Choosing to use a liquid detergent, liquid tablets (capsules), or a color detergent for all your washes is not such a good idea. Using only these ‘gentle’ cleaning products that are free from any form of bleach will definitely increase the frequency with which a maintenance wash will have to be run. Using ionizing ceramics (such as ecoballs), which are a combination of sodium carbonate, calcium carbonate, polyamide resin and epoxy resin, may be an eco-friendly option but they will also increase the need for regular maintenance washes.

It is important to learn the proper usage methods for dispensing detergents in order to enhance the performance of your machine and reduce the need for a service wash. It is always advisable to stick to a conventional powder type detergent or tablets for white clothes, and only uses a ‘color safe’ detergent (or liquid detergent/liquid tablet capsule) for washing colored clothes. Essentially, following the proper detergent selection process can reduce the need for constant washing machine maintenance

A recent worrying trend in the washing machine industry is the rapid increase in complaints regarding a peculiar musty odor that emanates from the appliance. This odor is also seen to be transferred to freshly washed clothes. When compared to washing machines that were available 10 years ago, modern machines tend to consume far less water than their predecessors.  According to the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM) in America, current machines consume, on average, 5000 less gallons of water per year as compared to the appliances of the past. Modern machines also have more energy saving features such as a range of low temperature wash programs that have altered the way clothes are being washed.

One fact that has changed considerably over the past few years is that more people are opting for lower temperature washes than ever before. While this definitely promotes energy efficient cleaning, it inevitably leads to problems in maintaining the machine. Black mold, mildew, bacteria, slime, grease and odor build ups are more common as a low temperature wash does little to eradicate these problems. If you are dependent on a hard water supply for washing clothes, the formation of limescales is also more likely. Unfortunately, low temperature washes hinder the anti bacterial, deodorizing, and grease dissolving abilities of most detergents. This increases the need for performing a high temperature maintenance wash.

Important Aspects of the Washing Machine Maintenance Wash

Run Your Machine Empty – An interesting aspect of the maintenance wash is the fact that it is essentially an empty wash. There should be no clothes in the machine when you are running this wash program. Quite simply, the purpose of this wash is to provide washing machine care and maintenance, and not wash clothes. Practically speaking, adding clothes will weaken the positive effects of a service wash as the clothes are more likely to attract the majority of the detergent particles. The exclusive purpose of any detergent or cleaning solution added during the maintenance wash is to get rid of any dirt residues, bacterial growth, and grease from the machine. This ensures that your machine is clean and odor free.

The maintenance wash allows you to extract the maximum performance from your detergent to clean up even the toughest of stain/residues. In fact, this can even help break down stubborn calcium deposits that are indicative of exposure to hard water. With the proper use of the service wash and normal detergents, you may not even be required to spend extra money on cleaning products made specifically to tackle limescale deposits. The fact of the matter is that most detergents are essentially a mix of surfactants including alkylbenzenesulfonates which have an affinity towards binding with calcium and other mineral ions that are found in hard water. That means that they are perfectly capable of dissipating hard water deposits if they are allowed to function at higher temperatures.

Choose the right detergent – The main purpose of a maintenance wash is to destroy bacterial or fungal infestations, remove grease, stains, or any calcium deposits that may be present. As a consequence liquid detergents, capsules, or color safe detergents are not an ideal choice. You need to select a detergent that has some form of bleach present in it. (If you are not sure, check if the detergent’s ingredients list includes ‘Bleaching Agents’.) Bleach is essential because of its anti germicidal properties. You may also choose to use a biological detergent which makes use of enzymes to break down complex stains, limescale deposits, as well as provide a strong anti bacterial component. Detergents that contain animal fats are likely to leave a greasy residue that sticks to the interior walls of the machine drum and seal, and should be avoided.

Select the Appropriate Wash Program – Choosing the right wash program is also an important factor that determines the effectiveness of the service wash. It is always preferable to select the hottest wash program available to ensure the best results. The minimum temperature should be 60 degrees Celsius (140 F), although a temperature of 90 – 95 degrees (194 – 203 F) is preferable. Always select a wash program that does not include the pre wash cycle. The intention is to make sure you achieve a complete wash cycle at maximum heat that provides optimal cleaning. If you are using a biological detergent, the enzyme action is also maximized by this process.  

Solving Problems with the Washing Machine Maintenance Wash

If your machine is afflicted with an excessive build up of a black greasy residue, you may consider adding soda crystals to your service wash. Simply pour out a cup of baking soda into the machine tub, and then run your maintenance wash. This is a highly effective, natural way to get rid off slimy deposits and grease that cause odors and stain your clothes. 

Another natural remedy to get rid of strong odors is to run a maintenance wash with vinegar. Vinegar is a natural de-greaser and is also a strong anti-bacterial agent. Simply pour a cup of 100% white vinegar into the detergent dispensing drawer while the machine is being filled with hot water. Remember, there should be no clothes in the tub while you run the full service wash with the vinegar. If necessary, you can repeat this procedure.

A slow draining washer is generally indicative of a blocked hose or drain pump filter. This is primarily caused by limescale deposits or other types of solid residue. You can dissolve these blockages by putting in 2 cups of distilled white vinegar while running an empty hot wash. You can follow up with a cold wash cycle to eliminate any traces of vinegar.

Quick Tips to Aid washing machine care and maintenance

When selecting a bleaching product for use in your washing machine, please ensure that the product is appropriate for use with your appliance and laundry. Usually a chlorine based bleach or ‘oxygen’ bleach is recommended. Oxygen bleach (sodium percarbonate) is considered to be the more eco-friendly option, if that is of concern to you. Be wary of other chemical cleaning bleaches that may damage your machine or cause an excessive release of toxic fumes.

Make sure that you follow the correct procedure with respect to the use of Fabric conditioners. They should only be added at the time of the fina

Disclaimer: The information provided has been prepared as a guide only and the steps taken are likely to vary for different appliance models. We strongly recommend using a qualified engineer to undertake major repairs and fault finding.


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