Historically, laundry was one of the most labour-intensive of all household chores, yet these days washing our clothes has been simplified to the point where we hardly need to do anything more than press a button. Electrical washing machines have been doing the hard work for us since the 1930s, but machines aren’t invincible and sometimes issues do arise.
If washing your clothes seems to be creating more stains on your clothes than they had when they went into the wash, it’s probably time to give your machine a bit of care and attention. Here are some common causes for spots on clothes that have just been washed:
Reddish brown stains can often be explained by rust on the inside of your machine. Your washing machine is usually protected from rust thanks to a protective coating on the drum and the dispenser, but these coatings can chip, allowing water to corrode the metal underneath and rust to form.
To prevent future stains, first locate the rusty area. Rust stain removers exist for appliances, so try using one to clean the area. For stubborn rust, sand down the area and paint over it with a rust-proof paint. If you can’t find the source of the rust, you may need to call in a mechanic to search the interior workings of the machine and repair or replace the part.
Residue from previous washing
Oils and detergent residue can build up over multiple washing loads and cling to the sides of the drum. Liquid detergents are especially prone to causing this, and it can mix with the oils in your dirty clothes and get caught in the space between the inner and outer drum. As dirt builds up, more of it can seep in through the drainage holes of your inner drum and get mixed up with your washing, causing stains.
To prevent stains from built-up residue, wipe out the drum and door seal. Clean the drainage holes in the drum with a cotton swab. It’s also a good idea to run your machine through an empty load with a cup of bleach or vinegar to thoroughly clean any hard-to reach places.
If you use a liquid detergent, switching to a powder will help prevent reoccurrences of this issue. Washing machine filters can also harbour old lint, hairs, oil and other detritus; if your machine has a filter, give it a check from time to time in case it needs a clean.
Fabric softener is one of the most common causes of stains in the washing machine. Fabric softeners are oil-based and this oil will come into contact with your clothes if it isn’t dissolved into the water fully. This can happen when the fabric softener is added at the wrong stage of the cycle or if it hasn’t been diluted enough.
Stains from fabric softener typically resemble small, bluish grease splotches and can be removed by rubbing with a bar of laundry soap and rewashing.
The amount and type of detergent you are using to wash your clothes can contribute to stains. If your clothes are coming out the wash covered in streaky white residue, it’s likely caused by using too much detergent, or overloading your machine with too many clothes.
Filling your machine to the brim with clothes can make it difficult for water and soap to circulate efficiently throughout the load, causing the detergent to get caught in the nooks and fold within your clothes, causing white stains. These stains can be easily removed by simply tossing your clothes back into the wash and doing a new load without any added detergent.
Some detergents, especially those for high-efficiency washing machines, contain dimethyl polysiloxane, a type of silicone oil which, like fabric softener, can cause dark, oily spots on your clothes (especially cotton) before it has completely dissolved into the water. If you’re finding spot stains on your cotton clothes, look for a laundry detergent that doesn’t have this ingredient, or dissolve it in water first, before adding it to the machine.
Sometimes machines malfunction, or parts and seals can wear out, letting transmission oil into the drum with your clothes. Check your agitator and agitator seal, if your machine has one, as this is often the route by which oil works its way into the drum. Unless you’re particularly handy with mechanics, it’s probably best to call in an engineer to deal with the problem.
It’s always a possibility that a particular machine model is prone to certain problems, so it’s worth contacting the manufacturer or doing an online search to see whether your issues are due to a machine defect. A particular model may also perform better with certain types of detergent, while other ones may not work well with your machine type.
With regular maintenance and cleaning, plus the right choice of detergent, your machine should give you clean clothes for years or even decades.
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In The Wash is your guide to the best laundry and cleaning products, tips and tricks. Our mission is to solve the UK’s cleaning and laundry dilemmas!