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How Clean is your Washing Machine?

Written by George Fisher

Image for article How Clean is Your Washing Machine?


Advice from Charles Ross who works with the European Outdoor Group's Sustainability Working Group, and the Waste and Resources Action Programme which helps individuals, businesses and local authorities to reduce waste and recycle more.

The campaign to get us to turn the wash temperature down on our machines is something we are all aware of, but maybe not all the information you need to know has been communicated well. Turning down the temperature is prompted by several factors: saving energy, our clothes being less dirty perhaps due to washing after just a day's wear, plus improvements in the power of detergents.

In terms of bacteria the simple formula is the higher the temperature, the more you destroy. Remember that our body temperature is just less than 40 degrees, and the bacteria thrive on our body.

So the question comes around to the efficiency of your washing machine at low temperatures. When did you last do a service wash? What is a service wash? Is it good for the environment?

Your machine will almost certainly have a detergent residue build up, which is BAD if you want to use the machine for reproofing outdoor garments. Manufacturers of reproofers such as Granger’s will advise you to clear out any detergent residue before use, but you’ll be amazed how much is present in your machine.

It also makes your machine less efficient (so that it does not clean as well: adding an excess of detergent to the wash does NOT clean your clothes better) and the machine may break down sooner. You should do a service wash every 20 washes or so (the instruction book you did not read will mention this). Run the machine with NO contents in the drum, and on its highest temperature. If you must add a cleaner, use one of the 'oxygen' activated ones. You will be surprised at the amount of foam, and the colour of the waste water!

By having a cleaner, more efficient machine it will last longer and clean better which contributes to a lower overall carbon footprint. It will also prepare the machine for the best start point for reconditioning/reproofing your outdoor gear.