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Too much detergent

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Using too much detergent will clog hoses, filters and other important parts of your washing machine. This will shorten its life and result in a warm, moist environment that’s perfect for the growth of mould and mildew on rubber parts. It can also cause a bad smell that can transfer to your otherwise clean laundry.

Washing too frequently

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Underwear aside, most clothes don’t need washing nearly as frequently as you might imagine. The more you launder your clothes, the more you can expect their colors and any pattern to fade. Over time, even the fabric itself can start to degrade. To slow down this process, try spot cleaning in the first instance.

Not cleaning the lint trap

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The lint trap in your dryer collects lint from your laundry and so stops it from blocking the machine’s exhaust hose. This keeps the dryer working efficiently but also presents a potential fire risk. Consequently, it’s essential to clean the lint trap (and filter, if there is one) very regularly.

Not spot cleaning

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Doing the laundry takes time and costs money. Machine washing also isn’t great for the look and longevity of your clothes and other fabrics. However, done properly, spot cleaning can reduce the need for laundering. That said, remember that some fabrics, like silk, don’t take well to spot cleaning.

Poorly organized laundry room

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Whether you enjoy doing the laundry or not, a properly organized laundry room makes the task as easy as possible. Even if you don’t have a dedicated laundry room, ensuring you have all the detergents you need close to hand and easily accessible can help. A logical laundry sorting system can help too, perhaps with separate baskets for whites and colors.

Using outdated machines

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Washing machines are expensive and no-one wants to be buying a new one every couple of years. However, nursing a very old machine through extra years of life can prove more expensive than buying a new one. It might also not be as good for your clothes. In the long-term, upgrading your washing machine is cheaper and keeps clothes healthier.

Not making the family share the responsibility

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It’s easy for the responsibiliy of doing the laundry to end up defaulting to one person – usually the mom. Don’t let that happen to you. Even small children can use the laundry hamper and bigger ones need to learn how to sort washing and operate the machine themselves.

Not dealing with stains correctly

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Knowing how to deal with stains correctly, and taking the appropriate action in a timely manner, can make the difference between a wearable piece of clothing and one that’s only fit for rags. As a general rule, don’t leave stains to “set” and don’t just toss heavily soiled garments into the machine without first treating the stain.

Overloading the machine

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All washing machines have a maximum load capacity. Ignore this at your peril! Although your machine may still work if you overload it, it’s unlikely to clean your clothes as efficiently and thoroughly as it would if correctly loaded. Overloading also shortens the life of your machine and makes it more likely that it will need repairing.

Doing partial laundry loads

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Doing laundry uses water and electricity, both of which cost money. It can also take so much time out of your day. Tackle both of these issues by ensuring you save up laundry until you have a full load. If you can’t wait, check to see if your machine has a half-load setting. If it does, use it.

Not decorating your laundry room

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It sounds trite but decorating your laundry room nicely can make the regular chore of doing the laundry that much more bearable. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy but light, bright – and easily wiped. Paintwork and other decor will make the room a more pleasant place in which to spend time.

Not letting the dryer rest between cycles

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If you have a lot of laundry to get through, it can be tempting to keep your dryer going almost nonstop. However, the average domestic dryer really isn’t designed for such a workload. In order to prevent it from overheating and damaging the mechanism, it’s important to give it time to rest between cycles for at least 30 minutes where possible.

Using dryer sheets

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Dryer sheets help reduce static and make laundry smell nice. Despite these pluses, they’re really not a good idea. Their fragrances can irritate sensitive skin. Their coating may affect some fabrics, including the fire retardancy of some children’s clothes. They can also contribute to residue build-up in the dryer, making it less effective. Finally, they’re disposable and therefore bad from an environmental perspective.

Using the wrong dryer setting

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The wrong dryer settings can adversely affect your clothes, wrinkling or even damaging the fabric. As a rule, any setting above 150 degrees is too hot for just about anything you might put into the machine. Too high a setting also produces more lint, which can damage the dryer and increase the risk of a fire.

Not air drying where possible

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You might live somewhere that has rules prohibiting drying laundry outside or you might not have anywhere to hang your washing. However, if possible, do consider air drying. It’s an environmentally responsible approach and, provided you dry your laundry out of strong direct sunlight, is also less damaging to your clothes.

Not unbuttoning buttons

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Even if you pull your button down shirts off over your head without unbuttoning them, take time to undo those buttons before throwing the shirt in the machine. Leaving a garment buttoned risks unnecessary pulling on the fabric during the wash cycle, which can cause damage.

Not separating whites from colors

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This is such an obvious one it’s almost not worth mentioning. However, we will because skipping this step can mean a pile of ruined whites if the dye from darker clothes bleeds onto them. While it’s safest to wash whites separately, especially if you want them to stay bright, they normally also be washed with very pale colors.

Washing at too high a temperature

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A hot wash is very effective at killing bacteria. However, it’s also pretty effective at shrinking and fading fabrics. Only consider using the hottest temperatures – usually 90 degrees – for very heavily soiled, 100% cotton items, and always wash similar colors together. Most of the time, however, a lower temperature and a specialist detergent will do the job nicely.

Not zipping up

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Always check you’ve zipped up anything with a zipper before putting it into the machine. This is to protect the machine from damage and to ensure that the teeth of the zip don’t catch on other items and cause small holes or even rips. Zipping up a garment also helps that garment to keep its shape.

Not using a “delicates bag”

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A “delicates bag” is an ideal way of protecting both your more delicate garments and your machine. This sort of bag is particularly good for washing items like bras, where the clasps can get caught in the fabric of other garments or even in the machine itself. A larger “delicates bag” is also useful for washing exceptionally dirty items or pet bedding.

Not handwashing where appropriate

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Some garments just aren’t suited to even the gentlest washing machine cycle. They include silks, fine linens and usually cashmere. As these tend to be the most expensive types of clothing, it makes extra good financial sense to expend the extra effort on washing them by hand rather than entrusting them to your machine.

Not cleaning your machine

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Washing machines are the ideal environment for germs to breed. Keep yours clean and odor-free by wiping its interior surfaces, door and seals with white vinegar. Bleach may also be suitable for some machines – but do check the manual first. Machines in hard water areas may need descaling, and very dirty machines will benefit from a power wash with white vinegar, baking soda and borax.

Not servicing your machine

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Don’t just give in to the “planned obsolesce” that many manufacturers seem to foist on us nowadays. Keeping your washing machine regularly serviced by a qualified technician can prolong its useful life and save you money in the long run. Once a year is a good rule of thumb although machines in very heavy use may need more frequent attention.

Not checking how much water your machine uses

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The average washing machine is a thirsty beast. When water consumption is an issue, it’s environmentally responsible to check how much water your machine uses and always try to run it on the most ecologically-efficient setting. Similarly, if you’re in the market for a new machine, make efficient water use one of your priorities during your search.

Not learning how to wash jeans

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Jeans are hardy items and don’t need washing as frequently as many people think. However, assuming you don’t want them to stand up by themselves, they will need the occasional launder. Pay close attention to the washing instructions, especially the temperature and especially if you’re washing premium denim when shrinking or fading is a real risk.

Using your machine to dye fabric

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Many fabric dyes suggest using your washing machine. While this is convenient and can produce really good results, it’s not always good for your machine or anything you might wash in it next. If hand-dyeing isn’t a possibility, always follow the instructions on the dye very carefully and then make sure you run the machine empty with laundry detergent before washing anything.

Not reading the care label

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Care labels aren’t sewn into garments for fun – or even just to cover the manufacturer’s back. They provide genuinely useful information on how to care for your garment and keep it looking good for as long as possible. If you don’t understand the symbols used, ask someone else or look them up online.

Washing sweaters at too high a temperature

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Washing on a high temperature risks shrinking and “felting” your precious sweaters. Really, the safest option is to hand wash them. However if the washing machine is too big a temptation, use the “delicates” or “hand wash” setting and always use a gentle detergent that’s specifically designed for woollen fabrics.

Not reading the manual

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You might not be a manual reader but it usually pays to devote a little time to getting to know your washing machine’s functions before using it for the first time. The manual is also a useful first point of call for troubleshooting issues and sometimes can even save you a costly call-out. Manuals are usually available online if you’ve lost the hard copy.

Pouring detergent straight onto clothes

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Concentrated laundry detergent is far too caustic to risk pouring straight onto clothes. Always make sure it goes into the laundry detergent dispenser or into a special detergent pod, which is usually placed on top of the clothes in the machine. Either method will ensure that the detergent is appropriately diluted before it gets onto any fabric.

Not checking pockets

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Always check pockets before loading the washing machine. Quite apart from ensuring that you don’t inadvertently wash the drawing your kid pressed on you when they ran out of morning Kindergarten, you’ll want to keep out items that could damage your machine or your clothes. These include loose buttons, coins, stones, paperclips, batteries and tissues.

Drying items with elastic

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Whether it’s a bathing suit, spandex or some other item containing elastic, keep it out of the dryer. The heat and tumbling motion can damage the fibres, distorting them and pulling the garment permanently out of shape. Even if there’s no visible damage after one drying session, repeated sessions will shorten the garment’s life.

Putting athletic wear in the dryer

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No matter how much of a hurry you are to get to the gym, don’t put your sportswear in the dryer. These garments are usually made of special sweat-wicking material that’s easily damaged by the agitation of a dryer. The extra heat also has a tendency to exacerbate any lingering odors in the clothes.

Not washing inside out

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Washing your clothes inside out – especially deep-colored items, such as jeans – protects the fabric from fading. It allows the exterior, which, of course, can’t be seen when you wear the garment, to take the brunt of the agitation of the wash and the consequential color fading.

Overloading the dryer

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Overloading the dryer won’t get your mountain of laundry dried any faster. Quite the reverse: an overloaded machine is much less efficient and takes far longer to dry the clothes. It’s also at risk of overheating and even of bursting into flames. In other words, always stick to your machine’s maximum load specification.

Using fabric softener

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Fabric softener has several advantages. It can minimise pilling, reduce drying times and make ironing easier. However, repeated use may damage fabrics in the longer term by making them flatter and less fluffy. As a result, it’s best to limit its use to an occasional “deep conditioning” treatment.

Using the same setting for everything

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Modern washing machines can sometimes seem unnecessarily complicated. However, it pays to take a little time to check out their settings and ascertain what’s best for different types of fabric. This is because different fabrics launder better – and survive better – at different temperatures and spin speed.

Not getting on a schedule

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It’s easy to let the laundry get on top of you. Drawing up – and sticking to – a schedule is the easiest way of avoiding this. The right schedule is the one that works best for you and your household, and ensures you neither run out of clothes or linens nor find yourself peering around a laundry mountain that’s taller than you.

Washing a dry clean-only item

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It’s tempting, isn’t it! That said, however careful you are with your choice of setting, putting a dry clean-only item into your washing machine is risking the garment’s integrity. Garments are frequently labeled “dry clean only” because they haven’t been pre-shrunk by the manufacturer. Consequently, putting them in the washing machine can cause them to shrink by two or three sizes.

Not levelling your machine

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A washing machine that isn’t properly levelled can rock, vibrate, and even move out of position. As well as being annoying, this can also impair its washing function and also risks serious damage, such as the tearing of the water supply hose.