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5 things I’ve learned from years of testing washing machines

things i've learned after years of testing washing machines
Things I’ve learned after testing washing machinesevgenyatamanenko - Getty Images

As GH's Household Advice Editor, I cover all things cleaning and decluttering. But this isn’t where I started at Good Housekeeping; I first joined as a Junior Tester at the GHI some years ago, and spent many hours testing all kinds of appliances, from kettles to vacuum cleaners. One appliance I revisited time and time again was washing machines.

For over five years, I ran countless tests on a range of washing machines, testing stain removal performance, as well as the spin efficiency for each. Running these tests day in, day out, you learn a lot along the way, including things which can help you solve wash-day problems. That’s why I’ve shared my top five tips below.

1 Overloading your machine is what makes it rattle

You'll know if you’ve experienced this yourself; your washing machine will thrash around and move itself as it tries to spin, while making a huge racket. This is one not to ignore! Not only can it damage your machine over time, but it can take its toll on your floors as well.

I experienced this regularly when testing washing machines. Each was loaded close to full capacity which can easily throw the machine off balance as it tries to build up spin speed. It’s not surprising when you consider what’s going on behind the door. The load will become very heavy once it’s absorbed water, and as your washing machine attempts to tumble it quick enough to spin, it actually displaces itself in the process.

Overloading the drum is just one cause of a vibrating washing machine. It could also be caused by washing one heavy item which doesn’t fill the drum, such as a pillow. Another cause might be that the feet aren’t level on the ground.

My best advice? Make sure you’re not overloading your machine - fill it to around ¾ full to avoid this.

If you’ve got a new washing machine which is refusing to operate, or making a lot of noise as it does, you should also check that all the transit bolts have been removed. I’ve seen this damage the concrete blocks within the machine in the past, which are there to weigh it down in use. Failing to remove all transit bolts can also void the warranty.

things i've learned after years of testing washing machines
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2. Most machines capacities aren't realistic

One thing I soon learned was that the load capacity for the majority of washing machines was unrealistic. In fact, it was difficult to get anywhere near it in actual use, reaching around 70-80% of the mark. This was the case even with careful placement, folding and squishing of sheets and towels on top of one another. So if a machine says it can cope with a 7kg load, in reality it's probably closer to 5.5kg, although those with a higher capacity rating are generally further afield in my experience.

While you can’t take the load capacity rating of a machine at face value, you can use it for guidance on the overall size of the drum. For instance, a washing machine with a 12kg capacity is going to be much bigger than one with a 6kg capacity so if you do a lot of washing aim for a higher capacity - an 8-10kg capacity should be sufficient for large families.

Do take this into account when washing heavy items, such as weighted blankets or duvets. If their weight is close to the load capacity of your machine, you might be better off hand washing or sending the item to be professionally cleaned.

3. Powder is best for stain removal

As part of my job, I also tested all types of detergent. I soon learned the pecking order in terms of stain removal. Powder generally performed better than liquids and gels in our tests, especially biological powder which contained enzymes.

There are cons to powder, of course; it's generally the messiest to measure out and can leave residue behind if it doesn’t dissolve fully. Liquids and gels aren’t as messy, but you could still over- or under-dose just as easily. Having said that liquids and gels are bleach-free which makes them the better option for colours. Then there’s pods to consider, which are simple and mess-free to dose, as well as bleach-free for colours. But, these are often the most expensive.

Ultimately there’s a detergent to suit every person and wash load. I learned that it’s best to have more than one type to hand for different circumstances. I’m a huge fan of eco-friendly detergents as well, though these still have a way to go in terms of stain removal, so I reserve them for light everyday stains.

things i've learned after years of testing washing machines
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4. Tough stains need all the help they can get

When I was testing washing machines at the GHI, we used exactly the same stains to test every machine (and they still do), so we knew how much of each it removed in one cycle. The stain sheet contained some of the trickiest ones out there, including tea, coffee and foundation.

It often surprised me to see how much of a difference there could be between cycles and how much some of these stains could still prevail, despite a machine's best efforts to shift them.

Your best bet is to understand the type of stain you're dealing with first so you know the method to treat it. For instance, protein-based stains such as blood and egg will actually set in hot water, so you’re best to soak the stained item in cold water and use a colder cycle in your washing machine for the best results.

Grease-based stains, on the other hand, aren’t water soluble, so these will need to be pre-treated before machine-washing. As a general rule of thumb, a suitable pre-treatment stain remover can really help the process. For full steps on these stains, see how to remove blood stains and how to remove grease stains.

things i've learned after years of testing washing machines
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5. The timer isn’t to be trusted

You may have worked this one out already, but it’s still worth a mention. The timers on washing machines are rarely accurate. On many occasions, I was waiting at the end of the day for a cycle to finish, only for it to keep adding 10 minutes onto the clock, or to sit on the final two minutes for about 15. That’s why we time the washing machines as part of our tests; to see how accurate they really are.

Of course, this isn’t wholly a bad thing. Washing machines will vary their timers based on condition of the load. According to Miele's Product Trainer, Tom Akers: "If the time extends during the rinse stage, it may be because the machine has calculated an additional rinse is required to remove excess detergent. All Miele washing machines can detect if excess detergent has been added and automatically add a couple of extra rinses to ensure it's removed.

"If the time extends during a spin, it may be that additional time is required due to a particularly saturated / heavy load in order to achieve the optimal removal of water from the garments."

The main thing to take away from this is not to run your washing machine when you’re on a deadline! Time how long your standard loads usually take and use this for future guidance. Don’t forget the heavier the load, the longer it will last.

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