5 Mistakes You May Be Making With Your Washing Machine

Question: Do you keep the washing machine door open or closed?

You put dirty clothes in, add some detergent, turn the machine on, and clean clothes come out—using a washing machine is pretty simple, right? Well, even if you've been doing laundry for decades, there may be some small mistakes you're making in the process. Little things you may not even think about, like keeping the machine's door closed, could be trapping moisture and breeding bacteria. The undesirable result: that funky mildew smell you can't seem to banish from your bath towels.

Other washing machine missteps could be putting a little extra strain on your appliance over time, while some could simply be preventing your clothing from getting as clean as possible. To help your machine last longer and get your clothes as clean as they can be, avoid making these five common washing machine mistakes.

Mistake #1: Keeping the washing machine door closed all the time

After you do a load of laundry, open the door to the machine so moisture can evaporate. With the door closed, the moist environment will create an ideal breeding ground for mold and bacteria. And the result is that funky mildew smell that's a common problem in front-loading machines. A simple switch to keeping the door open between loads of laundry could be the difference between funky-smelling linens and hotel-worthy bath towels.

The one caveat: If you have young children or a curious cat who would love to crawl inside the machine, it may be best to leave the door closed for safety reasons. Focus instead on Mistake #2 to help with any unpleasant odors.

Mistake #2: Not Cleaning the Washing Machine

As baffling as it may seem, even machines that are intended to clean things (dishwashers included) need to be cleaned themselves. To clear out any residue from the machine, run the machine on a hot cycle with two cups of white vinegar in place of detergent. Or, add one of these dissolving tablets to an empty cycle once per month.

Mistake #3: Overloading the Machine

There's a reason many laundromats have strict rules about how much clothing you can attempt to stuff into the washing machines. Overloading the washer puts extra strain on the machine, which can wear down the motor over time. Plus, if there's less room for the clothing to move around freely in the sudsy water, it won't get as clean. By overstuffing the machine, you may feel like you're being as efficient as possible, but the result is just the opposite.

Mistake #4: Not Using the Right Type of Detergent (Or Too Much of It)

You may not have noticed, but oftentimes, the instruction manual for a washing machine will recommend a specific type of detergent. If you didn't keep the manual (gasp!), you can typically find them online at the company's website. Especially if you have a high efficiency washer, you'll want to only shop detergents with the HE symbol. What happens if you don't? The suds won't rinse out completely, which can leave residue on your clothing and buildup in your machine.

For the same reason, you should only use the recommended amount of detergent for the machine and the load you're washing. It's easy to assume that extra detergent will get your clothes extra-clean, but it could actually coat your garments in dirt-collecting residue.

Mistake #5: Running the Machine When You're Not Home

Perhaps the worst mistake you can make with your washing machine is to get in the habit of running a cycle when you're about to head out the door. If you're not around to supervise, you run the risk of the machine overflowing, potentially leading to water damage. In the unlikely event that a part fails or too much friction is created in the drum, a fire could start. It's best to play it safe and only run the washing machine when you're home so you could catch these unlikely events before they turn into disasters.

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