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If you’re building a healthy home and you’ve eliminated toxic chemicals but haven’t cleaned your washer you’re missing out. Get the best washing machine cleaner so you aren’t “cleaning clothes” with mold and bacteria. Ewwww…

What’s In Your Washing Machine?

Your washing machine does a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to cleaning your home.  All of those clothes, towels, bedding, and other household linens add up.  But when you’re doing the wash are you leaving invisible dirt behind?

The truth is your laundry might not be as clean as you think it is. But it’s not your fault. You rely on your washing machine to keep your fabric items clean. It’s just that unfortunately it doesn’t always come out as clean as you would like. In fact, over time your laundry machine, and even the items which come out of it, may begin to develop an unpleasant odor about them.

That can be due to bacteria, mold, and germs which you can’t see with the naked eye. These germs can be hard to get rid of. Let’s take a moment and look at how washing machines work before we break down where the problems with your laundry routine are.

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Taking Care of Your Washing Machine

We are all grateful for the modern advancement of washing machines. After all, who wants to go back to a time before we had them? Wash on Monday, meant struggling with huge loads of fabric, vats of hot water, soap, and a lot of physical labor.  This was followed by wringing out and tending to every single item of laundry by hand. Thanks to modern ingenuity, you no longer have to pound your laundry on rocks by the side of a river or scrub with a washboard and a bucket.

In 1874 William Blackstone designed a manual washing machine and no one looked back. Ever since then the way we clean our linens has come a long way. You don’t have to work quite so hard just to have clean clothes for you and your family. What you may not realize however is that although the machine replaced a lot of the need for manual labor, it still needs tending. You need to regularly clean your washing machine. Something that most of us don’t do. It can be easy to overlook the time and maintenance needed to take care of this modern convenience.

Laundry machines are so familiar in just about every home that you no longer really think about it, you simply use it. However, if you take the time to read the manual that comes with your machine (does anybody really do that?), the manufacturers do encourage you to regularly clean the machine itself. Pulling directly from a manual of a popular brand, the manufacturer states, “This Washer Maintenance Procedure should be performed, at a minimum, once per month or every 30 wash cycles, whichever occurs sooner, to control the rate at which soils and detergent may otherwise accumulate in your washer.” If you’re not doing that, you’re getting an accumulation of soils and detergents, just as the manufacturer warned.

What Does Clean Really Mean?

The concept of a washing machine seems pretty straightforward. Put your dirty clothes and other items into the machine, add detergent and water, press the button, and wash. What you may not realize, however, is that even though your machine is laundering your things, it’s not actually sterilizing them. If you’re not sterilizing? Well, that’s where that invisible dirt comes in; all the germs, bacteria, and other gross substances.

This bacterial contamination, once it gets into your machine, tends to stay there and spread. The contamination happens in a couple of different ways.  It’s partly due to the water you’re cleaning your laundry with and also because of what’s on the items that you’re washing.

When it comes to the water you wash with there are two parts to the equation. First, you have the water you add to wash your things, this is called the influent. Then you have the grey-water, or effluent, that comes out of the machine once the laundry is done. When you wash your linens and clothes, however, there is cross-contamination which can happen as the water goes through the machine. During the cleaning process, the effluent and influent waters mix and a buildup of germs can occur.

This buildup can come from the commercial detergents and softeners you’re using which may leave residues behind on your fabrics. Sometimes these residues can build up to the point where they then create a biofilm. They may even form their own microbiome, right on your laundry potentially creating a harmful situation.  One example of this was an incident involving a bacterial infection that happened at a hospital in Germany. The pediatric ward in this German hospital had a domestic type machine, similar to what you would find in your home, which was found to be contaminated with Klebsiella oxytoca.

Normally K. oxytoca is considered to be a healthy gut bacteria. Unfortunately, however, it is a multi-drug resistant bacteria that can cause serious illness when it occurs outside the intestinal tract. 13 newborns (ages 1-4 weeks) and 1 young child wound up being infected. When the hospital performed a thorough investigation they found bacterial isolates on the rubber door seal of the washing machine. K. oxytoca was also found in two sinks and in the detergent drawer. When the hospital stopped using this washing machine the spread of the bacteria stopped. Making sure your machine is thoroughly cleaned on a regular basis is the only way to avoid this kind of buildup at home.

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What’s On Your Laundry?

Another possible source for contamination of your laundry machine is any germs that are already on your fabrics. You may be wondering exactly what kind of bacteria we’re talking about here; hint: it’s not pleasant.

According to University of Arizona microbiology professor Charles Gerba, “There’s about a tenth of a gram of poop in the average pair of underwear. ” He also shared, “If you wash a load of just underwear, there will be about 100 million E. coli in the wash water, and they can be transmitted to the next load of laundry.” Unfortunately, fecal matter can be a source for a wide range of germs including E. coli, Hepatitis A., Norovirus, Rotavirus, and Salmonella. Which, as professor Gerba points out, can be shared from wash-load to wash-load.

Furthermore, according to Philip Tierno, author of the book, “The Secret Life of Germs” and New York University School of Medicine professor of microbiology and pathology, certain skin bacteria, such as staphylococcus, or other hardy germs, can be left behind on your clothing and other fabrics.

All of these different types of bacteria and germs tend to build up in the washing drum and rubber seals of your machine. The more laundry you run through the machine, without cleaning the actual machine itself on a regular basis, the higher the potential you have to spread these germs.  The situation is worse when it comes to those machines which are stored in garages, sheds, or even in damp basements. That’s because these tend to be humid places, an environment that is a perfect place for these harmful organisms to grow and thrive.

The Best Washing Machine Cleaner

Rather than just laundering your clothes you need to make sure you’re properly cleaning your washing machine on a regular basis. There is a wide range of commercial laundry machine cleaning products out there. If you haven’t been regularly cleaning your machine you may not have noticed them. Unfortunately, these commercial formulas tend to use toxins to “clean” your laundry machine.

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It’s one thing to get rid of the bacteria and germs, but leaving chemical residues behind isn’t a good idea. In fact it kind of defeats the purpose, you’re just trading one kind of invisible dirt for another. You want to sure to avoid any washing machine cleaners that may have harmful ingredients in them such as:

  • Surfactants – This ingredient causes suds but doesn’t fully release from the material. That means it leaves a residue behind which can contribute to your invisible dirt. Remember, just because it’s sudsy doesn’t mean it’s clean.
  • Oxygen bleach – Many laundry companies tend to promote bleach for cleaning laundry and other household items. Unfortunately, bleach is harmful to both you and the environment.
  • Polyethylene Glycol – Also known as PEG, this ingredient is used because it’s supposed to help with stains. Unfortunately, studies have shown this ingredient to be highly toxic to human and animal cells. It’s also very slow to break down in the environment.
  • Fragrances – Manufacturers use fragrances to make you think your laundry smells clean. There are thousands of chemicals that are classified as fragrances. This type of ingredient has been linked to rashes, headaches, nausea, and more. Remember, the goal isn’t to perfume your clothes or the inside of your washing machine. You want to disinfect your machine so you can clean your clothes.

Fortunately, there are other options that don’t require the use of toxic chemicals. Performing regular cleaning maintenance for your machine, with a non-toxic, citric acid-based cleaner, and no laundry in it, you can clear out all of the accumulated bacteria and other gunk. This leaves your machine sparkling clean and smelling fresh so no invisible dirt gets transferred onto your laundry.

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References:

  1. Callewaert, Chris et al. “Bacterial Exchange In Household Washing Machines”. Frontiers In Microbiology, vol 6, 2015. Frontiers Media SA, doi:10.3389/fmicb.2015.01381. Accessed 28 Oct 2020. Maytag.Com, 2020,
  2. https://www.maytag.com/content/dam/global/documents/201910/owners-manual- w11354658-reva.pdf. Accessed 10 Nov 2020.
  3. News, ABC. “Dirty Laundry? How Nasty Germs Survive In Your Washer”. ABC News, 2020, https://abcnews.go.com/Health/Wellness/washing-machines-loaded-bacteria-dirty-clothes/story id=10751420. Accessed 28 Oct 2020.”
  4. Liu, Guoqiang et al. “Cytotoxicity Study Of Polyethylene Glycol Derivatives”. RSC Advances, vol 7, no. 30, 2017, pp. 18252-18259. Royal Society Of Chemistry (RSC), doi:10.1039/c7ra00861a. Accessed 5 Nov 2020.Schmithausen, Ricarda M. et al.
  5. “The Washing Machine As A Reservoir For Transmission Of Extended-Spectrum-Beta-Lactamase (CTX-M-15)-Producing Klebsiella Oxytoca ST201 To Newborns”. Applied And Environmental Microbiology, vol 85, no. 22, 2019. American Society For Microbiology, doi:10.1128/aem.01435-19. Accessed 28 Oct 2020.”
  6. Washing Machine Can Be A Home For Bacteria”. Healthline, 2020, https://www.healthline.com/health-news/are-bacteria-hiding-in-your-washing-machine. Accessed 28 Oct 2020.

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