Keeping your washing machine clean

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A recent study has found that a hospital washing machine was the reservoir of multi-drug resistant bacteria, which were transmitted to newborn babies. Hospitals normally use high temperatures and disinfectants to clean clothes, but in this case a normal, household machine was used. The lower temperature, energy efficient cycles used by these machines means that they do not kill pathogens as effectively. In addition to bacteria, washing machines can provide the perfect conditions for the growth of mould. Here are some of our tips for keeping your washing machine clean:

Cleaning:

Either get a family member or friend without a condition complicated by mould to help you, or make sure that you are wearing an appropriate mask and rubber gloves for the job.

Take out the dispenser drawer if possible and wash it in hot soapy water. If you can’t remove it, clean it as well as you can and use a pipe cleaner or toothbrush to reach around the back.

Don’t remove the rubber door seal but pull it back and clean underneath with hot soapy water and/or mould remover. Dry it thoroughly.

Using either a cup of bleach or a washing machine cleaner, put your machine on for the longest, hottest spin cycle – some machines even have a cleaning cycle. Make sure you check your manual first as some companies discourage the use of certain products in their machines and it may invalidate your guarantee if you use them.

If, after cleaning the drawer and seal thoroughly and running several cleaning washes, there is still a smell of mould you may have a clogged drain or filter, or mould growing behind the back of the drum. To solve this problem you may need to seek professional help.

Prevention:

Once you have cleaned your washing machine you should consider the following tips to prevent the build up happening again:

Only use the recommended volume of detergent/fabric conditioner, as left over residues can provide the perfect conditions for mould to grow.

Between washes, leave the door and dispenser drawer open to allow air to circulate around the machine.

Dry the rubber seal after each cycle.

Check the drawer and seal regularly, and run a cleaning cycle once a month.

NOTE Disinfectants containing quaternary ammonium salts, bleach, alcohol & hydrogen peroxide have recently (2017 study on heavy occupational exposure) been implicated as a risk factor for increasing the incidence of COPD. We don’t yet know why it does this or if it is a hazard to domestic users, but assuming it is caused by the fumes released, ensure that you clean in a well ventilated area and wear waterproof gloves to prevent skin contact. Cleaning products containing these chemicals are used very widely – if in any doubt check the list of chemicals contained in any product (bleach is often referred to as sodium hypochlorite). Quaternary ammonium salts go by several different chemical names so if in doubt check against the list published here under ‘antimicrobials’

If you can’t find an alternative disinfectant and don’t want to use one of the irritant disinfectants listed above then you might follow guidelines suggested by the US EPA which suggest just using a simple detergent and thoroughly drying the wetted surfaces.

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