Washer and Dryer Maintenance Tips to Start the New Year Right

washer and dryer maintenance tips

Because you sure don't want to go back to the laundromat!

Last month, we provided maintenance tips for a number of kitchen appliances. Now it's time for the laundry room, and handy washer and dryer maintenance tips. 

Washers and dryers are often on sale the last four months of the year. So perhaps you've just purchased a new laundry duo and want to be proactive owners. Maybe you want to turn over a new leaf and take steps to keep your existing washer and dryer running at their best. Or maybe you just need to be sold on the benefits.

Think of it like this—most of the time, the washer and dryer break while you're using them. And no one likes to fish out and stash sopping wet clothes to rewash at another time or find a place to hang-dry them. Plus, if your laundry duo is inside your home or on the second floor, water leaks can cause a lot of damage.

So, get in the habit of practicing these washer and dryer maintenance tips. It can minimize the number of panicky repair calls and save you money in the long run.

Washer maintenance tips

Believe it or not, your washer needs periodic washing! Do this at least twice a year—more often if you have problems with odor or residue. If you have pets, there are some additional steps you'll need to take that are outlined in the next section.

  • To clean, set your washer for the longest, hottest cycle and pour two cups of vinegar directly into the drum. If you live in a hard water area, vinegar has the bonus of helping remove lime buildup.

  • Once the cycle is done, take a quart of warm water and mix in 1/4 cup of vinegar. A sponge and toothbrush dipped into the solution can be used to wipe down the inside of the drum and the soap dispenser. Some soap dispensers are removable. If that's the case, take it out and soak in the water and vinegar solution before scrubbing.

  • Check the liquid fabric dispenser and remove any buildup.
  • Run another long, hot cycle without any detergent or vinegar.
  • Mold can also be an issue. Consumer Reports recommends following mold-killing procedures once a month or every 50 cycles:

"Run an empty load on the hottest setting with a cup of bleach. When the front-loader has done its job, wipe away moisture inside the door and on the rubber gasket, and gently pull back the gasket to clean away any residue and dry the surface. Between loads, keep a front-loader’s door ajar—as long as young children aren’t afoot—or a top-loader’s lid open, and open the dispensers to give them an opportunity to dry."

Some dos:

  • Make sure the machine is level. Machines have adjustable feet so take full advantage of them.
  • Purchase anti-vibration pads. This helps to quiet the operation and reduce the washer's overall shaking. No one likes their inner parts jostled, including washers.
  • Get a drip pan that's made especially for washers. If your washer is older or it's up on the second floor, a pan underneath corrals escaping water before it does damage.
  • Inspect the washing machine hoses every three months or so. Look for leaks, weak spots, or cracks. When one of these babies break, it's a full-on mess. Regardless, replace them every five years.
  • Turn your clothes inside out before you wash them. This protects the drum from zippers and other abrasive objects. It also can reduce pilling on your clothes and extend the life of silkscreened tees, decals, embroidery, and other fancy decorations.

Some don'ts:

  • Don't overload it! Too many items prevent the agitator (or drum, if you have a front loader) from efficiently washing the clothes. It can also strain or damage the motor, belts, and other moving parts.
  • Don't slam the lid. The lid or door may be sturdy, but the contact switch is not.
  • Don't use too much detergent.
  • Don't wash sandy clothing. Thoroughly shake out it first. The sand can work its way into motorized and moving parts, causing damage. Consider hand washing instead.
  • Don't machine-wash products that have flammable liquids spilled on them. Washing won't completely get rid of them.
  • Don't use a liquid fabric softener very often—if at all. It can leave a residue on material that will gum up the dryer.

Pet hair mitigation: How to remove pet hair from laundry

Fur babies are a part of many households. We may adore them, but we don't love how their hair gets all over our clothes. When it comes to washing, that hair can stick to the side of the drum, migrate to other clothes, and even clog the outflow drain. So, it's important you remove pet hair before washing. Use one or more of the following methods to de-fur your clothing.

  • Use a lint roller, masking tape, or slightly dampened rubber gloves and wipe down clothing. Then give them a good shake.

  • Sheets and bedding can be de-haired using a vacuum cleaner. After vacuuming, also give these items a good shake.

  • Put items in the dryer. Add wool dryer balls (dryer sheets work but are bad for the dryer—read the next section) and/or a damp microfiber cloth. Then air tumble for 10 minutes or so. The goal is to loosen the hair and deposit it in the lint trap. Clean the trap and, again, give the clothing a good shake.

While actually washing those clothes, Speed Queen recommends:

"Add 1/2 cup white vinegar to the machine’s rinse cycle. This is especially helpful if you have lots of pet hair or lint stuck to your clothes. Like the pre-wash dryer cycle, this also helps relax fabrics and frees trapped hair.

"After you’ve run a pet-hair-heavy load, clean your washing machine by running an empty wash cycle. When the cycle is complete, wipe the entire machine down with a wet cloth to prevent leaving stray pet hair behind."

 MarthaStewart.com adds: 

"If you have pets, once a month, let the tub air dry by leaving the door open for a day. Then use your vacuum's crevice tool to clean out hair as much as possible. Then really wipe it down—don't forget under the rubber lip of the machine."

Dryer maintenance tips

Dryers are among the most trouble-free of appliances. Consumer Reports places them at the tail end of major appliances that can develop problems within their first five years. 

However, there are things you can do (or avoid) to keep your dryer running at peak efficiency.

The dos:

  • Clean out the lint trap after every load. If you are drying all-cotton materials like blankets or sweatshirts (especially newly purchased items), you might check it half-way through the drying cycle. It's surprising how quickly the trap can clog!
  • Check the back of the dryer, including the duct leading from it to the in-wall or in-ceiling pipe. If it's too saggy, lint can build up inside. If it's loose or cracked, lint can collect behind the machine. Clean up any lint or dust behind the machine. Replacement dryer ducts are available.
  • Clean the entire length of the duct exhaust vent once or twice a year. Clogged lint traps and vents increase drying times and can even be a fire hazard. In fact, 34% of the 17,000 home clothes dryer fires that occur each year are caused by clogged dryer vents. Cleaning them can be a DIY project with special brushes or you can hire a specialty cleaning service. 
  • Dry items with similar weight together.
  • Use wool tumble balls—they separate the laundry for better drying and can help make clothes softer—without residue buildup.
  • If you must use dryer sheets (or fabric softener in the washer), do so rarely. Then soak the lint trap in hot, sudsy water every month or so. Scrub it with a stiff brush then rinse thoroughly. Be careful not to tear the screen.

The don'ts:

  • Don't slam the door. And when you toss clothes inside the dryer, don't let any snag on the exposed door contact switch, usually located to one side of the drum opening. If that breaks off, the dryer won't run. I've done this twice—duh!

  • Try not to use dryer sheets or washer-cycle fabric softeners. Dryer sheets have an outer waxy layer that melts when exposed to heat. This can gum-up the interior and coat the lint trap. They can also leave items feeling gummy and create water-resistance. That's not a good thing when it comes to towels!

  • Don't dry items with rubber or latex (unless the dryer says it can handle them). So, if you have "washable throw rugs," make sure they don't have a latex backing. Undergarments and lace should be air dried as well.

  • Don't dry clothing that had flammable fluids on them.

  • Don't dry sweat-wicking activewear, spandex, suede, tights, pantyhose, silk, or items with gems, sequins, or stones.

  • Don't dry sandy towels. As with the washer, sand can actually work its way in around the drum and damage it over time. So, if there's any sand, air dry.

Don't be hung out to dry because of poor maintenance

Following washer and dryer maintenance tips isn't hard. It just takes a bit of planning and knowing what's good and bad for each appliance. You'll prolong the life of each—and you'll avoid last-minute, inconvenient trips to the laundromat while scrounging for quarters.

However, if a washer or dryer should break, remember to remove the items and stash them elsewhere. If you don't, your laundry will develop mildew and odors.

So, stay on top of these appliance maintenance tips. It ensures a seamless, hassle-free laundry experience—and a big win for your budget.