All about your washing machine: Liquid or powder detergent? Do you really need hot water to remove stains?

Doing your laundry is as convenient as throwing your worn clothes into the washer, pouring in the detergent, and letting the machine do all the work. Even with the COVID-19 situation that we’re still grappling with, getting your clothes free of infection-causing micro-organisms can be easily achieved with the warmest of settings and a splash of bleach. 

So when your washing machine starts to act up, it can seriously disrupt your routine – and your supply of clean clothes. How then, do you keep your washer functioning well for as long as you can?

It boils down to the bits and parts that deliver the spinning, rotating action of your washing machine: The electronic and non-electronic parts as well as the main driving motor. The malfunction of this motor and/or other parts is what affects the lifespan of your washing machine, said Dr Tang Kok Zuea, a senior lecturer with the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the National University of Singapore’s College of Design and Engineering.

“With proper usage and maintenance, most washers can last about nine to 10 years,” he said.


The warm water setting on your washing machine is certainly an energy-sapping – as well as electricity- and money-draining – function, said Dr Tang Kok Zuea, a senior lecturer with National University of Singapore’s College of Design and Engineering. But you need hot water to get rid of stains and germs, don’t you?

You can still get away with a normal wash cycle, said Dr Tang. “Pre-soaking your clothes before putting them into the washer can help in removing stubborn stains. As for disinfecting, adding a small amount of bleach is equivalent to washing the clothes at 90 degrees Celsius, he said.

And operate your washing machine at the recommended full load to save water and electricity, he said.



Whether you have a front- or top-loading model can determine how long you can go without getting a new washer. For instance, a front-loading model uses gravity to create the tumbling action, said Dr Tang, which is why it vibrates more than the top-loading washer when in use.

All this action can “easily cause imbalance” to the front-loader’s support structure – and lead to some serious wear and tear on the motor shaft and dampers used to absorb the vibrations. “In this perspective, front-loading washers tend to break down more often,” said Dr Tang.

Top-loading washers are different. Their motor shafts rotate around the vertical axis, so the action is balanced. And since there is no tumbling action or vibration, their support structures aren’t as stressed as their front-loading counterparts, he said.

Even the type of laundry detergent that you use can go some ways in affecting your washer’s lifespan, said Dr Tang. If you tend to use a lot of powder detergent, the excess may cause blockages in the drum, drainpipe, detergent inlet pipe and lint filter over time, he said. Liquid detergents are more easily dissolved in the wash cycle – and the solution (pun intended) to those issues.

(Photo: iStock/Liudmila Chernetska)

But no matter what type of detergent you use, it is important to do some cleaning from time to time. “The build-up of debris, such as dust, dirt and detergent residue, will severely reduce the lifespan of the washer,” said Dr Tang.

Still running into issues with your washing machine despite taking the abovementioned precautions? Here’s a look at what you can do:

SCENARIO 1: The washer is switched on but the drum won’t rotate

There are a few factors that could contribute to this scenario, said Dr Tang. On the electronic front, it could be a runtime error (an error that takes place while executing a programme) that has caused the system to hang. “In some cases, the electronic parts such as the main circuit board, motor driver and other electronic components could be faulty,” he said.

You could try to perform a master reset. “Switch off the main power to the washer and wait for 5 minutes to allow the system to fully power down,” said Dr Tang. “Switch the power back on after that and select your preferred wash cycle as usual.”

(Photo: iStock/Hi-Point)

If the washer still fails to work, it could be that the main motor, motor shaft and/or motor belt are damaged or dislodged, he said, in which case, you’ll have to call in the repairman.

To safeguard your washing machine, Dr Tang said it is important that you do not exceed the maximum wash load per cycle. If you won’t be using the machine for a long time, unplug it from the power source to prevent power outages from affecting it.

SCENARIO 2: The door won’t open after completing the wash cycle

“There could be some sensor errors that have caused the front door to be jammed,” said Dr Tang. “The main circuit board, motor driver and other electronic components could be faulty.”

Another likely reason could be that the front door mechanism is broken “due to excessive and/or applying unnecessary downward force when closing the door”, he said. That’s your cue to show your washer some TLC when using it.

You could try the same trial-and-error suggestions mentioned above and if all else fails, call for the professionals.

(Photo: iStock/pkanchana)

SCENARIO 3: Water won’t drain properly and the spin function doesn’t work

If you can open the door, you’ll want to manually scoop the water out first before doing anything, said Dr Tang. Next, check the drainpipe (usually located at the back of the washing machine) to see if it’s blocked. Sometimes, objects such as balled-up tissue paper or coins could end up there during the wash, he said. Clear it out if there is a blockage.

“In some washers, there is no access to the drainpipe area or the portion that is blocked may not be easily located,” said Dr Tang. Sometimes, the door cannot be unlocked as there is too much water in the drum; in these situations, you have no choice but to get the repairman. Same thing, too, if, after clearing out the gunk in the drainpipe and the washer still doesn’t work.

In the meantime, you can prevent the problem by periodically clearing out the drainpipe as well as washing the lint filter, water inlet filter and detergent tray, said Dr Tang.

SCENARIO 4: The washer is noisy and vibrates a lot when in use

An uneven floor could be a reason, especially if you’ve just moved in and aren’t aware of the floor issue. It’s not good if your washing machine vibrates a lot as the dampers could wear out sooner, said Dr Tang.

“Check the floor level. Solid, cemented or tiled areas will be strong enough to support the washer during operation,” he said. “In most washers, adjustable base supports can be used to ensure the washer is balanced properly.”

(Photo: iStock/SolStock)

Other possible reasons for the excessive vibrations: You’ve overloaded the washing machine with laundry or your clothes are entangled during the wash, said Dr Tang. Obviously, you should not exceed the maximum wash load (check the manual if unsure).

As for preventing entangled clothes, put long garments such as pants and dresses in laundry bags before putting them into the washer.

“If the problem persists after doing all the above steps, call in the repairman,” said Dr Tang.

SCENARIO 5: The inside of your washing machine smells

The odour is likely caused by a build-up of dust, dirt and detergent residue, said Dr Tang, which leads to mould, bacteria and mildew growth in the washer. Your prevention solution? Get cleaning.

Add washer-cleaning tablets or liquid and let the machine run without clothes to flush out the gunk in the drum and gasket (the rubber-like door lining). Or you can use three teaspoons of white vinegar and baking soda instead of washer-cleaning products, said Dr Tang.

And as mentioned in the third scenario above, do also clean the outlet points such as the drainpipe, lint filter, water inlet filter and detergent tray, he said. If the problem persists, it is a good idea to call in the repairman.

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