While we might enjoy watching the various home improvement shows filling up cable programming, many of us can’t complete the most basic of home improvement projects. The How Do I Fix That? series will show you how to tackle a range of problems that have plagued homeowners for time immemorial. Each installment will provide a walkthrough for the problem at hand so you’ll know what to expect before you get started. Now, get into your old work jeans and roll up your sleeves – we’re going to get messy.
If you’re a budding Do-It-Yourself (DIY) type, you’ve probably had this silly idea pop into your head: “How DO you clean the appliances that clean other things?”
Now before you work yourself into a lather, remember that laundry appliances actually work in a potentially messy and wet environment. For example, spilled detergent or soapy water can get splashed around the inside of washer’s drum and build up soap scum. This can attract more dust and dirt to it, as well as even more soap scum. Dryers, on the other hand, produce lint, which can create problems for the machine (and your health).
Keeping your washer and dryer cleaned and well maintained will keep them running efficiently and reliably for years. So let’s look how you can effectively clean both machines so they can keep cleaning your laundry.
Who’s Washing the Washer?
Most newer washers already have a convenient built-in wash tub cleaning cycle. But even if yours doesn’t, it’s takes only a minute of extra work to get the same effect.
Detergent and moisture encourage mold and mildew growth on door seals and gaskets. Once a month, wipe down the seals and gaskets with bleach to clean out soap buildup and kill any mold or mildew. After this, run an empty wash cycle on the longest, hottest water setting using only bleach (or whatever cleaning solvent the manufacturer recommends).
Clean seals and gaskets the same as a front-loading machine. Since splashed soap doesn’t get rinsed off in a top-loading machine. So, be sure to clean soap scum build up from top edge of wash drum and underside of door.
For both front- and top-loading machines, if at all feasible, try leaving the lid open between washes to allow air circulation to keep your washer dry and mildew free.
Lint trap and/or filter
Old machines often have a filter at the end of the drain hose to trap lint and other objects like buttons or coins from being washed away down the sewer line. These traps are made of all sort of materials, from metal mesh to plastic, and they need to be periodically cleaned out to allow the washer to drain properly.
Newer, high efficiency washers do not have these kind of filters; however, they have a water pump filter. Front-loading washers have a small door on the front near the bottom that allows you to remove items that get caught by the filter. Top-loading machines put this feature around back near the bottom so you’ll have to shut off the water supply and access it through the rear service panel. ALWAYS UNPLUG THE WASHER BEFORE OPENING THE SERVICE PANEL!
Check the underside for signs of leaks as well as clean out any dust bunnies or pet fur. Left alone over time, these can build up and reduce air circulation, interfere with belts, switches, and pulleys as well as reduce the machine’s performance – all of which increases the long-term wear.
The Dryer – Bermuda Triangle of Socks
Removing lint from the clothes dryer system is THE most important maintenance task there is to do for a dryer. Now, I’m not talking about removing the lint from the basic trap at the front of the dryer – you need to do that every other load or so. I’m talking about a big purge of lint. While this can be dusty and messy, it does three important things:
- Reduces the risk for fire;
- Improves your clothes dryer’s function; and
- You only need to do once a year.
Plus, by cleaning outside dryer vents so they close properly, you can reduce drafts and help keep out pests such as snakes, insects, mice, and other pests.
Most dryers – both natural gas and more common electric dryers – pull dry, heated air through the back of the rotating drum filled with your damp clothes and then the damp, warm air is exhausted through a lint screen just below the door assembly. The air is sucked into a blower fan (usually driven by the appliance’s main motor) and is then blown out of the machine into the exhaust tubing and then to the vent leading outside.
Over time, large amounts of lint collect where the dry exhaust flows through a bend or encounters a sharp corner. Large amounts can build up to the point that they obstruct air flow, reduce the air temperature in the dryer, and make the dryer run much, much longer — costing you a lot more money. If there is a leak in the dryer exhaust duct, chances are good that lint will get sucked into the dryer’s intake. This increases the potential for lint to come into contact with the dryer’s heating elements and ignite, causing a fire.
How to clean out dryer lint:
- Disconnect the exhaust line from the dryer and unplug the dryer from its outlet in the wall. If you have a natural gas dryer, turn off the gas supply. While you could disconnect the flexible supply line after the valve, it’s safer to leave the line in place with the valve shut off.
- Move the dryer away from the wall. Some gas dryers have an access door in the lower part of the front panel which will allow you to vacuum out some the lint from underneath the machine. Whatever the case, do what is necessary so that you can get to the exhaust connection and the rear service panel.
- Put on a dust mask and work gloves.
- Look into the exhaust tube coming out of the dryer with a flash light. If you see any lint, use either your gloved hand or any one of a number of dryer lint-brush tools available online to reach into the dryer’s exhaust line.
- Pull out any lint you can reach. The more, the better because a clean exhaust line will allow the air to flow faster and lower the chance for more lint to collect.
- Once that exhaust tube is clear, clean out the exhaust duct leading to the vent.
- If you have a flexible plastic hose, it’s easier to clean out if you scrunch it up and shorten its length as much as possible. While you can use a gloved hand to pull out the lint, a dryer lint-brush tool actually works much more effectively. (Note— it might be convenient, but the wire spirals in plastic dryer hose actually reduces airflow. Building codes now prohibit it.)
- If you have metal dryer ductwork, the lint-brush will work nicely, but take care to look for the thickest buildup in the elbow connections. The fewer bends you have, the faster the airflow and the less potential for clogs.
One Important Note
Even if your dryer ducts are gleaming-shiny-clean, a clogged dryer vent is going to effect your appliance’s performance. Vents clog easily because the damp, steaming lint hits cool air and goes all soggy-sticky. In a short time, the vent will either clog or become restricted. One easy way around this is to install a non-clogging dryer vent hood. The hood works as a valve and only opens when air is flowing from the dryer. Not only does this reduce clogging problems, it also virtually eliminates problems with drafts in your home and keeps out pests.
See?! Cleaning your washer and dryer isn’t as difficult as you might have imagined – and it’s certainly cheaper than calling someone to repair it because you didn’t perform any regular maintenance.