Looking after your washing machine will maximise its life and performance.

Our member surveys indicate that the average life expectancy of a top loader is seven years, and 12 for a front loader. A little care and maintenance can go a long way, so here are some tips to help you get the most from your washer.

Watch out for keys and coins

Keys and coins kill washing machines. Check pockets before washing, and look for dirt and objects left in the drum, or hidden in the rubber seals after each wash.

Check your pump filter

Many washing machines have these as a last line of defence against foreign objects. Look for a small hatch low down on the outside of your machine. Check this monthly and clear anything that shouldn’t be in there — use a towel or tray to catch the water when you open it up. If your machine isn’t draining, this is the first thing to check before calling for a repair.

Limit your washer’s spin speed

Keep this to 1200rpm, even if your machine goes up to 1400 or even 1600rpm. Higher speeds reduce the life of belts, drum bearings and door seals, without removing much more water.

Don’t use fabric softener with laundry detergent

Fabric softeners react to create a waxy residue called “scrud”. No one wants “scrud” – especially as it clings to unseen parts of the machine, such as under the agitator. If blobs break free, they can leave greasy marks on laundry.

Regularly clean the detergent dispenser

Check the manual to see how to remove it, and wash it thoroughly in warm soapy water.

Clean the door seal

Remove water from the door seal after each wash (if you notice mould, wipe the rubber seal with hot water and detergent). Between washes, leave the door and detergent dispenser open – that lets the interior dry.

Use the service cycle

Many machines have a specific “service” or “cleaning” cycle. It helps your machine smell fresh, prevents detergent build-up, and keeps it cleaning at its best.

If your machine doesn’t have a service cycle, run a hot wash with a full-strength powder detergent once a month.

Try a drum cleaner

Washing machines without a service cycle still need cleaning. An easy way to do this is to use a drum cleaner.

My 10-year-old front loader doesn’t have a service cycle, and I’ve never actively cleaned it. Still, I’ve never had problems with musty odours or slime because I dry the rubber door seal after each use, leave the door ajar, frequently run long, hot washes, and never add fabric softener.

Nevertheless, I thought it was about time I gave my washer a scrubbing. Fisher & Paykel recommends Ceraclen ($6.49) to remove “built-up residues and odours” from both front and top loaders, so I added the contents of a sachet to my empty machine as per the instructions and ran an extended 90°C programme.

As this was also a trial to evaluate how well Ceraclen performed, I collected water from each wash and rinse stage. I then put on a shorter hot water cycle without Ceraclen. Again, the machine was empty, and I collected water from each stage. As expected, my machine had been pretty clean from the start, and there was no visible difference in the samples. Clearly, my long-term laundry routine had paid off.

A friend also gave Ceraclen a go. She doesn’t use fabric softener in her top loader, but otherwise doesn’t follow my “machine care” advice. As her two sons generate a lot of muddy sports kit, which she mostly washes in cold water, we weren’t surprised to see tiny pieces of unknown origin in the final rinse of the first cycle (with Ceraclen). However, the second cycle (without Ceraclen) yielded pristine water, so it looked like Ceraclen had done the job.

Ceraclen contains phosphates and isn’t suitable for septic tanks. Also, check your machine’s manual before using Ceraclen, as some manufacturers caution against it.