Dear Home-Ec 101,
I’ve recently noticed a layer of scum around the agitator. If I were able to get my head in there I’d probably find it throughout. Is there a way to get this out without scrubbing the thing?
Build Me Up Buttercup
This response focuses on top loading clothes washers, but the same problem often occurs in front loading washing machines, too. Front loading clothes washers do not have an agitator.
What you’re looking at is most likely a layer of detergent build up that occurs when suds are splashed onto the agitator or other parts of the wash basin not normally under the water line. Just like soap scum build up in your shower, the water evaporates leaving behind a residue that we often refer to as soap scum. In areas with hard water, the problem is exacerbated by lime scale which refers to mineral deposits also left behind.
The best way to deal with build up situations like detergent and lime scale is prevention. Regularly cleaning your clothes washer will keep the build up from becoming significant and difficult to deal with. Once a month run an empty, large load, with 2 – 4 cups of white vinegar, depending on the capacity of the machine. The acidity of the vinegar helps dissolve the detergent and lime scale build up that may accumulate on the agitator and wash tub of a washing machine.
For safety’s sake, do not use this cleaning method immediately following a load in which chlorine bleach has been used, bleach and vinegar should not be mixed.
Do not add vinegar through the bleach dispenser.
If you want to be extra cautious add water, through the bleach dispenser, to the load prior to the cleaning cycle.
In your case, it sounds like the detergent build up has been accumulating for some time, one load may not be enough. If this is the case, it is more efficient to apply some elbow grease to the situation. Again, making sure that no bleach is present in the machine, spray the agitator and wash tub with a dilute solution of white vinegar (usually 50:50 works) give the vinegar some time to dissolve the build up and then attack the area with either a scrub brush or sturdy sponge. Thinking about it, it seems as though a NEW -never used- toilet scrub brush may help those of you on the shorter side reach some areas of the wash tub. Again, I stress the NEW toilet brush aspect of the suggestion. Scrubbing will help remove what has been loosened by the vinegar.
What you’re doing with the dilute vinegar is dissolving and removing the top layer of scum. Only so much of the build up can go into solution -your vinegar mix- before it is saturated -unable to dissolve anymore. Once this happens, just rinse it away and spray again. Yay for chemistry! Science can be cool when it is working for you.
To help prevent this problem for reoccurring use a simple test to see if perhaps you’ve been using too much detergent or overloading your machine.
Take a clean, dry towel and place it in the empty wash tub. Set the washer for a small load on hot. Allow the towel to agitate for a few moments. Open the lid and look in, if you see suds, you have detergent build up in your laundry. This is caused by one of two problems, 1) using too much detergent or 2) overloading the machine so it cannot be rinsed properly. Check your manual to determine if you have been over stuffing the machine and experiment with using less detergent if that is the prime suspect.
Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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