If you are to believe the TV advertising for the likes of Calgon you would be drawn to the conclusion that limescale is a terrible thing that will destroy the insides of your washing machine. The commonly shown elements completely furred up with lime deposits or, in one case a drum coated in limescale is, at best, extremely rare.
It's not the huge issue for reliability that it is made out to be in these adverts but scaring people into buying these products does seem to be the order of the day.
That is not to say that there isn't a need to clean your machine regularly as, quite simply, there is. The reasons for doing so just aren't about limescale in particular and, where limescale is a problem the most, these products won't help in a lot of cases but a little advice will.
The soap drawer in your washing machine is more prone to limescale issues than anything else in most machines. Not so much the drawer that you place detergent and conditioner is, but the jets that allow the water in above that are prone to blockage from limescale and general bacteria build up. For completeness however we will describe the complete process.
Every single washing machine can have the soap drawer cleaned, they are designed in such as way as they can be removed reasonably easily for just this purpose. Thankfully designs are relatively similar and have changed little in the past thirty years so generic advice will suit almost all washing machines on the market.
The actual soap drawer, this is the drawer that pulls out you put detergent and conditioner in, will almost always have a release tab that is pushed down and the drawer pulled forward to remove it from the machine. The other method is a simple sharp tug to release the soap drawer where there is no release tab.
Once out, take the syphon found at the back of the conditioner compartment off and clean the whole drawer very thoroughly with a stiff brush in warm water. A brush for washing dishes with is ideal for this process and the next step.
If you do the high temperature in a dishwasher can warp the plastic leading the drawer no longer fitting and, soap residues can cause issues in your dishwasher.
The soap dispenser compartment also requires cleaned.
A good bleach diluted in some warm water is ideal for this part of the process along with the brush mentioned previously.
Thoroughly clean the compartment with the brush, paying particular attention to the corners as this is where bacteria will lurk.
Where limescale is an issue is on the dispenser jets that you will see by looking at the top of the empty compartment. These jets are commonly blocked by limescale and bacteria deposits and, if not regularly cleaned, the assembly may have to be replaced in the worst instances which will usually require the services of an engineer.
They are easily maintained.
With your brush give the jets a good clean and try to get the bristles of the brush into the small holes (the jets) to ensure that they are clear of any blockage. It is that simple!
After cleaning the soap drawer can be reinserted.
Some washing machines have a small "bell" on the pressure chamber leading to the pressure switch hose. This "bell" can become blocked with limescale and cause problems.
This is, apart from a bit of limescale on the element, usually about the worst we see in terms of limescale build up.
You do lots of low temperature washes and, especially so if you only (or mostly) use liquid detergent or a detergent for colour only. Neither contain bleach and low temperature washes are not sufficient to activate a lot of components within the detergents, of any type, to combat limescale.
In any boxed powder there are elements known as "builders" that will capture and remove limescale. Dosed correctly there should be no need for any limescale removal products at all.
However, as we have repeated on this site many, many times there is a call for cleaning the insides of your machine through regular maintenance washes, once a month is the ideal frequency.
You can do this with a regular powder which contains bleach, such as Ariel in the green box, NOT a liquid as liquid detergent is totally unsuitable for this task. However, whilst this is better than nothing, there are a number of products available that will do a much better job of cleaning the insides of your washing machine and remove both limescale and bacteria build up. Whilst these may not be essential if you do everything correctly, most people don't and so the use of a cleaner is recommended.
Affresh is also available with specially developed cloths in a kit from this link to clean the door seal of your washing machine. Again, very good and recommended highly.
Indesit and Hotpoint also produce their own limescale remover and cleaner which is available from this link. This one is actually pretty good and is also good value for money but it lacks the cleaning abilities and power of Affresh.
All these products require the machine to be run, empty bar the product dosage as directed, on at least a 60?C cotton wash to clean out the inside of your washing machine. All are effective enough but we think that based on effectiveness against cost, that Affresh is the best of the bunch.
All also ideally need to be used once a month or, once every two months to get any long term benefits from their use. But then, that fits with the schedule recommended by almost everyone in the industry for maintenance washes anyway.