The Daily Mail has published an article that offers evidence that low temperature washes, the 30˚C cycle is singled out, can allow bacteria to breed in washing machines.
To regular readers of this site, this will come as little surprise and most washing machine repairers, experts and many in the clothing industry all take the view that washing laundry, other than special items, below a 40˚C minimum is a bad idea.
New research now shows that the constant use of low temperatures when washing is leading to increased levels of bacteria in washing machines. Increased levels of bacteria also are known to be the cause of smelly washing machines and mould forming in washing machines.
The Daily Mail reports that levels of bacteria found by microbiologists in washing machines and on supposedly ‘clean’ laundered clothes has led leading hygiene expert, Dr Lisa Ackerley, to call for an increased awareness of what she has termed the ‘Sick Laundry Cycle’.
Dr Ackerley said, 'Consumers believe that normal laundering produces ‘clean’ clothes but this does not necessarily translate to ‘hygienically’ clean.
'The trend towards reducing washing temperatures and water volumes alongside using gentler detergents has affected the efficacy of the laundering process for reducing bacteria on contaminated clothing. It’s time to re-evaluate the hygiene of our laundry.'
Microbial assessment to evaluate the infection risks associated with laundry found an estimated average of 0.1g grams (10,000 organisms) of faecal matter on every pair of ‘clean’ knickers.
'If you put something ridden with bacteria in the washing machine you will simply be swishing the germs around - creating a ‘bacterial soup’
'I am very concerned about bacteria from soiled underwear transferring onto items such as tea towels which are then used to wipe dishes,” says Dr Ackerley.
Items that are most likely to be contaminated with pathogens are those which come into direct contact with the body such as underwear, towels, facecloths, bedlinen and nappies. Which is why that we advocate not using quick washes for any items that are worn next to skin, quick washes are for refreshing only and do not really clean your laundry, merely freshen it up.
Bacteria lurking inside washing machines can also be responsible for cross-contamination, as studies have shown that a build-up of bacteria in the inside of the washing machine transfers to the wash water of subsequent cycles – with as many as one million bacteria found in just two tablespoons of wash water. Which is why a regular maintenance wash is required or, cleaning your machine with a special cleaner such as Affresh is required.
'Low-temperature washing provides optimal conditions for germs to breed and multiply in favourite hideaways such as the detergent drawer and door seals,' explained Dr Ackerley and we find this also happens inside the tub of your washing machine around the drum, especially so in plastic tubs.
In particular, the Sick Laundry Cycle is a problem if someone in the house is ill.
Segregating clothes, bedding and towels infected by a bout of sickness from the rest of the household laundry isn’t enough to stop the risk of spreading infection if you are handling items washed at low temperatures.
Dr Ackerley warned: 'Bacteria on wet clothes are more likely to contaminate hands. The transfer of germs from hands to objects in the home and ultimately our mouths is therefore
'By increasing our understanding of why bacteria are not always removed in the washing machine, how they can cross-contaminate and the simple everyday steps needed to prevent potential sources of infection, the Sick Laundry Cycle can be broken.'
In another article from Which?, an investigation into the temperatures achieved when washing in some washing machines has also been called into question.
From twelve machines tested only four reached the temperature that was stated by the program choice. Which? Singles out a Hoover washing machine as the worst by only reaching 43˚C when set to do a 60˚C wash and they say that most of the machines tested kept the water cooler than 50˚C for the majority of the wash cycle.
As service engineers we are well accustomed to temperature variances of +/- 10-15% and that would be considered to be normal. However, the results from Which? Would appear to indicate that several are not within even that wide range.
The reason for the large variance is very often down to cost, quite simply many washing machines are produced so cheaply that it is not possible to deliver the accuracy that people might expect in thermostats and so on as accuracy costs money. In our experience most more expensive brands are far more accurate in this respect.
Cheating On Energy Labels?
Which asks, are the manufacturers cheating to get low energy ratings?
Well, our take is that in some cases, they probably are. After all, who's going to check and who's going to know?
As Which? rightly points out, there is no requirement for the temperature reached by a washing machine to be what is published on the dial or displayed in the display. Therefore without very extensive testing that is not really practical to do in a home, it is almost impossible for owners to know that the temperature that they require is the temperature that they will get.
Of course, if the washing machine does not reach the set temperature then the energy used is lower and, that could be considerably lower than you would expect. That could give either misleading energy ratings or, completely false ones.
If it is true that some manufacturers are fudging the figures, it wouldn't be the first time that some had been caught doing this. So would it surprise us if it proved that this was the case?
Not even a little is the answer.
Clothing Mislabelling & Lifespan
It is not only Dr Lisa Ackerley that has highlighted this issue.
”Nowadays people are really eager to throw all their clothes jumbled up in at the same temperature,” says clothing industry expert Lassi Järvelä. ”Then they add a lot of detergent and fabric softener.”
Järvelä believes that product marketing has affected washing practices. For instance, fabric softener is very rarely necessary and wears out clothes, for example by reducing their elasticity. Something that we try to tell people but they've been sold the notion, by the companies that make softener, that it is required on all washes, it isn't. In fact, it isn't required at all and is detrimental on many fabrics and items, especially towels as it is grease based and repels water.
”On average people use too much detergent,” suggests Järvelä. ”Washing temperatures also affect the lifespan of clothes. When cotton or polyester are washed at less than 60 degrees Celsius, it’s impossible for them to get truly clean no matter which detergent is used.”
We see this in the field through intermittent leaking from washing machines as well as "ghost" no drain faults where excessive suds leads to the pressure sensor being fooled into thinking that the owner's washing machine has not drained. Over time more serious issues can occur that can lead to the early demise of your washing machine.
Clothing industry expert Kaisa Virtanen. "Cotton clothes had been given guidelines to wash at 30-40 degrees, sweat and fat do not get removed at that temperature.”
Järvelä guesses that part of the reason might be that clothes don’t last as long when washed at lower temperatures, and customers therefore buy new items more often.
There have been previous attempts to clarify the matter.
”I asked (clothing companies) the reasoning for the washing temperature guidelines,” remembers Virtanen. ”One firm answered that the product had a 40 degree label because they had run out of 30-degree labels.”
Recently we caught this (see inset images) on a towel from John Lewis, a 40˚C wash label on a towel when, everyone should know, towels have to be washed at at least 60˚C to get them clean.
The obvious question that has to be asked is, if the supposed best high street retailer in the UK can get it wrong, what hope is there far any of the others?
Maybe they just ran out of correct lables that day.
Washing Machine Confusion
People are completely confused by all the marketing hype around detergents and fabric softeners.
Then we have clothing that is not labelled correctly.
On top of this we have cheap washing machines that may or may not do what they should. But nonetheless build up bacteria in them because of the marketing around saving energy.
Many people haven't a clue about wash labels and many don't even know to split whites, lights and coloured items. Most people we talk to don't know what half the wash symbols even mean but, that's not much use if they are wrong. Many don't even know how much laundry can go in a washing machine and load incorrectly.
It seems a lot of people don't take the time to understand how it all works but believe all the marketing hype. Perhaps just adding more detergent to compensate for the smell.
It surprises us that there aren't more problems.
It is hoped that the advice on UK Whitegoods can help people to get clean laundry and the best from their washing machines.