October 25, 2014

A Unique Home Appliance Test Lab

Loading a washing machine may seem like a no-brainer, but the Contra Coasta Times’ Marni Jameson and her family can tell you differently.  Read on:

This week, our home laboratory revealed that a late-model washer would not withstand a cycle of hair-covered saddle pads. Our lab recommends that customers only wash multiple saddle pads — garments that sit between saddle and horse to collect hair — if they want to replace their basements.

Here’s how the experiment was conducted: One teenage daughter stuffed four quilt saddle

pads into a front-load machine. Soon after, the washer sloshed to a halt. I looked through the fisheye door and saw floating garments. I hit the drain/spin cycle. Nothing. The machine wouldn’t drain.I went in search of a neck to wring. The oblivious culprit was on the lam. I headed back to the laundry room where I was verging on a primal scream, when Dan, my husband, walked in. “Problem?” (He’s so intuitive.)

Our smart kids can discuss “The Odyssey” and replicate DNA in a test tube, I tell him, but don’t know not to cram hair-covered saddle pads in the washer.

He left the test center, moaning something about a repairman and $200.

Because $200 could buy one Stuart Weitzman stiletto, I rolled up my sleeves and pulled

on all the machine’s panels until one opened — a trapdoor. Inside was a gizmo, which I twisted. Water gushed in a promising way. A drain!I packed the area with towels, and yanked out the gizmo, a little cage contraption packed with — you’ll never guess — horse hair. I pulled out a wad the size of a Yorkshire terrier, then twisted the gizmo back in to stem the tide. I pressed spin. The machine whirled into action.

Feeling pretty dang proud (Who needs a repairman, or even a man?), I took the terrier to Dan’s basement office.

“You found the problem,” he said.

I fixed the problem, I said, a little too proudly.

Then we both heard an unusual sound. We rounded the corner of his office. I screamed so they could hear me in Taiwan, where workers are making washing machines this minute. Dan raced for a bucket. Water streamed through the basement ceiling, around the recessed lights.

All hands on deck, I shouted usefully.

My innocent daughter grabbed towels and met me in the laundry room, where water spewed from the trapdoor. I grabbed the gizmo, which apparently I hadn’t tightened all the way, (oops) and twisted. The water stopped, but a pond remained.

Later, Dan and I studied the water damage to the ceiling. Wonder what it’s going to cost to repair that, I said.

“More than a washing machine repair,” he said.

Murderous methods

Here are more ways to kill major home appliances, according to our test center and experts from Whirlpool, the world’s leading manufacturer of home appliances:

To kill your washer or dryer:

  • Pour detergent haphazardly into the washing machine. Don’t bother using those pesky cap lines to measure soap, and don’t put detergent in the right dispenser. Too much or the wrong kind of detergent (regular in an HE machine) makes machines work harder, and results in longer cycle times, poorer rinsing performance, and an odorous residue, says Monica Teague, Whirlpool spokeswoman.
  • Don’t check your machine’s hoses and traps. Let lint, missing socks and horse hair accumulate. The upside of a washer that overflows is a clean floor.
  • Don’t ever clean your machine. Leave the job of cleaning a washing machine (with hot water and specially designed cleansers) to phobics who worry that residue from dirty laundry could gum up their machines.
  • Ignore the dryer sign that reads, “Clean before each use.” Wait until the lint filter is so full you could stuff a pillow. Clogged lint traps can burn out a dryer, and even catch fire.
  • Remove the outdoor screen covering your dryer vent or don’t put one in. This creates a nice place for critters to build homes.To kill your oven or range:
  • Throw away your use and care manual. Or start the oven with the manual still inside. Consumers could avoid or resolve more than 50 percent of all appliance problems by reading the instructions, says Steve Swayne, technology leader for Whirlpool’s Institute of Kitchen Science.
  • Spray oven cleaner all over the outside of the appliance. If you’re after that distressed look, you’ll get it. Oven cleaning acid (intended only for oven interiors) can corrode the finish on knobs, and ruin control panels.
  • Run the self-clean cycle with stuff in the oven. The self-clean cycle heats up to 850 degrees, and can destroy pot handles, and cause greasy outdoor grills to catch fire. This cycle also ruins oven racks, which you’re supposed to remove, and keeps them from sliding smoothly.
  • Keep your oven filthy. This will attract bugs and other critters looking for warmth and food. Swayne once found a roasted snake in a range.
  • Avoiding the 10 Most Common Laundry Problems – From the Thor Appliance Company

    1. Detergent Overuse

    As highlighted in a recent Wall Street Journal article, Americans continue to overuse laundry detergent. Detergent overuse not only shortens of the life of clothing, it can damage or even ruin a perfectly fine washing machine.

    High levels of detergent can get trapped in fabric, making clothing appear dingy and faded. Inside your laundry machine, detergent residue gums up the inner workings of your washer, including the door gasket and drain system. In a washer dryer combo, suds from too much soap can accumulate in the condensing chamber, causing longer dry times.

    The reason for detergent overuse is twofold. High efficiency washers of today use significantly less water (and therefore need less detergent) than the top loaders of an earlier era. While Americans are still getting used to new frontload machines, they continue to measure detergent based on top load washers. Making matters worse, modern detergents are much more concentrated, which means that a little goes a long way.

    Today, accurately measuring out laundry detergent is more important than ever. Be sure to read the detergent box to determine the correct amount of soap for your load size and water temperature.

    2. Overloading

    Even with the expanded capacity of modern washers and dryers, overloading continues to be a common problem. Unlike old tub-style topload washers which use an agitator to stir clothing clean, new frontload machines clean by tumbling laundry. In order for frontload washers to work properly, there must be room for the laundry to tumble. These washers should be loaded to about 3/4 of full capacity to allow the clothing to fall away from the drum during the wash cycle. An overfilled washer will result in poor cleaning results and wrinkled laundry.

    3. Forgetting to Empty the Lint Filter

    Forgetting to empty the lint screen not only creates longer dry times, it can be a potential fire hazard. When emptied after each cycle, lint filters eliminate the collection of gooey lint in vent line ducting. However, screens that are not cleaned regularly can cause potentially hazardous lint accumulation within the dryer housing.

    A perfect kindling for a fire, lint that comes in contact with a dryer’s heating element has the potential to ignite. While newer dryers are designed to be less susceptible to fires, no dry system is completely immune from years of lint built up.

    Take the time to empty the lint screen after each cycle and be sure to inspect old dryers for lint accumulation behind the filter and where the vent line exits the back of the machine.

    4. Forgetting to Remove Packing Bolts

    Frontload washers use packing bolts to secure the machine’s suspension system during transportation. If the packing bolts are not removed before the washer is operated, the suspension system will not function and the machine will jump and vibrate. Be sure to refer to your user manual for directions on how to remove packing bolts. Also, remember to replace packing bolts if your washer is moved to a new location.

    5. Not Using Fabric Softener

    When most of us think of fabric softener, we think of soft fluffy towels or that snuggly little teddy bear. And while fabric softener can make your towels fluffy and your sweater softer, it also plays an important role in frontload washer operation.

    As mentioned earlier, frontload washers tumble clothing during the wash cycle. In addition, they extract water by spinning laundry between rinses. The high speed spin of a frontload washer can cause clothing to stick to the side of the drum, keeping them from tumbling freely during the rinse cycle. A small dose of fabric softener will help laundry fall away from the drum and ensure that clothing is rinsed properly.

    If you are averse to using a scented fabric softener, there are many mild and unscented softeners on the market today.

    6. Mixing Fabrics and Colors

    As life gets more hectic, we’re all more apt to cut corners when it comes to laundry. This often results in tossing every color and fabric type in the washer and selecting a warm water wash. Mixing colors and fabrics can not only discolor clothing (e.g. the pink sock that used to be white), it can break down delicate fabrics.

    Be sure to read the washing instructions on each garment and take a few extra minutes to sort laundry into white, colors and delicates. Not only will your clothes last longer, you won’t have to be seen with that embarrassing pink sock.

    7. Shrinkage

    In a push for record breaking dry times, many appliance manufactures have turbo charged dry cycles with scorching heat and too often poor results. Excessive heat can ruin delicate clothing and significantly shrink cotton fabric. Hang drying garments in the spring and summer is a good way to save energy and avoid cotton shrinkage – and a quick five minute fluff in the dryer will release any wrinkles that may have developed while hang drying. In the cooler months, selecting a more moderate dry cycle will extend the life of clothing and keep shrinkage to a minimum.

    8. Out of Balance Loads

    Unless you live adjacent to a pile driving project, the sound of an out of balance washer is hard to mistake. While most modern washers have an automatic shut-off trigger that eliminates damage to the machine, the few seconds of earth shattering pounding is not something that can (or should) be ignored.

    While reshuffling clothing will usually do the trick, larger blankets and bedding can be hard to balance, particularly if they’re too bulky to fit comfortably in your washing machine. The best way to avoid out of balance loads is to use an extra large washer at your neighborhood laundromat or have those bulky items professionally laundered.

    9. Pens and Other Pocket Hazards

    Long hailed as a nerdy fashion accessory, the pocket protector just might be the best defense against this next laundry mistake. That’s because one unsuspecting ballpoint pen left is a pocket can ruin an entire load of clothing.

    If a single ink stain is tough to remove, image dozens on ink streaks scattered over an entire load of shirts and pants. The best way to avoid this disaster (other than the pocket protector idea) is to take the extra time to check each pocket for pens, gum, rocks or any other unfriendly item that may cause harm to your clothing or washer and dryer.

    10. Leaky Hoses

    A leaky or bursting washer hose can cause major water damage in a matter of minutes. Like any material, the rubber used in laundry hoses breaks down after years of use, particularly under high pressure. Thankfully there are a number of products on the market that can eliminate leaks before they become disasters.

    There are many aftermarket multi-layered hoses that offer additional flood protection. One word of caution about aftermarket hoses; many European washing machines have custom hoses with a metric sized connection for the washer and a standard sized connection for the water input. In this case, you may need to stick with the stock hoses or search for a more customized hose option that blends metric and standard sizing.

    College Laundry Basics

    For those lucky kids whose clean clothes and sheets magically appeared in their rooms all these years, the first week away at college will be a shock. About this time next week they will awake to the fact that Mom is no longer doing the laundry. When they call in a panic, you can refer them to us. With the help of Whirlpool, we’ll present them with the basics for getting through that pile taking over their room.

    Step 1 – Prepping:

    Treat stains by blotting, not rubbing, from the back of the fabric to the front.
    Divide loads into lights and darks.
    Check that zippers are closed, hooks clasped and pockets emptied.

    Step 2 – Washing:

    Use only enough detergent as specified for your load size (check the bottle).
    Extra suds hold and re-deposit dirt on your laundry.
    Use hot water to keep white loads bright.
    Use cold water to prevent darks from fading.

    Step 3 – Drying:

    Select items from the wash load to place in dryer. Delicate items can go on a drying rack.
    Add a dryer sheet to keep clothes static-free.
    Empty the lint trap to dry faster and increase energy efficiency.
    To avoid extra wrinkles, fold immediately.

    Three simple steps… now they’ll only call for money.