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Many people run their washing machines almost exclusively at 40° (or even lower) these days in a bid to save energy and money. Those of us who took home economics at school will have learnt that the hotter the water, the better the wash - but will generally have ignored it in this case because our clothes kept coming out of our machines looking clean and we saved ourselves a few quid in the process. However, it isn't just your laundry that gets washed when you run your machine - the inside of the machine does, too. The consequence of these repeated cooler washes is that a residue of not-quite-dissolved washing powder, limescale, dirt, grease and bacteria are left inside the machine after washes, leading to build-ups of a slimy gunk in the pipes and bad smells when you open the door (particularly if you live in a hard water area or use non-biological washing powder, which is less effective at low temperatures). In the worst cases this sludge can even break your machine, as it helps to rot hoses and door seals or even block the water pressure system, leading to overfilling or spin failure. In short, it could kill your washing machine if left.
We bought our first washing machine in September 2009, and after suffering years of cheap and nasty machines in rented accommodation, were determined to buy a good quality one and look after it properly. Unaware of the problem regular low temperature washing can cause, we ran almost all our washes at 40°, and by April 2010 we had noticed the first sign of problem - an unpleasant smell coming from the drum of the machine when we opened the door. The smell wasn't enough to cause a noticeable problem to the laundry coming out of the machine, but we were a concerned that it was a sign the machine wasn't quite functioning right. It seemed wise to look for something that would tackle the problem, rather than leaving it and risking a large bill from a plumber further on down the line.
My initial searches around supermarkets revealed nothing likely, and it was while indulging in that most pleasant of pastimes - browsing through the latest edition of the Lakeland catalogue - that I found what I was looking for. The item in question was HG Service Engineer, a decidedly unexciting looking product with the sort of amateurishly designed packaging that would put me off having it within 10 feet of my washing machine if it had not been sold by someone as reputable as Lakeland. Seriously, look at the picture; it looks like it belongs 30 years in the past or in the "worryingly cheap" variety of household product. Nonetheless, reassured by Lakeland's competence and good reviews on its website, I bought a box that contained two 100ml doses for a reasonable £5.99, on the promise that the product would act like a "virtual service" for my washing machine and improve its efficiency by cleaning it out. Even if it didn't get rid of the bad smell, I reasoned, it would do the machine no harm and might actually do it some good.
Inside the box were two plain white plastic bottles with child-proof caps (unsurprisingly, the chemicals needed to break down months of sludge build-up are caustic) and minimal instructions. It is quite a simple item to use, however:
1) Check your machine is empty and close the door
2) Wrestle with one of the bottles to remove the cap (preferably while wearing rubber gloves to protect your hands from the chemicals), then pour all of the powder into the soap dispensing drawer
3) Run your machine on a 60° cycle
4) Marvel at how grey the water in the drum appears during the wash
5) Repeat every three months or so
It was remarkable that even after just seven months of use there must have been some build-up of sludge inside the machine; that the water came through into the drum in a dismal grey colour was enough evidence for me that the powder was actually removing something nasty from somewhere inside my washing machine. To think my laundry had been inside that! We all think that a washing machine must be spotless on the inside from all the hot water and detergent it comes into contact with, but using Service Engineer really helps dispense such myths. Once the cycle was complete I opened the door to be greeted with a pleasant, fresh scent and everything looking brilliantly clean and shiny. Laundry can be run through the machine as soon as the cleaning cycle has finished, and I did notice a difference when this load came out. While our laundry was not noticeably smelling bad when it came out of the machine before, it was noticeably smelling much more of fabric conditioner after the machine had been cleaned out - and in case anyone is worried, Service Engineer left no trace of smell or anything nasty on the clothes, and I have quite sensitive skin so I would notice if there was any residue left.
I am happy that HG Service Engineer has had a positive benefit on my washing machine, and will continue to use it as part of its maintenance routine from now on as a regular "spring clean". I should add that this product doesn't clean out the soap drawer, however, so I'm afraid you will still be left pulling it out and cleaning off any build-ups and mould there by hand; a bit of a disadvantage, but nothing major. It is coming up to three months since I last used it and I have noticed a slight smell returning to my machine, so it is time for another clean soon - but at just £5.99 for what will be about six months' supply, I think this represents very good value for money and it will certainly be better than manky laundry or the cost of a plumber to fix something that could be avoided!
Availability: Lakeland.co.uk (£5.99), simplycleaningproducts.co.uk (£6.49), Amazon.co.uk (£6.75)