7 Seemingly Harmless Items That Can Destroy Your Washing Machine

<span class="copyright">Kinga Krzeminska via Getty Images</span>
Kinga Krzeminska via Getty Images

You already know it’s wise to look at care labels on your clothes before you toss them in the laundry, to prevent shrinkage, bleeding dye and other damage. But here’s one thing you probably haven’t considered: There are some items you may be washing that could actually be damaging the machine itself. 

“During my career, I have seen the worst items clog up a washing machine,” said Ian Palmer-Smith, an appliance expert at Domestic & General

We asked experts which items you should never put in your washing machine — and how they can cause harm if you do. Here are some of the most surprising answers.

1. Too much detergent

Using more detergent actually doesn’t mean cleaner clothes.

“The worst thing [that people] do for their machines is using too much detergent,” Patric Richardson, known as The Laundry Evangelist, told HuffPost. 

Detergent is oil-based, so it doesn’t rinse out easily. When you start adding too much, it accumulates in the machine.

“When it builds up, then that’s when your sensors don’t work effectively,” he said. “You can [also] end up with a mildewy smell in your washing machine.”

So how much detergent should you add? Richardson said you really only need about 2 tablespoons of detergent to do a full load of laundry. (He avoids pods because they generally contain more detergent than you need for one load.) 

“Using less detergent makes your machine last longer … and it’s great for your clothes … so it’s just a win-win,” he said.

Another factor to consider: the type of detergent you’re using. Richardson prefers to use laundry soap over detergent because it has fewer chemicals (which means less oil) and is less harsh on the machine. While laundry soap has the least chemicals, plant-based, hypoallergenic and baby detergents are also less oily than regular detergents. 

The good news: If you have been using too much detergent, it’s likely reversible as long as your sensors aren’t burned out. Once you consistently use less detergent, the buildup will eventually wash away, Richardson said. There’s also usually a “clean setting” (just hot water) on your machine you can use to help the process. (It’s recommended to clean your washing machine with this cycle at least once a month or every 30 cycles, according to Whirlpool.)

2. Fabric softener and scent beads

While you may love the feel and fragrance of your clothes after using these, they can be harmful to your machine by breaking down the sensors and gumming up the hoses, according to Richardson. 

Instead, if you want to soften your clothes and remove static, he recommends adding an aluminum foil ball to the dryer. For fragrance, try putting essential oils on a wool ball and drying it with your clothes.

3. Particularly small items (like baby socks, footie socks, underwear, shoe strings and handkerchiefs) 

Have you noticed your socks seem to disappear every time you do laundry? Well, it turns out they (and other small items) actually can get “lost” in your washing machine. 

“They can get stuck in little nooks and crannies … and end up in the hose,” Richardson explained. This can cause clogs in your machine. 

An easy hack for this? Put small items in a mesh laundry bag before washing. Richardson recommends keeping one of these by your hamper so you can throw in tiny items when they’re dirty. (This will keep them from getting stuck in small parts of the machine, but it’s also helpful for keeping your socks paired together.)

This is way more than 2 tablespoons.
This is way more than 2 tablespoons. Cris Cantón via Getty Images

4. Oversized items (like comforters, blankets and rugs)

If you’re trying to stuff an item that’s too large in your washer (like a king-size blanket), this can take a toll on the machine. 

When you go past [the washer’s] capacity …  it can throw it off balance because it’s too heavy,” Richardson explained. “That’s hard on the belts and the gears. They’re not meant for that much off-balance weight and wearing.”

If oversized items don’t fit properly in your machine, it’s best to wash them at a laundromat that has larger machines or get them professionally cleaned, said Kristin DiNicolantonio, a senior director at the American Cleaning Institute.

For larger items that you are able to fit in your washer, it’s important to consider what type of machine you have. For example, if you’re washing pillows, you can usually throw those right into a front-loading machine. But if you have a top-loading one, you would need to wash two pillows at the same time so the machine doesn’t get off-balance, DiNicolantonio explained.

5. Shoes

Care instructions for some shoes say they are machine washable. But to avoid causing damage to the machine, they should be put in a mesh garment bag or pillowcase on a cold, gentle cycle, according to Morgan LaLonde, laundry brand manager at Whirlpool

“This helps to prevent them from forcefully tumbling throughout the drum,” she said. 

She also suggests adding some old towels or clothes to the drum to help balance out the load. (That said, shoes made of materials like leather, vinyl, suede and rubber should never be placed in the washer because they could get ruined.)

6. Metal items (like belt buckles, underwire bras, coins and keys)

“In general, metal and washing machines don’t mix well. … It can dent the drum and potentially crack the machine door,” Palmer-Smith said. 

He recommends always emptying your pockets to avoid accidentally washing unintentional items (like coins and keys). And he suggests washing any clothes with support or wires in a laundry bag. 

Jackets with heavy hardware, like zippers or snaps, can also scratch the washing machine. Instead, these should be hand-washed or professionally cleaned, DiNicolantonio said.

7. Items made of rubber (like mats, boots or cushions) 

If you place rubber items in the washer, the heat can cause them to melt and fall apart. 

“If rubber … splits into smaller pieces, pumps can be damaged and filters clogged up as pieces are circulated around the system,” Palmer-Smith explained.

To sum it up: Take care of your washer. It’ll be worth it.

Taking care of your machine and being aware of what can and can’t go in it will help avoid costly repairs and keep it running smoothly for years to come. 

Richardson said treating his machine well (especially not using too much detergent) has paid off: “When I told the appliance store that [my old washer] was 19 years old, they couldn’t believe … it lasted that long.”

For lots more laundry trips and tricks, listen to our “secrets of doing laundry” episode of HuffPost’s “Am I Doing It Wrong?” podcast, featuring laundry expert Patric Richardson.