Ask any cleaning expert the biggest mistake they see people make when doing laundry, and before you can even finish the question, they’ll blurt out: “using too much detergent!” It’s something we’re all guilty of, since (1) many of us are cramming as much laundry as we can into the poor machine, and (2) we tend to think more detergent = cleaner, fresher-smelling clothes. But that isn’t exactly true—and it can do more than leave a soapy film on your Amazon maxi dress and Princess Diana-inspired sheep sweater. It can actually ruin your washing machine, warns the plumbing pros at Roto-Rooter.
How so? Well, that extra detergent leaves behind soap residue, which can damage the machine’s control panel, resulting in a costly repair bill for you…or forcing you to invest in a new machine much earlier than you expected. (It can also leave your clothes feeling stiff and mucky, as soap residue dries on them.)
If you really want to ensure your clothes are their cleanest, skip pouring detergent to the max fill line and carve out some time to pre-treat anything that’s particularly dingy or soiled, says Gwen Whiting and Lindsey Boyd, cofounders of The Laundress. The duo recommends using a stain remover—like their Stain Solution or Wash & Stain Bar—to spot-treat problem areas, then soaking clothes in warm water (use cool water if you’ve stained woolen or delicate fabrics) for 30 minutes before tossing them into the machine.
If you’re going into detergent overload to try to get your white tees gleaming, Whiting and Boyd have a fix for that, too: Soak them in a bath of hot water with a bleach alternative, following the package’s instructions.
While we’re atoning for our laundry sins, there’s one more thing you can do to extend the life of your washer and dryer: Avoid cramming it to the brim. Beyond keeping your clothes from tumbling around and truly getting cleaned, overstuffing the machine can damage its suspension and bearings, Roto-Rooter warns. An extra load a day keeps the plumber away, it would seem.