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Using washing machine to launder is easy, convenient and time saving. Many of us will spend our last penny to get this huge toy in our homes. But if you’re like me you might have wondered: irrespective of the convenience and comfort, does washing machine damage my clothes? 

Should you be concerned? Yes. 

Washing machines do damage clothes. Either by the rips and tears caused by the agitator, shrinking of delicate fabrics by hot water or fading of clothes caused by hot water and some detergents. Your clothes might not always come out the way the went in.

But, for the record, washing machines are not the bad guys. You need to  understand the whole concept of washing with a machine, before labeling it, ‘a cloth-killer.’

Let’s first discuss in simple terms how washing machines clean clothes, then we’ll relate it to how it damages your fabrics too.



Washing machines clean clothes mainly by the combination of two techniques:

  1. Soaking the clothes in detergent (or any cleaning agent) and water. 

When you do this, chemicals in the detergent sips into the cloth fabrics. By the actions of surfactants, they are able to separate dirt particles from cloth fabrics.

This action combined with the movement of water in, out and around the fabrics, help to wash the detached dirt away.

  1. Friction of clothes on each other. As your washer drum spins, clothes swirl, brush and smash against themselves. This motion causes dirt particles to be displaced and separated from the fabrics. It is the perfect example of, ‘one hand washing the other so both hands can be clean.’

In top washers this action is done by the agitators and impellers. While in front washers, the actual rotation of the drum performs this task.

In principle, though, the very technology that  cleans your clothes is what gradually wears them out. Knowing how they do so, will help you to maximize the many benefits of a washing machine, while minimizing the damages they can cause to your clothes.

Causes of Damage 

  1. Agitator action of washing machine
  1. Surfactants action of detergents 
  1. Increased friction from overloading and underloading
  1. Hot water in high temperature washer settings

Agitator action of washing machines

Washing machine agitators clean your clothes by acting as a propeller with spiral fans or blades, as it were. It rotates full cycle in one direction, takes a break, and rotates in the opposite direction. 

This movement of the agitator causes the laundry to circulate through the tub. Through the effect of friction and gravity, dirt particles in the laundry are displaced. 

This displacement and the movement of water in the drum, separates dirts from clothes.

The agitation process displaces dirt particles  by giving your clothes a beating or smashing. This action, though cleans your clothes,  gradually wears them out over time.

A similar action is done when doing hand wash, but not with the intensity of a washing machine, hence hand wash is less stressful to fabrics.

Surfactants action of detergent

On the other end of the cleaning process is your detergent. Detergents and soap clean your clothes by separating dirt particles from your fabrics. This is possible because detergents are surfactants

Surfactants are able to separate different particles and wrap them up in a ‘bubble’ preventing them from reattaching themselves to the host. When you soak your clothes in detergent and the dirts and stains leave the clothes, you have just witnessed surfactants in action. 

For a detailed explanation of how surfactants work, kindly read this article.

This action of detergents not only separates dirt from clothes, but also dyes from your clothes. This happens over time and you begin to notice the clothes gradually losing color intensity. This is known as fading.

Increased friction from overloading and underloading

Is it not an irony that going both extremes in loading your washing machine can have both effects?

When a washer drum is overloaded. The friction between clothes increases. Also there is less space in the drum and clothes, which increases the contact between clothes and drum cover rubber. 

This is notorious for causing small tears in fabrics. Light fabrics are especially susceptible. Small tears get bigger when further pressure is applied. This is a common cause of cloth damages.

The same effect of too much friction caused by overloading, can happen when the washer is near empty.

Placing two or three shirts increases the force of contact between your laundry and  metal walls of drum, rubber or washing doors and agitator (in top load washers).

This too can cause fabrics to tear.

High temperature washer settings

High temperatures can shrink cloth fabrics. Light materials like silk and linen can not tolerate temperatures higher than 60 degree celsius. Even washing for a long time in temperatures less than 60, can still shrink these materials.

High temperature also causes cloth colors to fade. So repeatedly washing dark colors in washing machines, with a washer setting of more than 60 degree celsius, causes the colors to fade.

The effect of high temperature on clothes is peculiar to machine wash. Human hands cannot wash in hot water. So, hand washing is rather done with cold or warm water which are friendly to fabrics… and your hands too.

The combination of

  1. Friction 
  2. Pressure 
  3. Temperature and
  4. Time 

Is the cause of most damages washing machines do to fabrics.


Friction plays a major role in a washing machine’s cleaning process. But it also has its toll. It can be compared to the effect of friction on vehicle tires and roads. without friction you cannot drive safely. But because of the effect of friction on the tires, they wear-out with time.

The combination of water and detergent helps to reduce the friction between clothes in the washer, hence the damaging effect of friction on laundry.

Types of Damage 

  1. Pulls threads
  2. Frays and tears
  3. Black or gray stains
  4. Faded colors

Washing machine pulls threads

The Cause

This is peculiar, but not limited, to clothes sewn from woven materials. They can get stuck in the impeller blades. Blunt or broken agitator blades can pull at these fabrics, loosening the weave.

Materials susceptible to pulled threads

  • Flannel
  • Tweed
  • Buckram
  • Cheesecloth
  • Muslin
  • Etc. 

The solution

  • Replace worn out agitators

The spiral design of agitators help to reduce friction and the possibility of it catching clothes in motion.

This is not the case when the blades are old and worn-out. Or when there are broken edges.

This can hold on to fabrics, causing threads to pull.

  • Wash with washing machine delicate settings

Delicate settings might have different names on different machines. Usually there are multiple settings that do delicate wash. you might have to watch for settings with fragile material names, like silk.

In my washing machine, I have range of settings called

  • Easy Care, and
  • Delicate/Silk

So, watch your machine dashboard and look for similar settings.

  • Reduce wash time

It’s a simple principle: the longer the wash, the greater the effects of 

  • Friction
  • Pressure, and 
  • Temperature

So if you’re a light user of clothes, or an office worker, the possibility of heavy dirt and stains is reduced.

You should settle for a shorter wash time, irrespective of what the setting name is called on your machine.

For example, if you only wear your cotton shirts twice before washing, you can wash them with the “Silk”  settings on your machine.

Washing machine causes frays and tears

Torn shirt

The Causes

  • Overloaded washer
  • Having few clothes in washer
  • Fabrics scrubbing washer cover
  • Unknown. everything seem just fine. This is unusual. You’ve used the machine for months, used it a few ago, had no issue.


  1. Do not exceed recommended washing maximum
  1. Do not wash on a near-empty load.
  1. Use a weight scale. Your goal is 85% – 90% of washer capacity as maximum wash load, and half of washer capacity as minimum washing load.
  1. Unknown Cause: Start with the most “unlikely” idea. Check inside the washer drum. metal or other objects forgotten in clothes pocket is the likely culprit. If you have kids at home, you can’t rule out the fact that they mush have might left one of their playing items or toys inside.

Black or gray stains in laundry

The Cause

  1. Faulty Transmission

Black stains in laundry is caused by machine oil sipping into the drum when washing. The culprit is usually the transmission or gear case.

A faulty transmission can cause oil to leak. When this happens, you’ll constantly have issues with oil stains on your laundry. They are more noticeable on white garments.

One major symptom of a bad transmission is loud grinding noise. If you have this in combination to black stains, you know what you’re dealing with.

Except you’re a technician yourself, do not attempt to fix it, just call a technician.

The solution

  1. Change the transmission.

Althought the transmission can be repaired, it is usually a difficult task for technicians.

Actually, I have never seen any technician who’ll agree to repair it. 

So your best option is to change the box. Usually, it costs one-third or half the cost of a replacement washer.

  1. Get a replacement washer.

Because of the high cost of changing just the transmission, some persons feel it’s better to go for a replacement washer entirely.

If it’s within your budget, and you are not willing to deal with the stress of replacing the transmission, you can replace the entire washing machine instead.

Faded colors after washing


The cause

  • Hot water

Your washing is actually not the cause when it comes to fading or discoloration. The culprit is usually your water temperature.

But of course, you only use hot water when doing machine wash. The human hand cannot tolerate high temperatures of water when washing. 

  • Choice of detergent

Not all detergents care for fabrics equally. A number of detergents can actually bleach your clothes or increase leaching in clothes. 

If you notice colors in your water when doing hand wash, then you know that your washing machine is not your problem

The Solution

  • Wash with cold water

Cold water is the king of fabrics preservation. If you are concerned that your clothes are getting dull or faded, you can switch to cold water wash instead..

Not only will you increase the lifespan of your clothes, but you’ll also save on electric bills.



A note in the defense of washing machines.

Many of the rips and tears attributed to washing machines are actually done by dryers.

Modern washers are built to reduce the damage to cloth fabrics, but not so with dryers.

Most of the wears and tears you notice in your garments, do in fact, occur while in a dryer.

Do you notice lints on your dryer filter after each drying session, those are not dirts. They are fibers from your clothes. 

Some materials are more susceptible to gradual damage in the dryer. Materials such as fleeces and tweed are more vulnerable.

So before you decide to change your washer, make sure you’ve positively identified the culprit.

if your dryer is that bad, you can choose to spread your clothes on the lines, as an alternative.


1Why do my clothes get wrinkled after washing?This is the effect of  vaporization. During washing, your clothes take in water and the fabrics become swollen and stretched. 
When water in the fabrics are dried out during spinning and drying, the swollen fabrics lose water, shape, and some elasticity under the heat of the dryer. The result is a shrunken fabric which shows wrinkles when dried.
Sometimes leaving clothes in dryers until the end of the drying helps to reduce such wrinkles.
2Why do my clothes look faded after washingThose are the effects of heat and leaching.
Sometimes, colors from dull clothes can sip into brighter clothes, and the latter will take on the dull look of the darker clothes.
3Why do my clothes go stiff after washingThis is because of the loss of moisture that occurs during drying. It is more pronounced in some materials than others. 
You can resolve this by using steam iron to iron the clothes.
4Why is there stains on my clothes after washingThey are either stains from decoloration of other clothes in the washer.
But if the stains are black or gray you are likely seeing the result of oil sipping into the drum during washing. 
The usual culprit is a faulty transmission or gear case.


Washing machines do damage clothes. But should that make you stop using them? No. The same way as automobile accidents have not stopped people from entering them entirely.

Every technology has its pros and cons. You just learn to maximize the benefits and reduce, or learn to cope with, the disadvantages.

So, until science produces another technology, something better than washing machines, continue to enjoy the huge hygiene toy in your… balcony, your kitchen or wherever it is in your home.

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