Your washing machine is powerful, but it can’t clean everything. If you’re not careful about the items you put in the washer, you could ruin some of your favorite things—or the machine itself!
Below, a breakdown of household items you should never throw in the washing machine, as well as a handful of items that it is cool to clean this way.
Items to keep out of the washing machine
Sure, swimsuits are designed to hold up in the water, but they’re no match for a washing machine. “Putting swimsuits in the machine can make them lose elasticity much quicker, as the material is usually nonresistant to heat,” says Leanne Stapf, chief operating officer at The Cleaning Authority. She says hand-washing is the way to go.
2. Items stained with flammable liquid
If you’ve spilled gasoline, motor oil, or cooking oil on clothes or towels, don’t just toss them in the washing machine—you could have an explosion or a fire on your hands. “Use a solvent-based stain remover and let it sit for 10 minutes before hand-washing the item,” says Doug Rogers, president of Mr. Appliance.
3. Items covered in pet hair
Dog hair can clog your washing machine drains. “The pet hair clumps up and causes a stoppage, so the water doesn’t drain from the barrel like it should,” says Audrey Monell, president of Forrest Anderson Plumbing and AC in Glendale, AZ. Use a lint roller to remove pet hair before placing affected items in the washing machine.
“Not only can bras get easily stretched out, but an unfastened bra hook can easily get caught in the machine’s cylinder, or agitator,” says Rogers. Also, the hooks can snag other laundry items. If you’re washing an underwire bra, the washing machine’s agitation can work the wire out. And in padded bras, padding can cluster in one area of the bra.
“Opt to hand-wash these delicate items, or place them in a garment bag and use the delicate or hand-wash cycle,” Rogers says.
5. Unprepared zippers and buttons
The majority of your clothes probably have zippers and buttons, so you can’t avoid putting these items in the washing machine. However, you need to take some precautions. “Zippers can easily snag delicate clothing or scratch the inside of the washer, so it’s important to make sure all jeans and other clothing items are zipped all the way up,” Stapf says.
For buttons, she recommends the opposite approach. “Make sure all clothes are fully unbuttoned, as the wash can sometimes tear the buttonholes.”
6. Indoor rugs or mats
The mats in your entryway are designed to catch mud, dirt, and everything else on the bottom of your feet. But while they may protect your floors, they can destroy your washing machine. Unless the care tag indicates they are machine washable, do not wash heavy mats or mats with rubber backing in the washer. “The rubber backing may come off and stick to the inside of the drum, resulting in a malfunction or drainage error,” says Chris Thornton, senior manager of product training at Samsung.
7. King-size comforters
“They’re generally too big for typical washing machines, and could cause the water to overflow and the washing machine to break,” says Monell.
She recommends taking big comforters to your local laundromat, where they have large, industrial-size machines.
8. Running shoes
If you can run 10 miles in running shoes, surely, they can endure 30 minutes in the washing machine, right? Nope. “Generally, running shoes aren’t as durable as your average sneaker—they have less fabric and more rubber,” Stapf says. “The washing machine can alter the fit of the shoe, so try to scrub the stubborn dirt off with a toothbrush and anti-grease soap instead.”
Items you can clean in the washing machine
Did you know the following items are completely safe to throw into the washing machine?
1. Yoga mats
While heavy floor mats are a no-no, yoga mats get the green light. “The best way to wash your yoga mat is in the washing machine,” says Monell. “It is the easiest way to get all the sweat and body oils out of it.” She recommends using a gentle cycle and then hanging the mat out to dry.
2. Plastic shower curtains
You probably know that your fabric shower curtains can be machine washed (every month or so, right?), but Monell also recommends washing your plastic shower curtain every three months. “It removes all of the built-up soap and hair products that accumulate over time,” she says. Use warm water, and then hang it outside to dry.
3. Curtains and drapes
Your curtains and drapes collect a lot of dust, dirt, and odors. As long as they’re not too heavy or made of a fabric that needs to be dry-cleaned, you can clean them in the washer. Always use the delicate cycle and cold water, unless otherwise specified. Then hang them out to dry, or dry them on a gentle cycle with low heat.
4. Bed pillows
Your pillows harbor sweat, dead skin, bacteria, and dust mites, so you need to wash them at least once a quarter. (Unfortunately, memory foam pillows shouldn’t be washed in the washing machine.) In a top-loading machine, you can curve one pillow on the left side and another on the right side to create a circle. In a front-loader, you’ll need to fold the pillows to get them to fit. Choose a warm or hot cycle and add detergent.
5. Stuffed animals
Stuffed animals are probably filthier than your bed pillows, since your kids drag their beloved plush toys everywhere. Fortunately, you can put stuffed animals in the washing machine in cool or warm water on a delicate setting. Hot water is not advisable, because the eyes, ears, and so on, may be glued on, and the water could melt the glue. And, trust us, your kids would not be happy.
Terri Williams is a journalist who has written for USA Today, Yahoo, the Economist, U.S. News and World Report, and the Houston Chronicle. Follow @Territoryone